Archive for the ‘natural gas’ Category

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama embraced the development of unconventional natural gas. In step with the theme of the address, the president highlighted both the abundance of the domestic resource and its job creation potential.

President Obama Overstates the Benefits of Natural Gas

In response, anti-fracking groups including the National Grassroots Coalition, United for Action, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy and Protecting Our Waters immediately challenged the resource supply and job statistics cited by President Obama, saying in an email to supports,

He was referring to industry-produced studies predicting 600,000 jobs as estimates from “experts”, but the real experts — the Bureau of Labor Statistics — predict less than one-fourth that numbers by 2018.

And the president, like the industry, fails to estimate how many jobs will be lost — far too many farmers, for example, have already lost their livelihoods due to extreme pollution and animal deaths caused by shale gas drilling.

The President overstated the amount of shale gas believed to be recoverable: proven reserves will provide 7 to 11 years, and unproven (speculative) reserves may provide up to 20 years, which does not add up to 100. The federal Energy Information Agency just dropped its estimate from Marcellus reserves down to 6 years from its previous estimate of 17 years.

Disagreement about the amount of natural gas that can be recovered from shale and how many jobs could be created by this industry is certainly an important discussion, but it is secondary to the discussion of whether or not extracting this resource can be done safely.

Chemical Disclosure Requirement Would Only Apply to a Small Percentage of Wells

President Obama followed his endorsement of natural gas development by stating that he will require all companies that drill on public land to disclose chemical use “because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.” This proposed disclosure requirement, which is currently making its way through the Department of Interior rulemaking process, seems intended to soothe public anxiety around the practice of hydraulic fracturing or fracking. However, the rule referenced here would apply only to gas drilling on public land.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, only about 11 percent of all U.S. natural gas production occurred on federal land, and the department estimates that hydraulic fracturing is used for about 90 percent of gas wells drilled on public lands.

The vast majority of fracking is done on private land, and only a handful of the 33 states where fracking occurs have adopted some kind of requirement that the chemicals used be disclosed to the public. In fact, according to a report prepared by the Wilderness Society for the Department of Energy’s subcommittee on natural gas, “only one [state] requires full public disclosure of the chemical components of hydraulic fracturing fluids: Wyoming. Three other states (Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee) provided some disclosure of chemicals, but not to the public or in sufficient detail.”

Disclosure Requirements are Not Enough

And while it is clear that we need a national standard for disclosure of fracking chemicals, this alone would not safeguard the public against the risks associated with fracking. Many questions about the safety of this practice remain unanswered. There have been more than 1,000 documented cases of water contamination near drilling sites around the country. Meanwhile, the industry is drilling new wells at an alarming pace. According to a ProPublica investigation, between 2003 and 2008, the number of new wells drilled in fracking states increased 42 percent. Aside from the rulemaking for drilling on public lands being undertaken by the Department of Interior, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are conducting studies on the safety and impacts of hydraulic fracking.

At the minimum, fracking should be halted before the conclusion of these studies. And it goes without saying, that the president should not be promoting an underregulated and unproven technology as a central component of his energy platform.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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Groups Urge Obama to Halt Fracking

Today, 68 leaders of public health, environmental, academic, faith-based, and other organizations, urged President Obama to do everything in his power to halt the largely unregulated expansion of hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas (“fracking”), a practice which has been linked to contaminated groundwater across the country.

The letter to the President states, “[t]he lack of federal protections, combined with the current level and predicted increase of this activity, pose extreme and unnecessary risks to public health the environment,” and urges the President to put the brakes on the practice “until and unless the environmental and health impacts of this process are well understood and the public is adequately protected.”

The oil and gas industry have successfully lobbied for exemptions for fracking from several environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act. Companies that engage in fracking are not even required to disclose the nature and quantity of the more than 900 different chemicals used in the process.

View the full letter and list of signatories, here.

Photo courtesy of flickr

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With myriad exemptions in place for the natural gas industry in federal environmental legislation, most of the regulation is left to the states.  This has led to a hodgepodge of regulation that leaves the public health and environment under protected and forces industry to operate under numerous regulatory frameworks.

New York and Pennsylvania are currently undergoing processes to improve their hydraulic fracturing regulations.  On July 1, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released its Preliminary Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program, totaling almost 1100 pages, and, last week, the Marcellus Shale Advisory Committee (MSAC), as commissioned by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, released its recommendations in a 137 page report.  Both could be steps in the right direction provided there is adequate public input and profits are not put ahead of public health and the environment.

New York and Pennsylvania are facing many of the same issues concerning hydraulic fracturing but are addressing the issues differently, causing

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Due to the growing awareness and warranted concern over the controversial and under regulated natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the House Appropriations Conference Committee, as part of its FY2010 budget report, directed the EPA to study and evaluate the practice’s effect on drinking water, and report to the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) for a peer review.  In the study, the EPA will consider five existing wells retrospectively to determine the effect they have had on local water supplies and two new wells prospectively throughout their entire lifecycles.  Yesterday, after originally considering 48 possible sites, the EPA released the locations of the seven wells to be studied:

Prospective

Haynesville Shale – DeSoto Parish, La. – Chesapeake Energy

Marcellus Shale – Washington County, Pa. – Range Resources

Retrospective

Bakken Shale – Kildeer, and Dunn Counties, N.D.

Barnett Shale – Wise and Denton Counties

Texas
Marcellus Shale – Bradford and Susquehanna Counties

Pa.
Marcellus Shale – Washington County

Pa.
Raton Basin – Las Animas County, Colo.

(The operators of the retrospective wells have not yet been released)

In what is known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” hydraulic fracturing is currently exempt from
regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  This study could be a very important

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Last night I debated an oil shale proponent on CBNC on Texas’ Eagle Ford shale development, which, in its infancy, has already become a major new potential source of domestic oil production. But, as I’ve me"Tyson Slocum fracking"ntioned before,when we talk about drilling for gas or oil shale, what we’re really talking about is using and polluting enormous volumes of water. An individual well can use up to 6 million gallons of water, mixed with toxic chemicals and particulates (such as sand) during the fracking process. Much of that water in Eagle Ford is clean drinking water from the Carrizo Willcox aquifer. And roughly 85% of that toxic water injected into the ground during fracking remains down there in the formation. In our drive to reduce oil imports, we most likely will drive up water imports as fracking-mania sucks our fragile drinking water resources dry. As long as industry continues to lobby Congress to keep fracking unregulated, it is all the more critical for concerned citizens out there to demand that Congress simply subject fracking to regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Tyson Slocum directs Public Citizen’s energy program. Follow him on Twitter @tysonslocum

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