Group Says Fracking a Threat to NYC Water Supply

A release published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) warns of hydraulic drilling and its threat to New York City drinking water. The information was based on a data published last year concerning the EWG’s testimony before the NYC Council.

Drilling for natural gas in New York’s Marcellus Shale region would be via hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Recently, we have been writing about issues surrounding 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.

For the last several years, the EWG, using government and industry data, have tracked the significant oil and gas drilling in the Western United States and found most drilling has occurred with exemptions under most major federal environmental laws.

Working with renowned scientist Theo Colborn, the team identified dozens of chemicals used by the natural gas industry and found no less than 65 were used by the natural gas industry in the state of Colorado alone. Most used hydraulic fracturing and were listed or regulated as hazardous substances under six federal statutes including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and Superfund. For the most part, the chemicals were exempt from these laws when used in oil and gas drilling.

The EWG also noted that in its continuing investigation of hydraulic fracturing this year, it had found troubling information about chemicals used in this process and that, it seems as if the state is not taking the threats of this process seriously.

For instance, petroleum distillates are used in natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing; the DEC has identified at least 14 different petroleum distillates used or proposed for use in the Marcellus Shale formation in New York. The agency also identified aromatic hydrocarbons as chemicals that are used or are likely to be used in the Shale formation and that are likely to be found in petroleum distillates.

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.

According to the research cited by EWG, petroleum distillates are likely to contain benzene, one of the aromatic hydrocarbons identified by the state. Of note, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says benzene is a human carcinogen that is toxic in water at levels greater than five parts per billion. Petroleum distillates are also likely to contain all of the so-called BTEX chemicals: Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, substances the EPA has found are toxic in water at very low levels.

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 EWG, fracking has been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.

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