PHILADELPHIA Dec 23 The boom in shale natural
gas drilling has raised hopes the United States will be able to
rely on the cleaner-burning fuel to meet future energy needs.
But concerns about its impact on water quality could slow the
industry's ability to tap this bountiful resource.
New York City urged a ban on natural gas drilling in its
watersheds on Wednesday. [nN22207119]
Some questions and answers:
WHY ARE ENVIRONMENTALISTS CONCERNED ABOUT SHALE GAS
Critics of the U.S. boom in shale gas drilling say the
practice contaminates the aquifers where many rural residents
get their domestic water supplies; pollutes the air around gas
rigs and compressor stations, and scars the landscape with
drilling pads and new roads.
The natural gas industry says the drilling technique known
as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is entirely safe,
citing research that has yet to prove any link between fracking
and water contamination that could cause illness.
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM WITH WATER SUPPLIES?
Fracking chemicals are escaping into groundwater, critics
say, and in several states there have been reports of fouled
water and increased illness since drilling began. In addition,
naturally occurring toxic substances such as arsenic are
released from underground by fracturing and have been found at
elevated levels near some drilling operations.
There are more than 200 "introduced" chemicals used in
fracturing but details of how they are used are not published
by energy companies. They are not required to disclose it
because of an exemption to a federal clean water law granted to
the oil and gas industry in 2005. That exemption has made it
hard for critics to prove their case.
Drilling chemicals may cause many illnesses including
cancer, fertility problems and neurological disorders, critics
HAS ANYONE ACTUALLY FOUND TOXIC CHEMICALS IN WATER WELLS
NEAR GAS DRILLING?
Yes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found 14
"contaminants of concern" in 11 private wells in the central
Wyoming farming community of Pavillion, an area with about 250
gas wells. The August report did not identify the source of the
contamination but is conducting more tests and is expected to
reach a conclusion by spring 2010. In Pennsylvania, at least
two privately conducted water tests near gas drilling have also
found chemical contamination. One set of tests is being used in
a lawsuit by a landowner against the gas company.
HOW DOES THE INDUSTRY RESPOND TO THESE CLAIMS?
Companies argue that the fracturing chemicals are heavily
diluted, and are injected through layers of steel and concrete
into the shale a mile or more underground and thousands of feet
below aquifers, so they cannot mingle with drinking water.
Industry officials say there has never been a documented case
of water contamination from gas drilling. Some fracturing
chemicals are also used in household products, which may
explain their presence in water tests, energy companies say.
WHAT'S THE EXPERIENCE OF PEOPLE WHO LIVE NEAR GAS
Residents complain of water that is discolored,
foul-smelling, bad-tasting, and in some cases even black. Some
say drinking it causes sickness and bathing in it causes skin
rashes. In a few cases, water has become flammable because
methane has "migrated" from the drilling operations to water
wells, a fact that has been confirmed by regulators in
Pennsylvania. Many low-income people who live near gas rigs
drink bottled water, and some have their water supplied by the
IS THERE A PROBLEM WITH WASTE WATER?
Yes. Around a third of the millions of gallons of water
used in fracturing comes back to the surface where it is either
reused or trucked to treatment plants. In Pennsylvania, where
the industry is rushing to exploit the massive Marcellus Shale
formation, critics say there isn't enough capacity to remove
toxic chemicals from waste water. As a result, some waste gets
pumped into rivers and creeks with little or no treatment,
critics say. Some residents have accused tank trucks of dumping
waste water on rural roads.
(Reporting by Jon Hurdle; Editing by Daniel Trotta)