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Is 'fracking' for natural gas safe?

This letter is in reply to a recent Community Commentary by James Kline titled "Natural gas is the answer." Kline starts out by addressing the good points about natural gas and the large quantities recently found here in the United States. We wholeheartedly agree with him on this. He then goes on to say that although vast deposits of natural gas could meet a sizable share of America's energy needs, its production is being held back, particularly in New York state, by misplaced environmental concerns over hydraulic fracturing. It is this hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" that we would like to address and you can decide for yourself if the environmental concerns are misplaced or not.

Fracking is a means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. Once the well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into the well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissions that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well. Generally, 1-8 million gallons of water and 80-300 tons of chemicals are used to frack a well. After fracking, the highly toxic waste water is pumped out of the well. Only 30-50% is typically recovered. This fracking procedure was developed by Halliburton and is now used throughout the industry.

In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed by Congress to ensure clean drinking water free from both natural and man-made contaminates. Yielding to pressure from high paid Halliburton lobbyists, Congress passed an Energy Bill in 2005 that exempted natural gas drilling from the SDWA and also exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during fracking. Essentially, the 2005 Energy Bill took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) right out of the picture. Scientists have identified some of the fracking chemicals as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox was asked to lease his own land for drilling, he embarked on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a huge trail of secrets, lies and contamination. Healthy families having serious health problems; wells that provided good drinking water for generations contaminated with unknown chemicals; well water that actually could be lit on fire, and the list goes on. When confronted about these problems by homeowners, some gas companies installed an inadequate filter on the water system while other homeowners were simply told "prove it" or "if you don't like it, sue us." Josh Fox produced a documentary entitled "Gasland" which documents his findings in great detail. It was first shown on HBO in June, 2010, and has since been shown on PBS and ABC. Gasland has received outstanding press reviews and we strongly suggest that you see it, as it is absolutely an eye opener. As you might expect, the gas drilling industry has done everything possible to discredit Gasland.

The Marcellus Shale, a rock formation with large swaths of natural gas runs through much of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. After viewing the documentary and investigating, New York state's Gov. Paterson signed an executive order temporarily halting the controversial fracking in order to give the state more time to study the practice. He acknowledged that fracking poses serious threats to our health and safe drinking water. Fracking has also become a hot-button issue in Washington, D.C. recently.

Fracking for natural gas is acceptable only if safeguards on the entire extraction process are in place. Right now, that is not the case. Fracking without appropriate safeguards for human health and the environment not only hurts communities, it ultimately hurts the industry. People aren't stupid. When companies say their fracking fluid is 97% water so don't worry, that's not very satisfying. Would you want to drink a glass of water that is only 3% poison? Would you want that ratio in your child's glass? It's not fair to put the burden on individual citizens to fight big wealthy corporations in order to continue living where they are, in a clean environment and with safe drinking water. Safe drinking water is one of our most precious resources. Life does not exist without it.

We're Americans and we can solve this problem if we put our minds to it. The right policies and procedures must be in place to ensure fracking is not harmful to the environment and human health. It is critical that we get it right. Natural gas has an important role to play in America's transition to a cleaner energy future.

John and Marlene Allard
Barrington

 
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