Post Independent opinion: The EPA must deliver answers on fracking
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
If the Environmental Protection Agency does examine every aspect of hydraulic fracturing like it wants to, from water withdrawals to waste disposal, it will be successful only if the federal agency can answer important environmental questions.
Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, occurs when drillers mix water with chemicals and sand and inject the fluid under pressure into wells to fracture gas-bearing rock layers and release oil or natural gas.
Laws protect energy companies from disclosing those fracking chemicals, and therefore little is known about the long- and short-term environmental effects on residents who share the land. It’s the No. 1 fear our newsroom hears from local residents who live near the gas fields – the fear of unknowns.
It will take a federal effort to crack this question. Smaller private and public agencies have not had the authority or the resources to find answers to some of these questions.
And this is not just a local issue. People in Jackson Hole, Wyo., western Pennsylvania and rural Texas are also asking for answers, as energy companies aggressively pursue domestic drilling leases and the federal government busily hands out incentives.
The study, which should be started immediately without more debate, could lead to national standards for the fracking process, or guidelines for local and state agencies.
Or, it could lead to no policy changes at all, but just a more educated public. Would that really be bad?
But to make any effort and study worthwhile, the EPA must publicly share the answers to the following questions:
• What chemicals are in the fluids?
• Which ones are harmful to humans and animals?
• What are the effects of human exposure to the fracking fluids?
• How should these chemicals be stored, both before and after the fracking process?
• How does fracking affect aquifers and the local and regional water supply?
• What systems are in place to clean up spills?
• What risks are posed by flaring gases resulting from the fracking process?
The EPA must be specific in all its findings, and we encourage the industry to be as transparent as possible. In the industry’s best-case scenario, this EPA study could go a long way towards alleviating fears about drilling in our communities and provide peace of mind to hundreds of local residents. If fracking is truly as benign as the industry claims, revealing this information could open the door for more domestic drilling opportunities.
To that point, this EPA study is simply a measure of equality. For our country and county to truly embrace the drilling industry, our residents must be informed about what chemicals are being pumped into the ground.
These questions are not too much to ask. And we hope when the study is completed and the data is surrounded with context, that lives have not been depending on the answers.
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