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Hydraulic Fracturing Blamed for Water Contamination

Jan 20, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Hydraulic gas drilling is endangering water supplies around the country.  What's more, according to a report entitled “Drilling Around the Law just released by the Environmental Working Group, drillers often skirt the law, right under the nose of federal regulators.

Hydrualic gas drilling, also known as fracturing or fracking, is currently used in 90 percent of the nation’s natural gas and oil wells. The practice makes drilling possible in areas that 10 to 20 years ago would not have been profitable.  According to the report, distillates from hydraulic drilling include kerosene, mineral spirits and a number of other petroleum products that often contain high levels of benzene, a known human carcinogen that is toxic in water at even minuscule levels.

Drillers inject these substances into the earth under extremely high pressure in a process called hydraulic fracturing that energy companies use to extract natural gas and oil from underground formations. The process fractures the rock to allow additional gas and oil to flow to the surface.

The group found that fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. Even so, Congress in 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing, except fracturing with diesel fuel, from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The exemption followed lobbying by Halliburton and other energy companies, the Environmental Working Group said.

What’s more, the group found that state and federal regulators are generally not tracking fluids used in fracturing and some agencies, including the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC), say the federal Safe Drinking Water Act completely exempts fracking – even with diesel. As a result, companies could easily be fracturing with diesel without a permit. A Wyoming official who asked not to be identified by name told the Environmental Working Group that drilling companies in the state commonly use diesel for fracturing.

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