Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wyoming gas-drilling study influences debate over Marcellus Shale wells in western New York state

An Environmental Protection Agency study of Wyoming natural-gas drilling is affecting at least one other drilling project across the country. EPA found traces of caustic chemicals in 11 private water supplies in Wyoming, clouding the future of a proposed drilling project in Broome County, New York, Tom Wilber of the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reports, adding that the findings have intensified the debate over the proposed Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act) currently before Congress.

We first reported on the controversial drilling process called "fracking," injecting a high-pressure cocktail of chemicals, water and sand into rock formations to release natural gas, in February. EPA's first investigation of water contamination due to fracking revealed contamination in 11 of 39 wells tested in Pavillion, Wyo., Bob Moen of The Associated Press reports. (Read more)

The FRAC Act, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Maurice Hinchey of New York and Diana DeGette of Colorado, would require companies to disclose the chemical solutions used in the process. Opponents say the measure could discourage drilling into strata like the vast Marcellus Shale now under development in Appalachia by 10 to 20 percent, Wilber reports. The debate is heating up as a draft of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations for oversight of water-intensive drilling anticipated in full-scale Marcellus production is completed by Sept. 22.

"The analogy I like to use is when cigarette companies used to say there is no scientific proof that smoking causes lung cancer," Stan Scobies, a Binghamton advocate for a cautious drilling, told Wilber. "If you don't look, you don't find it." Roger Willis, president of Pennsylvania-based Universal Well Services, told Wilber that fracking risks are no different than any other industrialized process. While the two sides continue to debate, permits for drilling the Marcellus in New York are on hold until the DEC's assessment is complete. (Read more)

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