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EPA Steps in on Fracking

EPA Steps in on Fracking

After years of inaction, the EPA has finally taken an important first step in regulating hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking.” The regulation, announced earlier this week, comes in response to mounting citizen concern and zeros in on air pollution present at fracking sites, particularly volatile organic compounds, toxic benzene and methane. While water and land contamination still need to be addressed, it’s a move in the right direction.

Fracking, developed by Halliburton in the 1940s, is a process that, combined with horizontal drilling, breaks up shale deposits deep within the Earth using a mixture of high pressure, chemicals, sand and water in an effort to loosen up and release natural gas buried beneath. Fracking, as it exists today, has been predominantly unregulated, and the EPA is just now learning and quantifying the negative side effects of the technology, which include localized earthquakes, drinking water and land contamination, and air pollution.  Still, the recent news of any EPA regulation is a welcome one, particularly within those communities directly impacted by the industry.

Until now, attempted regulation and moratoriums have been left to the states, but not without significant political challenges. Pennsylvania, a state that has experienced a particularly concentrated surge in natural gas development given the recent discovery of the Marcellus Shale Formation, just passed a law with a provision that would essentially “gag “ or prevent doctors from disclosing the chemicals used in fracking practices to anyone — including their patients. Causing alarm among environmental groups and medical professionals alike, this controversial gag order reflects the economic might the oil and natural gas industry have over Pennsylvania officials and is indicative of where state-based energy policy priorities lie.

Meanwhile, in California, there appears to be some argument as to whether fracking actually takes place. The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the state’s regulatory agency, has stated that it “does not believe that fracking is widely used,” however, according to the Environmental Working Group, fracking has been taking place in California for over 60 years in six state counties with further development and growth projected.

Nevertheless, numerous accounts of health-related problems, mysterious animal and livestock deaths, and potable water issues across the country have raised serious concerns about the technology. In fact, Dimock, PA, a small town of a few thousand, now must have its drinking water supply shipped in from outside sources following an EPA report that deemed the local water supply was contaminated and unsafe to drink (the water contained high levels of methane, heavy metals and other chemicals known to cause cancer). Like Dimock, countless other personal stories and accounts have arisen from all over the country. A dozen earthquakes in northeastern Ohio were, “almost certainly induced by injection of gas-drilling wastewater into the earth.”

What’s deemed to be a domestic energy “gold rush” is now under increased public scrutiny and the stakes are high; natural gas production continues to increase as more and more areas of the country are mapped for future development. In many cases, a natural gas company will attempt to acquire land from a landowner via mineral rights, costly lawsuits or confusing contract language. Many citizens simply aren’t knowledgeable enough or prepared for the battle that ensues and are enticed to sell by up-front financial incentives.

Inevitably, too many cases of wrongdoing appear to follow the fracking industry. Natural gas isn’t clean, as many oil and gas companies would like the public to believe, and the production process is questionable, at best. What’s more, millions of gallons of fresh water are used to frack a well and a well can be fracked up to 18 times. Multiply that by the number of wells in the U.S. and the amount of water usage alone skyrockets. Furthermore, under the 2005 Energy Policy Act, natural gas companies are exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is commonly referred to as the “Halliburton loophole,” which makes regulation and oversight nearly impossible.

Clearly, this is an unsustainable and dangerous business as it exists today. While it’s difficult to compete with the fossil fuel industry, particularly given the recent boom in natural gas production, the time to move away from fossil fuels and embrace clean energy has never been more immediate, both for our health and with respect to global climate change. The EPA has made a wise first step, but more work still needs to be done.

Portions of this piece were cross-posted from the San Francisco Energy Co-op.

Related Stories:

Fracking May Have Caused 50 Earthquakes in Oklahoma

Fracking in California?

What’s With All This Fracking

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Photo Credit: Ruhrfisch

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93 comments

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11:17AM PDT on May 9, 2012

Russell,

Great list. Now go through it and eliminate the ones derived from the rocks (and are not added). Then eliminate all whose concentreations are too low to be pollutants (by definition).
Then eliminate those tat are approved by the EPA for this use.

In the environmental industry, as in life, "The Dose Makes the Poison".

10:45AM PDT on May 9, 2012

Colin K.

Not that it is any of your business, but for the record, I'm a Ph.D. chemist, now retired, with 20 years experience related to the oil well industry, including researching fracturing methods. I'm not a clone for some pharmacedudical company, I have no stock in an oil company, I'm not a supplier to the fracking industry. Ian short, I derive no financial or other benefit related to the industry. In fact, I also worked for a world-wide environmental remediation company (10 years) and was the owner-President of my own environmental remediation company (10 years) until a stroke put an end to that.

