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9 Out of 10 Natural Gas Wells Use Unregulated, Polluting Drilling Method

9 Out of 10 Natural Gas Wells Use Unregulated, Polluting Drilling Method

At nine out of ten natural gas wells in the United States, gas is released from deep underground pockets by fracturing rocks with a high-pressure water, chemical, and sand solution.  The process, known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” is not regulated by the federal government and, in fact, is exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act, in spite of suspicions in six states that the process is responsible for groundwater contamination.

Fracking Often Used But Rarely Regulated

The natural gas industry uses hydraulic fracturing injection wells, also known as “fracking,” in 31 U.S. states, but only ten regulate the process.  Injection fluid uses millions of gallons of water, often from water-stressed areas, that end up in waste-water pools contaminated with oil, drilling mud, and chemicals, including benzene and other carcinogens. Two oil field companies recently acknowledged that they are using diesel fuel in their injection fluids, prompting a U.S. House of Representatives investigation into the matter.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption prevents them from adequately investigating claims by state officials that the industry is responsible for groundwater contamination or gas leaks and exploding drinking-water wells in nearby towns.

You may have even seen this illustrative clip from the documentary, Gasland:

EPA Finally Looking Into Groundwater Contamination from Natural Gas Injection Wells

Last week, EPA announced that it would undertake an analysis “to answer questions about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on human health and the environment” with “a transparent, peer-reviewed process” and “significant stakeholder input.” While clean water advocates generally viewed the announcement as good news, battles in New York state and out West over drilling projects that residents fear will contaminate their well water and worse are unlikely to wait for it.

Industry Defends Secret Chemical Formulas and Exemption from Environmental Laws

The industry defended their right to secret chemical solutions and unregulated drilling before Congressional panels last summer.  To support their case, they trotted out studies by the Department of Energy that are under fire for bias and were conducted by researchers also on the payroll of petroleum and gas companies.

In response to the EPA’s announcement about plans to study the process, Chris Tucker, a spokesman for the industry-backed group Energy in Depth told a Greenwire reporter: “Assuming the study’s methodology is technically sound, its evaluations are science-based, and its conclusions are peer-reviewed, there’s really only one credible outcome this project can produce… and – spoiler alert – it’s not the one that opponents of responsible shale gas exploration are clamoring for.” (Anybody else think the industry will try to focus the debate on the peer review process rather than the facts?)

Learn More about Natural Gas Injection Well Drilling

Pro-publica, an independent, non-profit news organization, has a fantastic series of investigative reports on hydraulic fracturing. You can see illustrations of injection wells and learn more than you ever thought you needed to know. Environment America and the Environmental Working Group recently issued reports on the issue.

Take Action for Clean Water

Congresswoman Diane DeGette (D-CO) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) are spearheading an effort in Congress to repeal the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption and require companies to disclose the chemicals used (H.R. 2766 and S. 1215 respectively). Another bill, the Clean Water Protection Act, would strengthen EPA’s and in dealing with all mining waste in drinking water, including injection fluid contamination. You can sign the Care2 petition in support of the CWPA here.

Related posts

So Just How Green is “Clean Energy” … Really? discusses how the natural gas industry is trying to get classified as clean, right along with solar and wind energy.

Read more:

Natural gas injection well rig for hydraulic fracturing in the Powder River Basin between Buffalo and Gillette, WY. Source: U.S. Department of Energy


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48 comments

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7:29AM PST on Nov 18, 2010

Sign this action alert! http://www.care2.com/news/member/525884267/2641394

5:05AM PDT on Oct 21, 2010

Noted and signed!!

2:44PM PDT on Mar 30, 2010

Yes. I'm not surprised, they're always trying to cut back on costs. What bugs me is the gas they burn off at the top of these tall pipes. It's natural gas & I discovered they burn it, because, are you ready for this? It costs too much to bottle. Next time you buy a bottle of gas, think about all that wasted. Isn't it running out?

3:41PM PDT on Mar 28, 2010

What a frightening video. Thanks for sharing it. Maybe it will bring some congressional action soon.

11:06AM PDT on Mar 27, 2010

That video was terrifying! Thanks for posting this very informative article. Noted and signed......

10:56PM PDT on Mar 26, 2010

Noted.

4:44AM PDT on Mar 26, 2010

That video is scary--do people actually drink that water?? At least there are 10 smart states--ı hope the others get smart soon.

11:26PM PDT on Mar 25, 2010

Many people in New York and Pennsylvania are having second thought about the drilling leases they signed. At a recent meeting of the Susquehanna Sierra Club, a landowner from Pennsylvania gave a talk and slide show, showing what the gas drillers had done to his land. They built messy gravel roads for their trucks and machinery, causing erosion problems. They bulldozed a huge pit, lined it with black plastic and poured in a noxious brew of unnamed chemicals. After the man complained, they put a scrappy chainlink fence around this "overflow pond" but did nothing to clean it up. The noise of the drilling and vehicles has scared away wildlife and affected the man's livestock. His property value has plummeted. Let his experience warn everyone. These drilling companies will promise anything, like lotharios that prey on wealthy widows. At frist, they act like sweethearts, but then, they take the money and run!!

11:18PM PDT on Mar 25, 2010

Here in New York state, many landowners who at first welcomed the idea of gas drilling and signed leases are now having second thoughts. At a Sierra Club meeting several months ago, a landowner from Pennsylvania described, with a slide show, how these drillers had ruined his farm. They bulldozed an ugly pit, lined it with black plastic and then filled it with chemical waste and said it was "safe"
Also, the built messy gravel roads to accomodate their heavy machinery and this created severe erosion problems. The noise of the vehicles and machinery scared away deer and other wildlife and disturbed his dairy cows. And then, the stink of diesel smoke wouldn't go away. Putting up a chain link fence around the "overflow pond" was NOT a cleanup. These people are worse than loan sharks or lotharios who look for wealthy widows. THEY WILL PROMISE ANYTHING and then run with all the money.

8:32AM PDT on Mar 25, 2010

they don't care about the environment. big oil causes spills in poor countries, polluting the water supply then leave without cleaning it up.

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