Friday, February 06, 2009

New gas-drilling methods may pollute rural water

New drilling techniques for natural gas are being used in rural areas in Appalachia and the Western U.S., but the health and environmental issues surrounding them are a cause for concern.

Hydraulic fracturing, known commonly as "fracking," involves injecting "water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface, opening existing fractures in the rock and allowing gas to rise through the wells," Josh McDaniel writes for The Christian Science Monitor. Fracking and horizontal drilling mean areas once deemed unsuitable for natural gas extraction are now at the forefront of the energy industry.

The "cocktail" that is forced into rock formations under the ground has been kept under wraps by energy companies and their drilling contractors. McDaniel reports that the confidentiality has become even more cemented since the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which " exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act." Bills have been introduced to repeal the exemption.

Geologist Geoffrey Thyne of the University of Wyoming and Theo Colborn, a leading researcher on the effects of toxins on the human endocrine system, have been trying to learn what and how the components of the solution affect human health. Dr. Colburn has identified several risky chemicals, including at least one known carcinogen, in the mixtures being used. “They are injecting fluid that may or may not be hazardous into thousands of wells and not recovering all of it,” Thyne told McDaniel. “We have to ask, what is in those fluids and where does the fluid go?” Read more here.

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