Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Concern spreads about effect on water supplies of natural-gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing

As reported in an earlier blog item, Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica has been investigating environmental impacts of drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing, which can damage water supplies. City and state governments have begun to react to prevent such damage.

"New York City and state officials have expressed concerns in recent months about how plans to drill for gas in the formation called the Marcellus Shale might affect the rivers and upstate reservoirs that feed drinking water to nine million New Yorkers," writes Lustgarten. "The drilling process involves the use of potentially hazardous chemicals and raises issues about how those fluids would be disposed of and how the environment would be protected against spills."

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has hired a consultant to evaluate the impact of gas drilling. The city water system functions without a filtration plant because its water sources are so clean. The influx of harmful chemicals from gas drilling could require the construction of such a system at an estimated cost of $20 billion, exceeding any potential natural-gas profits, Lustgarten writes. (Read more)

Similar concerns have been raised in New Mexico with the Bureau of Land Management. "New Mexico officials say a gas drilling proposal on federal lands threatens a pristine aquifer that could someday provide drinking water to 15 million households, but the state's protests have met with resistance from the federal office administering the project," Lustgarten reports. "Because the BLM relied on decade-old data in a four-year-old environmental review, neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the state's environment departments were involved in the decision."

Many environmental concerns with gas drilling are linked to the tremendous amount of deregulation the industry has been granted by the federal government. "The drilling industry is exempted from many major federal environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund law and the Toxic Release Inventory, which requires disclosure of hazardous waste," writes Lustgarten. (Read more)

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