Momentum Builds to Regulate Fracking Industry

As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to hold hearings around the country on <"">hydraulic fracturing, momentum is building for stricter regulation of the industry. According to a recent New York Times article, more people are beginning to worry about the impact hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, could have on the environment and human health.

Hydraulic fracturing is now used in about 90 percent of US gas and oil wells. The process involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface.

Critics of fracking have long been concerned about the chemicals used in the process. Because the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, shale gas drillers don’t have to disclose what chemicals they use. According to the Environmental Working Group, fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

According to the Times, other aspects of fracking that worry environmentalists include the design and integrity of well casings and the transport and potential spilling of chemicals and the millions of gallons of water required for just one fracking job. Just last month, gas drilling operations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia involving hydraulic fracturing were involved in accidents. The Pennsylvania incident, a well blowout, released 5,000 gallons of drilling fluids before it was contained the afternoon following the accident.

One area of the country that is at the center of a fracking boom is the Marcellus shale, a region rich in natural gas that lies beneath parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Maryland. According to the Times, it is estimated that as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is trapped in the Marcellus shale. An industry-financed study published this week suggested that as much as $6 billion in government revenue and up to 280,000 jobs could be at stake in the Marcellus Shale region.

But not everyone is ready to embrace the boom, especially in light of the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and allegations that industry shortcuts and regulatory negligence may have contributed to that catastrophe. Those concerns are spurring new efforts to regulate the fracking industry, the Times said.

This past spring, the EPA announced a $1.9 million study to assess the environmental and human health impact of shale gas drilling. As we reported last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has been investigating the industry, and just sent letters to more than a dozen companies seeking details on their operations.

Wyoming, long friendly to the industry, recently introduced some of the nation’s toughest rules governing fracturing, including provisions that require companies to disclose the ingredients in their fracturing fluids to state regulators. There is even a push on to undo the industry’s exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to the Times, during one EPA hearing held last week in the small, southwestern Pennsylvania town of Canonsburg, many attendees supported a renewed effort to regulate the industry.

“I can take you right now to my neighbors who have lost their water supplies,” Dencil Backus, a resident of nearby Mt. Pleasant Township, said. “I can take you also to places where spills have killed fish and other aquatic life.”

According to the Times, Backus told regulators that corporations have no conscience. “The EPA. must give them that conscience,” he said.

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