EPA to Hold Public Meetings on Hydraulic Fracturing

Recently, we have been writing about issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing—known as fracking—with the safety of this process being called into question following two recent drilling accidents in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Officials in Pennsylvania have ordered EOG Resources Inc. (EOG) to halt natural-gas drilling in the state following a well blowout there this month. In West Virginia, seven people were injured in a methane explosion at a well near Moundsville.

Now, Alternet writes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting four public meetings across the country on hydraulic fracturing and its potential impacts to our drinking water. The meetings are intended to give the public some information on the EPA’s study and design regarding hydraulic fracturing and enable comments on the agency’s draft study plan. The four meetings will be held on
• July 8: 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Central Daylight Time, Hilton Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas
• July 13: 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time, Marriot Tech Center’s Rocky Mountain Events Center, Denver, Colorado
• July 22: 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, Hilton Garden Inn, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania
• August 12: (Three sessions) 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, Anderson Performing Arts Center at Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York

The Pennsylvania and West Virginia accidents occurred in the Marcellus Shale, a formation rich in natural gas that lies beneath parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Maryland and has seen the rapid expansion of hydraulic fracturing in recent years. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection began an investigation, and is considering possible responses including ordering a halt to all drilling and fracking by the companies involved. Investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are also on scene.

In Pennsylvania, 35,000 gallons of drilling fluids were released before being contained the next day. While the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said no fluid escaped into streams, they were monitoring to determine if any chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing seeped through the soil into underground water supplies. New York State is taking a cautious approach to hydraulic gas drilling in this region and some of its lawmakers, said the New York Times recently, are considering bills that could delay hydraulic gas drilling in the state for a year or more.

The Marcellus Shale has seen the rapid expansion of fracking recently, which is relatively new, not without some, risks and involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. This opens existing fractures in the rock, allowing gas to rise through the wells, making drilling possible in areas that 10 to 20 years ago would not have been profitable. Hydraulic fracturing is used in 90 percent of the nation’s natural gas and oil wells.

Energy companies tout fracking as a way of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and polluting coal; however, there is concern about the impact the practice could have on the environment and public health, with the major concern being over the chemicals uses. The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, so shale gas drillers don’t have to disclose the chemicals they use. According to the Environmental Working Group, fracking has been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.

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