The Chattanooga shale formation is shallower than the “plays” of New England and western U.S., typically only a few hundred to three thousand feet deep, as opposed to close to a mile in other places. It is also embedded in clay which swells in the presence of water. For this reason well drillers in Tennessee typically use nitrogen gas as the fracking fluid rather than the millions of gallons of water used elsewhere. To date, the largest volume of water used for a frack in Tennessee has been 170,000 gallons.
Under recently adopted state rules, there are almost no safeguards to protect public safety and the environment, such as testing of drinking water wells, public notification of fracking, listing of chemicals used, and adequate distance from homes, schools, streams and drinking water sources for well drilling using under 200,000 gallons of liquids.
Tennessee’s karst terrain, with its sinkholes and caves, creates conditions that increase the likelihood that methane, naturally occurring toxic elements, and fracking chemicals will migrate into aquifers and drinking water supplies. There are only two state government inspectors for the gas industry in Tennessee, and there is no publicly available inventory of fracking operations in the state.