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Fracking With Reality

Last Monday, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) was on the senate floor defending the natural gas industry. The speech was in response to a bill by four legislators from Colorado, New York and Pennsylvania to regulate the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) under the Clean Water Act. H.R. 2766 would remove an exemption from CWA regulation that has been in place since 2005.  Regulations were changed at the urging of former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney. Nine of ten gas wells drilled in the U.S. use hydraulic fracturing to release gas stored in geologic formations. The Bugle covered this bill in May and again earlier this month.

In prepared remarks, Senator Inhofe stated “In fact, in hydraulic fracturing’s 60 year history there has not been a single documented case of contamination“. Straight out of the American Petroleum Institute playbook. “Hydraulic fracturing is a safe, proven, 50-year-old technology that is critical to developing the natural gas used to heat homes, generate electricity, and create basic materials for fertilizers and plastics,” said API President Jack Gerard. Well… there are facts and there are FACTS:

In Dimock, Pa., where drilling recently began in the mammoth Marcellus shale deposit, several drinking-water wells have exploded and nine others were found with so much gas that one homeowner was told to open a window if he planned to take a bath. In February the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection charged Cabot Oil & Gas with two violations that it says caused the contamination, theorizing that gas leaked from the well casing into fractures underground.

Near Cleveland, Ohio, an entire house exploded in late 2007 after gas seeped into its water well. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources later issued a 153-page report (PDF) that blamed a nearby gas well’s faulty concrete casing and hydraulic fracturing.

A study in Garfield County Colorado in 2008 noted that “There is a temporal trend of increasing methane in groundwater samples over the last seven years that is coincident with the increased number of gas wells installed in the Mamm Creek Field.” Concurrent with the increasing methane concentration there has been an increase  in groundwater wells with elevated chloride that can be correlated to the number of gas wells.Chloride is derived from produced water.” The study concluded that dozens of wells in the drilling area have been contaminated.

Waste impoundments and transportation of fracking fluids can also be a source of groundwater pollution. “In New Mexico, oil and gas drilling that uses waste pits comparable to those planned for New York has already caused toxic chemicals to leach into the water table at some 800 sites. Colorado has reported more than 300 spills affecting its ground water.”

In 2008, 1.6 million gallons of fracturing fluid leaked from a waste pit near Parachute, CO. The waste seeped into groundwater and eventually made it into the Colorado River.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Don’t believe a word the industry flacks say. Following Inhofe’s plea of innocence, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) spoke up in support, “My colleague has said it correctly: decade after decade, no one has found any evidence that there is any contamination with hydraulic fracturing.” Oh really? Except maybe the more than a thousand cases of pollution due to gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing that have been well documented for decades.

The defense is predictable and follows the pattern of all such boosterism. They claim that state regulation is good enough, even though the only state that specifically regulates fracturing fluids is Alabama. All other states rely on general drilling regulations. They claim that the Clean Water Act was never meant to apply to fracturing. Well no, not after Dick Cheney and his Halliburton cohorts got through writing the regulations. Finally, Inhofe resorted to the lame Republican excuse that is used every time regulation is proposed for any of their industry contributors. The entire industry will collapse if we have one more regulation. “We must not impose new burdens on our exploration and production.  Instead, we must open up supplies and use our domestic resources in new and innovative ways to create jobs and a new energy economy.” Inhofe has received over $1 million from the oil and gas industry. Bought and paid for, he does a good job for his industry overlords.

ProPublica released a new report on pollution problems in Pennsylvania on Friday Water Problems From Drilling Are More Frequent Than PA Officials Said.

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