My driving force is lack of technical knowledge among so many people who are being mislead on a number of technical subjects ranging from fracking to Global Warming (and others).

I AM FAR FROM WHAT YOU DESCRIBED ME TO BE!

Now, I've answered your comment/question. What are your technical credentials and qualifications?

8:32AM PDT on May 9, 2012

Louis F.

What is your interest in this issue?
Money?
Investment?
Suppling the rigs?
You aren't writing out of any benevolence or intelligence.

GET REAL!

(I suspect your are a clone of Pharmaceutical Giant- Merck's science paper writing computer program: CASPAR the ghost writer...
so am I arguing with a computer or an ill informed and outspoken fool?)

8:01AM PDT on May 9, 2012

~ Louis - I think you better check your information about the nearly 2,000 chemicals that are used in this Fracking Process - It is not just sand & water
~ Pennsylvania just passed a law with a provision that would essentially “gag “ or prevent doctors from disclosing the chemicals used in fracking practices to anyone — including their patients.

Natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing chemicals with 10 or more health effects

• 2,2',2"-Nitrilotriethanol
• 2-Ethylhexanol
• 5-Chloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one
• Acetic acid
• Acrolein
• Acrylamide (2-propenamide)
• Acrylic acid
• Ammonia
• Ammonium chloride
• Ammonium nitrate
• Aniline
• Benzyl chloride
• Boric acid
• Cadmium
• Calcium hypochlorite
• Chlorine
• Chlorine dioxide
• Dibromoacetonitrile 1
• Diesel 2
• Diethanolamine
• Diethylenetriamine
• Dimethyl formamide
• Epidian
• Ethanol (acetylenic alcohol)
• Ethyl mercaptan
• Ethylbenzene
• Ethylene glycol
• Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (2-BE)
• Ethylene oxide
• Ferrous sulfate
• Formaldehyde
• Formic acid
• Fuel oil #2
• Glutaraldehyde
• Glyoxal
• Hydrodesulfurized kerosene
• Hydrogen sulfide
• Iron
• Isobutyl alcohol (2-methyl-1-propanol)
• Isopropanol (propan-2-ol)
• Kerosene
• Light n

8:41PM PDT on May 4, 2012

What non-sense. "Fracking chemicals" consist of sand and water. They are not pollutants. Fracking releases natural gas and petroleum from subsurface rocks -- exactly the purpose. No-one benefits except the fracking companies? Non-sense. What about the public -- the people who purchase natural gas for heating and cooking and petroleum-derived products including gasoline for personal and private uses. "Fracking pollution" if it exists, does not come from "fracking chemicals" (sand and water), it comes from the natural chemicals which are already in the ground.

8:23PM PDT on Apr 28, 2012

Thanks for the article - I live in the state of PA - where a physician is banned from telling her/his patient what chemicals she/he was exposed to from fracking. What does that tell you!!!!???

12:38PM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

Those fracking fat cats at the top are the only ones benefiting from it.

6:32AM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

The only people who are for fracking are getting a lot of money. All anyone is thinking about is how great it is for the economy and how it's going to save NY. It will be the death of it. The only people who profit from this are the ones on the take, and the ones who have a lot of land. Guess what, those people are going to take their money and run. Why would you stay here and watch them destroy everything from the air to water.Not to mention the sound for them drill 24/7(say good bye to the peace and quite) So know you have vacant land with gas wells on it. And the money is being spent in another state or country. While the rest of us are being taxed to death to pay for all the damages left behind. And I'm sorry but it is NOT going to bring jobs here. People in NY are not qualified to do the jobs for drilling.The only people who are going to benefit are Restaurants and hotels and of course the ladies of the night and local drug dealers.There is also a problem I have not heard any one mention which is the cost of land. Land around us use to be $ 500 and acre and now it's $5000 and acre and the kicker is 9 times out of 10 the land already has a contract on it. Which sucks if you are looking for land so you can start a farm which is what my husband and I are trying to do. We didn't want to up root the kids and move out of the school district but because of the price of land and the fact that everyone is holding out for their big pay day we can find any. So it looks like we to

2:10AM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

Thank you for the information.

8:24AM PDT on Apr 26, 2012

I've addressed my concern over earthquakes and fracking before, but those who think they know everything about it still say there is no concern over them. Think about it, you've got two layers and chemicals in between them, then these layers shift and break, where do you think those chemicals are going to go......they will eventually disburse into ground water or into another pocket that will eventually get broken into and released then. No Common Sense in this Industry, only greed for that almighty dollar!

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