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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs