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Final EPA Fracking Meeting Begins Tonight in Binghamton, NY

Sep 13, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is gearing up for its last public hearing on the gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The two-day meeting, which is part of a fracking study the agency announced in March, is scheduled to begin tonight in Binghamton, New York.

The New York EPA fracking meeting has already been postponed on two occasions, due to concerns over crowd size and security.

This week’s hearing will be held in two sessions tonight and two more on Wednesday. The hearing will take comments on how broad a focus the EPA’s fracking study should take. Environmental groups are hoping to convince the agency to take a comprehensive approach.

“We want it to look not only at the fracturing of the well but the whole life cycle of drilling operations from road building to waste disposal and everything in between,” Craig Michaels, watershed program director for Riverkeeper, told the Associated Press.

The National Resources Defense Council is urging the EPA to conduct numerous field studies in communities where known or suspected water contamination has been reported, such as Washington and Bradford counties in Pennsylvania, the Associated Press said.

The industry, obviously, wants a narrow focus, and has called on the EPA to limit its study to the impact fracking has on drinking water.

In New York, fracking has been particularly controversial. Gas drillers have been eyeing massive deposits in the state’s Marcellus shale region, which includes the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. People there are worried that drilling could pollute the watershed. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation has had gas drilling permit approvals on hold since 2008 while it conducts an environmental review of fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. The chemicals that make up that fracking fluid are cause for concern. They may include, among other things, barium, strontium, benzene, glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. All have been linked to health disorders when human exposure is too high. Fracking has been blamed for contaminating water in several places around the country. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, so drillers don’t have to disclose what is contained in their fracking fluids.

Last week, the EPA sent letters to nine gas drillers, requesting that they voluntarily disclose the make-up of their fracking fluids. The agency said the information is needed to complete the fracking study. While the EPA’s initial request was for voluntary disclosure, the agency said it was prepared to use its authority to “require the information needed to carry out its study.”

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