Despite Federal Study, Fracing ("Fracking") Safety Still in Dispute

By:  Rebecca Terrell
Despite Federal Study, Fracing ("Fracking") Safety Still in Dispute

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory finds that chemicals used in oil and natural gas drilling known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracing" pose no threat to groundwater or drinking water supplies, despite popular claims.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) finds that chemicals used in oil and gas drilling pose no threat to drinking water supplies, contrary to popular claims, according to a new report from the Associated Press (AP). The DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is researching a process known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracing" which extracts valuable oil and natural-gas reserves stored in shale rock formations more than a mile below Earth's surface. The U.S. Energy Information Administration credits recent advances in fracing technology with rejuvenating the U.S. natural-gas industry and freeing the nation from dependence on foreign sources. NETL's current study focuses on a site in western Pennsylvania, southwest of Pittsburgh, in one of the largest shale formations in the nation, the Marcellus Shale Play.

Yet drillers must suspend their triumph over environmentalist claims that fracing leaches toxic gases and chemicals into groundwater, posing treacherous public health hazards. The same day AP released its article on the "landmark federal study," NETL published its Statement on Reported Fracking Study, which tells a different story. "We are still in the early stages of collecting, analyzing and validating data from this site. While nothing of concern has been found thus far, the results are far too preliminary to make any firm claims," states NETL. "We expect a final report on the results by the end of the calendar year."

NETL's study is hardly the first of its kind. Hydraulic fracturing has been used for more than 60 years and is rigorously regulated by both federal and state laws. In 1995, Carol Browner, then-administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced that investigations of fracing in Alabama between 1989 and 1993 "failed to show any chemicals that would indicate the presence of fracturing fluids" in drinking water. U.S. Representative Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) defended fracing in a July 2010 address to Congress, stating, "The safety is documented with zero confirmed cases of groundwater contamination in 1 million applications" in its 60-year history.

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