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Skepticism of Hydraulic Fracturing Becoming Rampant

Jan 21, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Energy companies are facing more and more opposition from regulators and activists when it comes to hydraulic fracturing.

Proponents of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking,  tout it as a way of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and polluting coal, and it is now used in 90 percent of the nation's natural gas and oil wells. 

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. This opens existing fractures in the rock and allows gas to rise through the wells. According to a recently released report from the Environmental Working Group, 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. In 2005, Congress in exempted hydraulic fracturing, except fracturing with diesel fuel, from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to The Wall Street Journal, concerns about these chemicals contaminating water supplies have prompted some regulators and lawmakers to propose stiffer restrictions on hydraulic drilling. In June, congressional Democrats introduced legislation that would regulate fracturing at the federal level for the first time. The bills remain in committee. In October, the House of Representatives formally asked the Environmental Protection Agency to study the risks posed by fracturing. Several states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania and New York, have either passed or are considering tightening regulations on fracturing and related activities.

As we've reported previously, one state where resistance to fracking is at fever pitch is New York.  Recently, the state has been considering new regulations to allow fracking in its Marcellus Shale region. However, that region encompasses New York City’s watershed in the Catskills, which supplies the city’s drinking water. Officials in New York city have been quite vocal in their opposition to any drilling in the watershed. The EPA has also voiced concerns about the state’s draft regulations, citing the affect drilling would have on public health and the environment. The EPA is urging the state to study the potential impact of the proposed drilling more extensively.

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