Controversial path to possible glut of natural gas
Water and chemicals injected at high pressure can extract more gas – and possibly pollute drinking water.
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The SBRC has issued two cease-and-desist orders to companies illegally removing water. It has told 23 others to clarify requirements, and found that about 50, in all, are vying for water, leases, and drilling permits in the region.Skip to next paragraph
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Tiny Nockamixon Township, which has resisted gas drilling, is being sued by natural-gas drillers. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case in which some towns are seeking to overturn lower court decisions that keep municipalities from having laws regulating gas drilling inside their borders.
Back in Texas, some are fighting the practice of reinjecting frac water into the earth. In Erath County, near Fort Worth, Bill Gordon has successfully protested several new commercial injection wells that, according to him, would have pumped as much as 30,000 barrels a day of untreated frac water underground.
A recent lightning strike set one such well on fire, proving to Mr. Gordon that volatile chemicals remain in the fluid.
“Nobody knows what’s in this drilling fluid,” he says. “I think we need to know.”
What’s being injected deep underground?
Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are not new. Both date back decades. But their combined use to get gas from shale formations is new within the past decade.
Hydraulic fracturing has long been used to get gas from coal beds, a process some say is similar to shale-gas fracturing.
An Environmental Protection Agency study in 2004 concluded that hydraulic fracturing to get methane gas from coal beds “poses little or no threat” to drinking water supplies. But several EPA scientists have challenged that finding.
“EPA produced a final report ... that I believe is scientifically unsound and contrary to the purposes of law,” Weston Wilson, a 30-year EPA veteran, wrote in a whistle-blower petition in 2004. “Based on the available science and literature, EPA’s conclusions are unsupportable.”
Today, chemicals used in fracturing are considered by the companies to be trade secrets. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts companies from being forced by the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and other federal laws to reveal what chemicals are in their fracturing fluids.
But some say that it’s critical to know what’s being injected deep underground.
“We’re very concerned about this toxic drilling and hydraulic fracturing,” says Gwen Lachelt, director of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project in Durango, Colo. “We need to know what’s in what they’re putting into the ground.”
[ Editor's Note: The original version of this article described a New York bill as a way to “permit” shale-gas drilling using fracturing technology. In fact, fracturing was already permitted. The new bill changes “well-unit spacing” in a way that opens the way for greatly expanded use of hydraulic fracturing in tandem with horizontal drilling. ]