Congress investigates possible water contamination caused by gas well drilling
The following newspaper article from New York State explains how gas drilling companies across the nation are injecting toxic chemicals into the ground without government or industry oversight.
The U.S. House of Representative's Oversight and Government Reform Committee
is investigating the process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used
in the creation of gas wells, which allegedly has caused contamination of
the drinking water in several locations around the country. In the fracking
process, water, sand and other materials are injected deep into underground
wells at high pressure to force out gas, which can then be recovered.
Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the committee, began hearings on
October 31, 2007 on the subject of diesel fuel and other toxic chemicals
being mixed into the fracking fluid. He also sent a letter to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) asking if the EPA was
effectively monitoring a 2003 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that was
intended to eliminate these injections into the underground sources of
Waxman said in the October memo that while the EPA claimed that it was
actively monitoring the drilling, "the basis for your statement appears to
be less than impressive: a hastily collected set of three e-mails amounting
to just half a dozen sentences."
In the hearings Waxman held, a succession of scientistsóa medical
toxicologist, a national recognized endocrinologist, a member of Trout
Unlimited, a senior policy analyst of a national defense council and several
landownersóclaimed that gas companies not only injected diesel fuel into the
fracking liquid as a part of their drilling, but also injected benezine,
toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene into the liquid, which in turn
contaminated drinking water, causing serious physical ailments in residents.
The Waxman hearings
According to Chemical and Engineering News, which reported on the hearings
in a February 8 article, hearing witness Dr. Theo Colborn, a Ph D. in
zoology and president of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a non-profit
group that focuses on health problems from low-dose chemical exposures,
said, "The toxic chemicals are employed for fracturing operations and are
added to alter the underground strata to allow methane to escape up the well
pipe. We have identified 171 products used in Colorado containing altogether
245 different chemicals, 92 percent of which have adverse health effects."
Dr. Daniel T. Teitelbaum, an occupational physician and toxicologist, in
testimony before the committee, said, "There is no data base of those
exposed as workers or as residents near the extraction or processing.
Although there have been documented health complaints by residents, no
government agency has asked for an investigation," he said. "The fact that
neither government nor industry has undertaken these critical
exposure/outcome health studies is inexcusable."
Lack of oversight
Opponents of the drilling process claim that the lack of oversight goes back
to an energy policy meeting convened by Vice President Dick Cheney, held
back from Congressional oversight, that recommended that Congress exempt
hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The exemption was
passed as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Halliburton, of which Cheney is a former CEO, created the fracking
At the time, an editorial comment from the Oil and Gas Accountability
Project, a non-profit group with the mission of working with
tribal, urban and rural communities to protect their homes and the
environment, made the following report after studying the procedure of
fracturing: "The National Energy Bill currently pending before the Congress
includes this exemption. If passed, states, municipalities, and individual
property owners will have to bear the burden of any clean-up, health risk
and loss of property values associated with ground-water contamination
caused by hydraulic fracturing."
A group of residents and friends called Damascus (New York) Citizens for Self
Government have been attempting to educate residents on the dangers that can
accompany gas drilling and fracturing. Upon learning of the Waxman hearing
alleging the dangers of the widespread practice of fracturing, the group has
contacted renowned environmental attorney Richard Lippes, who served as
counsel to plaintiffs of the famous Love Canal case.
"We are in conversation with Mr. Lippes and are examining our options at
this time," said Barbara Arrindell, a spokesperson for the group.
"I have agreed to represent the group and to investigate if the option of
going to court would be useful," Lippes said. "Oil and gas drilling may
adversely affect the local environment and we would do whatever is necessary
to provide protection to the people and their property."
Lippes also represents the Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition in its
fight against the New York Regional Interconnect's proposal to build a power
line through the area.
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