If you're following the fracking debate closely, it's been a rather busy few weeks chock full of media coverage. Today, Pro Publica published an interview with Benjamin Grumbles, former EPA assistant administrator for water during the Bush years, who suggests that Congress should revisit the exemption of fracking from the Clean Water Act. That's big news considering the EPA initially declared that fracking did not pose a threat to our drinking water. It's especially big news for those of us who support an outright ban on fracking, which we are calling for this week.
Fracking threatens our water -- water we use for drinking, farming and bathing -- and the speed with which the industry is developing drilling sites while federal and local governments slowly figure out what to do is disconcerting. The interview with Grumbles reveals much about the rocky road that has brought us to this point.
Here's a snapshot of last week's (Feb 27 - March 4) speed round on fracking:
● On February 27 the New York Times unveiled the first in a series of articles about fracking in the Marcellus Shale. This thorough investigative effort by Ian Urbina points out the complex relationship that exists between dangerous chemicals, water and government regulations that are meant to prevent the former from contaminating the latter. Even though natural gas companies tell us that they are doing everything they can to prevent it, fracking chemicals find a way to enter our water systems through wastewater and our treatment plants aren't necessarily equipped to stop them or even empowered to test for them.
● On Tuesday, National Public Radio's Diane Rehm followed up by interviewing a few special guests, all of whom are currently major voices in the natural gas debate. Regulation of hazardous materials was a key talking point, particularly because the natural gas industry -- thanks to a few legislative loopholes -- is exempt from many of the rules that would certainly go a long way in protecting our water systems from dangerous contaminants. Energy companies have been developing drilling sites across the Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey at an alarmingly fast pace. We shouldn't rely on some members of the industry volunteering to tell us what chemicals they are pumping into the ground. This is a major point of contention, with many believing that regulations need to be put in place BEFORE fracking is allowed to continue and some - including Food and Water Watch - believing that no level of regulation would truly be enough to protect our natural resource from absorbing dangerous chemicals.
● Another Urbina piece was unveiled on Tuesday by the New York Times, this time focusing on fracking fluid disposal and various methods energy companies utilize to recycle it, including using it to de-ice roads in the winter. But what goes on the roads ends up in the sewers. Ultimately, there are many reasons to believe that we are not doing enough to prevent dangerous chemicals from getting into our wastewater treatment plants. And where does this water go from there? Back into our rivers and streams. In fact, Urbina cites evidence claiming:
[A]t least 260 million gallons of wastewater were sent to plants that discharge their treated waste into rivers . . . ." Unfortunately, many of these treatments plants don't have the technology needed to remove the chemicals and other waste from this water.
● Perhaps, the most interesting item in a rather busy week was Wednesday, when Scientific American analyzed the possibility that natural gas isn't as beneficial as industry claims, and it's certainly not a clean fuel -- something easily overlooked due to the bells and whistles of advertising and promises of new jobs and local economic boosts:
A 2007 lifecycle analysis of natural gas production, distribution and consumption found that when one factors in the total emissions associated with not only the end use of natural gas but also its extraction and distribution--much of it can leak when it is pulled out of the ground and then piped to power plants and other customers--it doesn't seem so much cleaner than coal after all.
So much for gas being a "clean" alternative fuel.
● Thursday, Bloomberg Businessweek pointed to the Obama administration's hands-off approach to frank discussions about fracking and alarmingly refers to EPA's too-little-too-late-effort to study fracking's impact on drinking water, which may not be available until 2014. We should be able to expect our government to act faster than that on something this critical. Energy companies seem to have the advantage here since they are allowed to continue to drill for gas while studies are being conducted.
● The end of the week brought dismal news when Friday revealed what can happen when industry keeps us busy fighting to establish regulations, monitoring and testing, not to mention some semblance of order. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Bay Daily reported that 50,000 gallons of fracking water has been disposed in Baltimore's Back River, while the Post Independent in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, reported that officials are investigating whether or not energy companies injected diesel fuel (1.3 million gallons) into the ground while drilling between 2005 and 2009.
The gas industry has been moving quickly to develop drilling sites for quite some time; The New York Times pointed out that they have already increased the number of active gas wells in Pennsylvania alone from roughly 35,000 to 71,000 since 2000. At the same time, industry is also looking to start new drilling in Maryland and Ohio. Much of this expansion occurs in regions that are surrounded by farms. Fracking's potential to contaminate groundwater could have significant impact on agriculture and endanger consumers through the food we eat.
The industry is trying to quickly expand while consumers and state governments are slowly trying to determine how to regulate natural gas drilling and ensure environmental protections are solidly in place. But for many home owners its already too late. Their drinking water supplies are contaminated; their home values are destroyed. Even if regulations are eventually established and approved, they will more than likely not be enough to truly protect our water systems from the dangers of fracking.
We can't afford to wait for more studies and more watered down regulations. We need to ban fracking now.
State bans or moratoriums will not be enough. We need a federal ban to ensure that hydraulic fracturing doesn't threaten drinking water anywhere in the United States. We can't afford to permanently destroy our natural resources for a temporary solution to our energy woes. Join us in calling for a ban on gas drilling.
Protect your drinking water. Sign the petition for a national ban on fracking.
-Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director