Hydraulic Fracturing Report Calls for Increased Environmental Protection

A controversial natural gas mining technique, known as hydraulic fracturing, could pose a serious environmental risk according to a special government task force’s report. 

The draft report was released on August 11 by a task force answering to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and calls for increased transparency on the chemicals being pumped into the ground during hydraulic fracturing gas mining operations meant to extract natural gas. The report also calls for a focus on protecting air quality and water quality during such operations, led by industry but backed up by firm environmental protection regulations.

The report has been in development since early May and eagerly awaited by critics of hydraulic fracturing who believe the process poses a threat to the environment, clean air and drinking water resources.

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The task force also called for the creation of a shale gas industry operation organization focused on the development of best operating practices and increased research and development by the government to lower safety and environmental damage risks.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process for getting at pockets of natural gas trapped underground. Oil and gas companies blast a secret mix of chemicals, sand, water and other substances into the ground at high pressure, fracturing the bedrock and releasing the gas for extraction. The companies have refused to release the ingredients in the chemical cocktails injected into the ground using laws to protect them from revealing company secrets.

Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have expressed concerns for years that hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking, was a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment. However, in 2005 Republicans effectively shielded the oil and gas industry from having to obey federal laws to protect drinking water, sending communities scrambling to find some way to protect their water supplies as the hydraulic fracturing process spread from a few western and southern states to the eastern seaboard.

Thousands of new wells have been built in recent years in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York following the 2005 Energy Policy Act maneuver.

In May, the State of Maryland filed a hydraulic fracturing lawsuit against Chesapeake Energy Corporation over a spill of hydraulic fracturing chemicals into Towanda Creek on April 19. The creek eventually feeds into the environmentally sensitive Chesapeake Bay, which has special environmental protections that gives the state the latitude to outmaneuver the so-called Halliburton Loophole.

Nationwide, there were nearly half a million active natural-gas wells in 2009, 90% of which have relied on hydraulic fracturing at some point.


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