Hydraulic Fracturing Faces Growing Resistance

Opposition is growing to hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting oil and natural gas from rock formations, such as shale. Concerns over the impact hydraulic drilling could have on water supplies has been the main factor behind the resistance.

Hydraulic fracturing 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 and allows gas to rise through the wells. The practice makes drilling possible in areas that 10 to 20 years ago would not have been profitable. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is currently 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. But many are beginning to wonder about the impact the practice could have on the environment and public health. The major concern with hydraulic gas drilling is the chemicals used in the process, and the wastewater it produces. According to a recently released report from the Environmental Working Group, distillates from hydraulic drilling include kerosene, mineral spirits and a number of other petroleum products that often contain high levels of benzene, a known human carcinogen that is toxic in water at even minuscule levels. In 2005, Congress in exempted hydraulic fracturing, except fracturing with diesel fuel, from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, hydraulic fracturing has led to some serious accidents, including a water-well explosion in Dimock, Pennsylvania., and a chemical spill in Shreveport, Louisiana, that have many worried. Caddo Parish, Louisiana Commissioner Matthew Linn told the Journal he had concerns after more than a dozen cows died during a Chesapeake Energy fracturing operation in his parish last year. A preliminary investigation linked the deaths to chemicals that spilled off the well site into a nearby pasture, and the farmer was compensated by Chesapeake. The energy company also said it took steps to prevent future similar occurrences.

Such instances have prompted some regulators and lawmakers to propose stiffer restrictions on hydraulic drilling, the Journal said. In June, congressional Democrats introduced legislation that would regulate fracturing at the federal level for the first time. The bills remain in committee. In October, the House of Representatives formally asked the Environmental Protection Agency to study the risks posed by fracturing. Several states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania and New York, have either passed or are considering tightening regulations on fracturing and related activities.

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