News / USA

Tighter Natural Gas Extraction Rules Debated

Hydraulic fracturing raises health concerns

Breast cancer survivor Dana Dolney, at the Shale Gas Outrage protest in Philadelphia, wants the names of chemicals used in fracking to be publicly disclosed.
Breast cancer survivor Dana Dolney, at the Shale Gas Outrage protest in Philadelphia, wants the names of chemicals used in fracking to be publicly disclosed.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Pennsylvania sits atop the largest deposit of natural gas in the United States. Called the Marcellus Shale, it's a rich reserve trapped in a vast, kilometer-deep rock formation which is regarded as an important domestic source of energy and economic engine for the region.

A drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that combines horizontal and vertical drilling with water, sand and chemicals has made it economical to extract.

But the rush to drill has sparked a national debate over whether and how these drilling operations should be regulated to protect public health and the environment.

Fifteen hundred protestors brought their concerns to Philadelphia this fall for “Shale Gas Outrage,” a rally calling for a halt to gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. They warn it is a disaster of unprecedented proportions unfolding across Pennsylvania.

The Marcellus Shale runs under three-quarters of their state and into Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland and New York. Only Maryland and New York have instituted a moratorium and are moving with caution while they study the issue.  

A year ago in western Pennsylvania, the call to ban fracking won unanimous approval from the Pittsburgh City Council.

“We now have three surrounding municipalities who have their own ban modeled on our bill,” says Councilman Doug Shields, who sponsored the measure. “And I see that movement growing. But, it's difficult when you’re up against the power, the might and the money.”



That view is shared by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization.

“We think that natural gas drilling generally and hydraulic fracturing in particular is an inherently risky process," says the group's senior counsel, Dusty Horwitt, who is lead author of an investigative report linking gas drilling to specific cases of water contamination. "We would like to see a moratorium on drilling and fracking near water supplies until we have some better science so that we know exactly what the risks are.”

Despite the public outcry, private well contamination is hard to prove. In Pennsylvania, private water wells are not regulated. And pollution, fracking proponents argue, could come from other sources such as abandoned mines, agriculture run-off or leaky septic systems.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just released preliminary results of a three-year study in Pavillion, Wyoming, that found chemicals associated with fracking turning up in local ground water.

The EPA findings strengthen the case for repeal of a provision in the 2005 Energy Act that exempts fracking from the Clean Drinking Water law. Sen. Robert Casey, a democrat, is behind the initiative. At a recent government hearing he called for tough national standards.

“Why should we have a set of tough environmental rules that protect drinking water and ground water in one state and have a state next door or across the country have a whole other set of rules?" he said. "So I think we can get this right.” 

But Congress is divided on the issue. At the same hearing, Republican Sen. James Inhofe voiced his opposition to federal rules. “States are different. In my state of Oklahoma, the Anadarko Shale, we’re talking about 30,000 feet (9144 meters). Go just north to Kansas (and) their shale is between 3,000 feet (914 meters) and 4,000 feet (1219 meters). So it’s different, and that’s why this one-shoe fits all just doesn’t work in this case.”



A similar debate rages in the U.S. House of Representatives where Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection secretary Michael Krancer was recently called to testify.

Krancer made it clear that he opposes federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing for many reasons. "Not every state does it. Not every state does it the same way. Not every state has the same geography. It’s also a matter of philosophy; should we have the federal government establishing a lowest common dominator?”

Back in his office at the state capital in Harrisburg, Krancer sees the Marcellus Shale as an economic boon and feels confident it can be managed in an environmentally-responsible way.

“There is no such thing as any energy source that has zero consequences or zero other impact. So whatever energy source it is there are things that need to be managed and at the end of the day, if there is no energy, there’s no economy and frankly we need energy to survive.”

In the meantime, beyond its Wyoming report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is completing a more comprehensive study at Congress' request to determine what impact hydraulic fracturing might be having on drinking water. The initial findings, expected in 2012, could spawn stricter federal regulations and even more intense debate on Capitol Hill and in communities across the nation.

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs