Thursday, January 12, 2012

State regulators struggle to keep up with gas boom

The natural gas drilling boom is moving fast, and state regulatory agencies are having a hard time keeping up, reports Renee Schoof of McClatchy Newspapers. She provides a good overview of concerns about disposal of drilling wastewater and how regulations are lagging behind technology. Twenty-four states contain wells that use hydraulic fracturing to break up deep, dense shale deposits, and since the chemicals used in fracking are exempt from federal environmental rules, it's left to state agencies to pick up the slack.

Pennsylvania's geology doesn't allow wastewater to be stored underground, so companies recycle it. Still, some ends up in landfills and wells in Ohio. Schoof reports state regulators are scrambling to protect water supplies and human health. In Ohio, officials have blamed injection of drilling wastewater for minor earthquakes. New York is taking a cautious approach. It's nearing the end of a three-year fracking study and will decide next year whether or not to provide drilling permits. The state has outlawed wastewater storage in natural deep wells. In Texas, where the shale-gas boom began, there are thousands of waste water storage wells. The state will require disclosure of fracking chemicals and amount of water used to drill after Feb. 1.

The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a study about effects of fracking on drinking-water supplies that is expected to be complete by 2014. In a draft of the report, the agency reveals it found fracking chemicals in water wells in Pavillion, Wyo. Burning gas creates much less air pollution than burning coal, but Schoof says smog hot spots show up where drilling engines and other equipment are at work. The EPA has proposed new air pollution standards, which the industry opposes. (Read more)

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