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We’ve been watching Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland about hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) , the method used to release natural gas from shale deposits. Millions of gallons of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are pumped under high pressure into a drilled well to release the gas. Many of the 80-300 tons of chemicals per frack are highly toxic and carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, and a veritable host of others. A well can be fracked up to 18 times.
We’re bombarded lately with television ads claiming that natural gas is the clean and safe alternative to coal, and known deposits could provide us with safe energy for the next fifty years, la la la… It seems that the industry is pushing back hard against the public awareness that Fox’s film has generated over the dangers involved with fracking methods.
Now there appear to be some pretty major problems with fracking, including the potential to poison water wells when the well casings crack, and it appears that has happened plenty. The toxic water used has to be disposed of; estimates are that only half the water is recovered. Typically the VOCs are evaporated off, then the water is trucked to wastewater treatment facilities, none of which is supervised or regulated either.
Presently, the natural gas industry does not have to disclose the chemicals used, which brings us to another major scandal: in 2005 Congress passed the Bush/Cheney Energy Bill which exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act, even though the EPA has agreed that it is associated with drinking water pollution in many states. It's known as the Halliburton Loophole to detractors.
What needs to happen IMO is that the industry is made to comply with the Clean Water Act, and make sure there are plenty of inspectors to see that groundwater and air (hey, EPA: this means YOU) isn’t poisoned, and that some financial settlement is made to the many people who are already suffering, or will suffer, health damages from poisoned wells all over the nation. Many farmers and ranchers have had little choice but to water their livestock with the tainted water, and the animals shown in Gasland on affected farms were in deplorable condition. And yet, many of those animals will be sent to market for human consumption. That should be stopped, and the ranchers paid for their losses.
On the Gasland website on the Take Action tab, it says:
“The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (H.R. 2766), (S. 1215)—was introduced to both houses of the the United States Congress on June 9, 2009, and aims to repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Drinking Water Act. It would require the energy industry to disclose the chemicals it mixes with the water and sand it pumps underground in the hydraulic fracturing process (also known as fracking), information that has largely been protected as trade secrets. Controversy surrounds the practice of hydraulic fracturing as a threat to drinking water supplies. The gas industry opposes the legislation.
The House bill was introduced by representatives Diana DeGette, D-CO., Maurice Hinchey D-N.Y., and Jared Polis, D-CO. The Senate version was introduced by Senators Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.”
The FRAC Act has never become law according to Govtrack.
Reuters reports that yesterday at the Energy Information Administration conference, new White House economic advisor Gene Sperling said that ‘The natural gas industry should support "common sense" regulation to ease public worries about potential water contamination from hydraulic fracturing, a drilling practice vital to the U.S. shale gas boom.’
"Common sense regulation that builds the public trust that fracking does not put at risk clean or safe drinking water is not the obstacle to natural gas extraction," said Sperling.
Now, I hate being suspicious (okay...maybe I don't), but given that natural gas is a cornerstone of Obama’s energy plan, that declarative sentence seems to mean that ‘common sense regulation’ can build public trust that fracking, yada yada… No details were given on what sort of common sense regulation they envision. Phooey on the double-speak. Ground water is being poisoned as you read this.
Call your Reps; ask them firmly to support the FRAC Act, at the very least.
(cross-posted at My.fdl)