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New Reports Shed Light on Hydraulic Fracturing

Jul 08, 2009
By Lindsey Schneider

 hydraulic fracturing
A natural gas drilling waste facility where produced water and drilling chemicals are sprayed into the air to help them dissipate into the environment. Photo by Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica

Back in 2005, a process used by 90 percent of all gas drilling projects called hydraulic fracturing was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, was pioneered by Halliburton and involves injecting a “secret sauce” of chemicals, sand and water into cracks in the ground in order to pull out the natural gas therein.

However, as ProPublica has shown in multiple investigative reports and as FLYP published in January, hydraulic fracturing sites (which are multiplying at a rapid pace across the country) are accountable for some dangerously compromised water supplies. In particular, a study sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management found that one particular region—Sublette County, Wyo.—was suffering from the toxic leftovers and spills of the fracking fluid.
In a new, far-reaching and penetrating report, ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten states that the energy industry has persuaded Congress to move toward imposing even less regulation of hydraulic fracturing. And they did it with “misleading data.” Although some argue that natural gas wells could provide for America’s energy needs for the next 116 years, the health and environmental side effects of doing so bring that notion into serious question.

 hydraulic fracturing
An Encana well being drilled in the Jonah Field, Sublette County, Wyo. Photo by Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica

According to Lustgarten, Congress is currently mulling over whether to reinstate the Environmental Protection Agency’s oversight of the fracking process, but “industry—leveraging its money and political connections—is using the recent reports to fight back.”

Those reports, which have been popping up since FLYP’s story in January, are a collaboration of the Department of Energy (DOE) and energy-industry advocates. They put forward the claim that state law provides all the protection the environment needs and that a costly layer of new federal oversight is unnecessary. But, as Lustgarten makes plain, the energy industry is asking Congress to make “a false choice between the economy and the environment,” by using “fuzzy numbers” that inflate the costs of oversight and the equipment needed at drilling sites. Consulting with the DOE and impartial analysts, Lustgarten found that the regulations that are up for debate in Congress would cost drilling companies just $4,500 per well… just six hundredths of a percent of the cost to open a new one.

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