'Fracking': Did Energy Department report clear up controversy?
According to the US panel, 'fracking' to release gas deposits in shale can be done in an environmentally responsible way. The industry hailed the report as refuting shrill critics, but environmentalists decried 'advocacy-based science' by a panel tilted toward the industry.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to release vast supplies of natural gas trapped in shale deposits can be conducted in an environmentally responsible way, a federal energy panel has concluded, but only if major steps are taken, including greater transparency by the gas-drilling industry, the close monitoring of groundwater quality, and the adoption of rigorous emissions standards.Skip to next paragraph
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The Department of Energy panel – the Shale Gas Production Subcommittee – created in May at the direction of President Obama to study the controversial fracking procedure, released its findings in a report early Thursday.
The report was hailed by the gas industry as showing that environmental concerns about fracking were exaggerated, but it came under quick fire from environmental groups, who called the panel heavily tilted toward the oil and gas industry and accusing it of “advocacy-based science.” They said the findings could undercut environmental studies already under way.
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Fracking by natural-gas drilling companies has expanded rapidly, contributing to a dramatic rise in so-called “unconventional” natural-gas production – from about 2 percent of America's gas supply a decade ago to about 30 percent today.
The gas-rich Marcellus shale beds lying beneath New York, Pennsylvania, and other parts of the Northeast could supply trillions of cubic feet of natural gas for decades. But the process involves pumping tons of chemicals and sand into the ground under high pressure, which critics say can pollute groundwater and increase air pollution.
Areas of concern identified by the federal panel included: methane and chemical pollution of groundwater; air pollution; disruption of communities; and cumulative impacts on the environment.
Tensions between the gas industry and local communities have been especially high in Colorado, Texas, and Pennsylvania, where fracking has already been blamed for contaminating drinking water and other groundwater and for polluting the air.
Methane levels were, for instance, found to be 17 times higher in groundwater near areas where shale-gas fracking wells had been drilled in Pennsylvania than in areas where no gas drilling had occurred, according to a peer-reviewed Duke University study of groundwater wells in Pennsylvania and New York earlier this year. Excess methane in water makes the water undrinkable.
Controversy accelerated in recent years when some companies dumped millions of gallons of fracking wastewater into creeks or into municipal sewage systems that were not designed to remove harmful chemicals and other elements.