Washington, D.C.-In the wake of April's calamitous oil spill in the
Gulf of Mexico, pundits are pointing to natural gas as the resource to
save the U.S. from its energy woes. But a new report released today by
the national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch suggests
that relying on this polluting technology may simply set the nation up
for further ecological disasters.
Not so Fast, Natural Gas: Why Accelerating Risky Drilling
Threatens America's Water outlines the ways in which the rapid
expansion of the oil and gas industry's use of hydraulic fracturing
(also known as "fracking") in recent years compromises essential
drinking water resources, human health and the environment.
The process of extracting gas from rock formations, fracking relies
on a chemical cocktail that can be toxic if leaked into groundwater
supplies. The industry is not required by federal law to report the type
or quantity of chemicals it uses, and only ten states require
disclosure of this information. Analysis of what industry information is
available reveals that many of the chemicals used in the process can be
harmful to human gastrointestinal, respiratory, and nervous systems,
especially if leaked into drinking water supplies.
"Much in the same way that April's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
caused many to question the risks posed by shore oil drilling, hydraulic
fracturing poses a profound risk to our nation's drinking water," said
Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. "Unlike oil
drilling however, it doesn't take a single blowout to create an
environmental catastrophe. The dangers of fracking are slow, yet
Waste generated by the process is also an environmental hazard,
especially because it is often injected underground or sent to
wastewater facilities that often lack the resources to effectively treat
it. In addition to polluting local water, hydraulic fracturing can also
be responsible for its depletion. The process can use up to 3.8 million
gallons of water to drill a single well. Large-scale extractions of
ground and surface water can threaten drinking water supplies and upset
the balance of local ecosystems.
"In the debate about natural gas drilling one question looms large,"
said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director of the Delaware Riverkeeper
Network. "What are the risks of rushing ahead with the dangerous
extraction practices that the industry is using to force gas out of deep
Despite these questions, and the public health and environmental
risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, the practice of using it to
extract gas from shale is on the rise. Shale gas grew from 1 percent of
the U.S. natural gas energy supply in 2000 to 20 percent in 2010. It is
expected to expand further as many companies eye the potential energy
reserves trapped within the Marcellus Shale. The first reported
Marcellus Shale well in Pennsylvania was drilled in 2003, and by May of
2010, 1,164 wells had been drilled in the portion of the Marcellus Shale
under that state alone.
The industry's rapid expansion may be due in part to the federal
government's lax oversight. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, for instance,
exempts hydraulic fracturing from the section of the Safe Drinking
Water Act that protects groundwater from chemical contamination. This
may be attributed to the industry's lobbying efforts. The Natural Gas
Alliance has spent $1.6 million since 2009 convincing Congress to favor
its particular interests.
With the federal government doing little to protect consumers and the
environment, opposition against the industry is gaining momentum on the
local level. In 2008, New York moved to require companies to reveal the
chemicals they use, and Governor Patterson demanded that the state
update its environmental review process that approves new hydraulic
fracturing projects. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Texas have
established moratoriums on further drilling.
Residents and activists in Colorado, where the process has been in
place for more than twenty years, still have concerns. "How many more
times are policymakers going to allow industry profits to matter more
than public health?" said Josh Joswick, Energy Issues Organizer for the
San Juan Citizen's Alliance in Durango, Colorado. "There needs to be
public disclosure of what is being injected into our waters."
In regions rich with natural gas deposits that the industry is
looking to exploit, activists are encouraging governments to act to
protect consumers and the environment from the effects of hydraulic
fracturing before it's too late. "With the hydrofracking industry's
recent interest in expansion into Virginia, we have an opportunity to
take a hard look at what this has meant for communities and natural
resources in other states," said Kate Wofford, Director of Shenandoah
Valley Network. "Our localities now have a chance to work with the
Commonwealth to impose safeguards that will protect water sources and
citizens, rather than allowing gas companies to drill first and ask
Many experts are calling on the federal government to step up its
efforts to prevent the natural gas industry from inflicting more damage.
The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which is
currently moving through Congress, would close the loophole that
excludes hydraulic fracturing from the regulation under the Safe
Drinking Water Act.
"The long-term safety of public water is more important than an
indefinite energy resource. That is why the federal government needs to
act swiftly to protect the public from this reckless industry, and to
seek safe, sustainable energy production methods," noted Hauter.
Not so Fast, Natural Gas: Why Accelerating Risky Drilling
Threatens America's Water is available here: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/report/natural-gas/