Feds Study; States, Cities Ban ‘Fracking’

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 @ 03:02 PM gHale

“Fracking” is largely exempt from federal environmental regulation, but that may soon change.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” is a process to extract gas trapped underneath shale deposits deep below the earth’s surface. Environmentalists said fracking pollutes supplies of drinking water. A congressional inquiry found natural gas drillers had dumped more than 32 millions of diesel, one of several potentially hazardous byproducts of the fracking process, into the ground.

Even though there’s mounting public pressure on the natural gas industry to rein in the fracking process, the practice is largely exempt from federal environmental regulation.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has never investigated the process engineers use to extract the gas trapped underneath shale deposits deep below the earth’s surface.

But now the EPA is preparing a review to extend its oversight into fracking.

Under the preliminary version of the overhaul, the EPA will investigate instances of water contamination in three to five sites, as a sample from the far wider number of fracking sites across the country. EPA investigators would also conduct two or three full case studies to examine the environmental effects of fracking over the full course of a cycle of gas extraction.

The fight over fracking is heating up at the local level. In New York, outgoing Governor David Paterson issued a moratorium on fracking until investigators could more fully determine its safety. The state’s new environmental chief, Joe Martens, said his agency won’t be awaiting the results of the EPA’s review, which will take two years to complete. Martens said he will draft an enhanced set of new regulations aimed at preventing fracking-related damage to the state’s water supplies.

“As I think the governor has said, in various policy books, we won’t undertake drilling until we’re confident it can be done safely,” Martens said. To date, the cities of Buffalo and Pittsburgh banned the practice of fracking.

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