GREEN IS GOOD
by Margaret Smith
Water: two hydrogen, one oxygen...and the crystalline compound adamantane? With 2-butoxyethanol, or 2-BE?
That's what citizens in states like New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and Colorado are finding in their drinking water. The culprit? Fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process used by natural gas and oil companies. Fracking allows the oil and gas in reservoir rock to move more freely from the rock pores. A chemical mixture of sand and fluids is injected under high pressure, which creates or enlarges fractures in the rock to unlock the deposits buried deep underground. Then the oil and gas is able to move to a production well where the it can be brought to the surface.
According to the investigative Web site ProPublica, fracking has vastly increased the amount of natural gas drilling in the United States. In 2007, there were 449,000 gas wells in 32 states, thirty percent more than in 2000, and by 2012 the nation could be drilling 32,000 new wells a year. Today, according to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, nine out of 10 gas wells in the United States currently use fracturing fluids.
But at what cost?
The same chemicals used in fracking have been found contaminating the precious drinking water supply in rural areas across the United States, and with many harmful results. In some cases chemical compounds, those of most concern being adamantes and 2-BE, have been found in streams, springs and water wells that provide for neighboring towns. These compounds are not only dangerous to ingest, but they're potentially volatile. In one case, a house exploded after hydraulic fracturing created underground passageways and methane leaked into the residential water supply.
A Debate in Compromise
Whether or not the fluids used in fracking are polluting the drinking water is still a matter of debate -- largely because many officials aren't sure what they're arguing about. The 2005 Energy Policy Act has excluded fracking from the jurisdiction of the Safe Drinking Water Act, making the precise make-up of fracking fluids trade secrets in the industry.
A 2004 EPA study is the key source used to dismiss complaints that hydraulic fluids used in fracking could be the source of contaminants found in drinking water. A lengthy investigative piece released by ProPublica late last year, however, found many loopholes in the 424-page report, as well as some other shocking information:
The study concluded that hydraulic fracturing posed "no threat" to underground drinking water because fracturing fluids aren't necessarily hazardous, can’t travel far underground, and that there is "no unequivocal evidence" of a health risk.
But documents obtained by ProPublica show that the EPA negotiated directly with the gas industry before finalizing those conclusions, and then ignored evidence that fracking might cause exactly the kinds of water problems now being recorded in drilling states.
Buried deep within the 424-page report are statements explaining that fluids migrated unpredictably -- through different rock layers, and to greater distances than previously thought -- in as many as half the cases studied in the United States. The EPA identified some of the chemicals as biocides and lubricants that "can cause kidney, liver, heart, blood, and brain damage through prolonged or repeated exposure." It found that as much as a third of injected fluids, benzene in particular, remains in the ground after drilling and is "likely to be transported by groundwater."
The FRAC Act
Thankfully, Democrats in Congress are looking to change all this.
The Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, or FRAC Act, was introduced early this June in the Senate by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) as well as in the House by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Jared Polis (D-CO).
While the EPA allows companies to make "every effort...to maximize the production of oil and gas", the FRAC Act would "require these companies to disclose the chemicals they are using in our communities -- especially near our water sources," DeGette said in a press release, vice chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
"Our bill simply closes an unconscionable Bush-Cheney loophole by requiring the oil and gas industry to follow the same rules and everyone else," DeGette added.
"Families, communities and local governments are upset that the safety of their water has been compromised by a special interest exemption, and we join them in that frustration," said Polis. "It is irresponsible to stand by while innocent people are getting sick because of an industry exemption that Dick Cheney snuck in to our nation's energy policy."
Since the bill's introduction, the FRAC Act has made slow progress not only due to the immense workload Congress has been under, but also because of fierce industry opposition. The energy industry maintains that state regulations are proficient enough to protect drinking water from hydraulic fracturing contamination. They also argue that the legislation would hamper exploration, raise fuel prices and cost Americans jobs and energy.
GREEN IS GOOD