EPA begins $1.9 million study on frac’ing
Federal environmental watchdogs will be spending at least $1.9 million to determine whether a controversial procedure for getting natural gas out of the ground is contaminating the nation’s ground water supplies.At the same time, a congressional subcommittee has asked several of the gas industry’s biggest players to either disclose all the ingredients used in that same procedure, or face an added investigation by that subcommittee.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Thursday that it is launching a probe into whether the procedure, known as hydraulic fracturing or “frac’ing,” is contaminating aquifers that supply drinking water.The study, expected to be finished by 2012, is to examine the industry’s effect on groundwater, surface water, human health and the environment generally.An earlier report on the same issue, in 2004, has been cited by the industry as evidence that frac’ing does not pose a hazard to human health. But that same study has been widely criticized as insufficient and tainted by a bias toward the industry’s point of view.”Our research will be designed to answer questions about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on human health and the environment,” said Dr. Paul T. Anastas, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “The study will be conducted through a transparent, peer-reviewed process, with significant stakeholder input.”The procedure involves boring into deeply buried, hydrocarbon-rich rock formations and injecting massive quantities of water, sand and certain chemicals through the bore hole to fracture the rock and allow the oil and gas to flow out.The industry has long maintained that in the 60 or so years since the practice became common, there has not been a single documented case of water contamination attributed to the procedure.Critics of the industry, however, say no cases have been found because no one looked very hard, and because the practice has been exempted from the national Safe Drinking Water Act since 2005.The exemption came at about the same time that new techniques in drilling and frac’ing, as well as rising prices for natural gas, lead to a significant increase in drilling activity around the U.S., including Western Colorado.The industry also has long maintained that the chemicals used in the formulation of “frac’ing fluids” are not actually secret, and that they are available on various websites, including the site maintained by the Garfield County Oil & Gas Liaison office (www.garfield-county.com, under “County Departments”).Industry critics, however, have been skeptical of that claim, arguing that the lists that are publicly available are not actually complete.According to an EPA statement about the study, the agency “is in the very early stages of designing a hydraulic fracturing research program,” and is looking for guidance from the EPA Science Advisory Board concerning how to proceed.The announcement was welcomed by the industry and its critics alike.In Garfield County, Ron Galterio of the Battlement Concerned Citizens group called the announcement “welcome news” in light of the BCC’s “great concern about the hydraulic fracturing process, the many unknown and toxic chemicals used, and the long-term effects on ground water.”An industry spokesman also said the study might be helpful.”Many opponents of hydraulic fracturing in Western Colorado suffer from 90/10 syndrome: 90 percent of their information is usually less than 10 percent accurate,” said David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.”As a result,” he continued, “[we] look forward to working with the EPA demonstrating that technological breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing can continue to be safely applied as Western Colorado develops its tremendous natural gas reserves. An EPA data-driven analysis that results in fact-based decision-making; it might just be the inoculation our industry needs against an ongoing plague of misinformation.” On a separate front, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, co-chaired by Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., has sent letters to Halliburton, Schlumberger and D.J. Services, three of the leading drilling companies in the natural gas industry, asking for details about drilling activities and the chemicals used in frac’ing fluids.Responses are due back this month, and according to DeGette’s chief of staff, Lisa B. Cohen, the committee may or may not launch a full-scale investigation of its own.DeGette also is a sponsor of legislation introduced into both houses of Congress last year, which would place frac’ing under federal firstname.lastname@example.org
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