Chemicals linked to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” have been found again in the groundwater of a town in Wyoming. A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report released Thursday found traces of methane, ethane and phenol in a monitoring well in rural Pavillion, Wyo., where residents say fracking has contaminated their drinking water.
Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a method of extracting natural gas from shale by pumping water and chemicals under pressure to crack open the rock formation to release the trapped gas. Fracking has caused a boom in the natural gas industry across the nation. This has led to a growth in jobs and pumped up the economy in many localities. It has drastically reduced the price of natural gas.
The low gas prices have resulted in a number of coal-fired power plants being closed and replaced by natural gas. That in turn has reduced the carbon pollution levels in the United States.
There is a price, however, and that comes from suspected pollution of ground water from fracking. In addition, fracking requires mammoth amounts of water which is hiring farmers in many areas especially during the drought. Fracking has also been linked to earthquakes in many areas that never experienced them before.
Pavillion became the focus of the fracking debate in December of 2011, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported finding groundwater contaminants in two wells there. That report, which drew harsh criticism from the natural-gas industry, represented the first time the U.S. government had made a connection between fracking and groundwater pollution. The USGS findings are generally consistent with EPA’s earlier tests.
The natural-gas industry maintains fracking is safe. It claims studies linking fracking to groundwater contamination and seismic activity are false. Natural-gas industry group questioned the assertion that the USGS study matched the EPA’s earlier tests, noting USGS did not test one of the two monitoring wells because the water levels were too low. In March, the Bureau of Land Management issued a report warning that a small sample size, such as the one used by EPA, could create statistical bias in the groundwater samples.
But environmentalists have opposed the practice and say it will have a devastating impact on water supplies. The test results in Wyoming are likely to reignite calls to halt fracking.
In a letter sent to Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Wednesday, 20 House Democrats urged the administration to conduct an environmental impact statement for the effects of fracking before approving natural-gas export agreements or facilities.
The natural gas industry is spending millions in TV ads promoting fracking and its benefits to the economy. The Romney campaign attacks President Obama everyday accusing him of blocking development of the nation’s natural gas resources.
This is an odd attack given the fact that most of the current fracking boom has occurred under Obama’s watch. The gas industry has made billions from fracking in the last four years, and they are spending a lot of that to defeat Obama.
The Obama EPA is concerned about pollution from fracking, but they are being blunted by Congress. The House passes bills every few weeks to eliminate all rules the EPA has made regarding fracking as well as oil drilling, and coal mining. In addition, they have passed bills preventing the EPA from even issuing any clean air and water regulations if they affect mining, fracking, or drilling.
Polls show most Americans still want more environmental regulation of fracking, but the TV ads are working. The huge majority in favor of more regulation has slipped from 65% to 56% according to a recent Bloomberg poll. Only 29% want less regulation, however. Only 32% of Romney supporters want to see environmental regulations as opposed to 76% of Obama supporters. Romney would roll back all environmental regulations, or so he says.
The fossil fuel industry has totally dwarfed the environmental community in spending in the current campaign, both in TV ads and campaign contributions. Much of these contributions are in Super PACS.
Perhaps the new Pavillion finding will change the dialogue. Perhaps it will be discredited though a multi-million dollar PR campaign. Meanwhile, if you live near a fracking operation, be careful about the water you drink.
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