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

Diplomats Work to Extend Arab-Israeli Cease-Fire

Top officials from the US, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar gather in Paris, while Israel security forces continue searching for tunnels used by militants and Gazan rescue workers search for bodies More

Photogallery US Defense Department Warns of Arms to Eastern Ukraine

‘Imminent’ delivery of Russian rocket launcher poses threat to civilians, US says More

Video Researchers: Africa Genetically Modified Crops Held Back by Scaremongering

GM crops offer best hope of increasing productivity and coping with climate change in Africa, according to co-author of Chatham House report 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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid