Monday, June 21, 2010

What’s in fracking fluid? Wyoming wants to know

fracking fluid - Colorado Independent Colorado Independent

For years, the secret ingredients in fracking fluid have been  better protected than the location of Dick Cheney’s bunker.

It seems that Mr. Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, which makes fracking fluid, knows a thing or two about keeping the lid on secrets that might not play well in public. 

Especially when the  secret sauce in Halliburton fracking fluid is suspected to contain ingredients that could pose a serious threat to underground aquifers that supply drinking water for millions of residents in Pennsylvania and New York.

But that may be changing due to the action of regulators in the state of  Wyoming.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that, on June 8, member’s of Wyoming’s Oil and Gas Commission voted unanimously to adopt new rules requiring oil and gas companies to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," the process involving the high-pressure injection of water and chemicals into shale rock to release natural gas. 

“Industry organizations and individual companies argued against the new rules, claiming the industry has a proven track record. That point is often countered by others who say lax reporting requirements prevent the public from knowing whether fracking has ever contaminated drinking water sources.”

In the May-June issue of Audubon Magazine, Ted Williams investigates the potential environmental costs of fracking in the Marcellus shale which cuts a wide swath through portions of New York and Pennsylvania.  In his article, Gas Pains, Williams writes:

“A single frack job can require five million gallons of water. Aquatic life is at risk when gas companies dewater streams for fracking and when they store or dispose of used frack water. Not only is the industry allowed to protect the chemical composition of frack water as a trade secret, but under what’s called the “Halliburton Loophole,” fracking is exempt from Safe Drinking Water Act regulations. This was a 2005 gift from then vice president Dick Cheney to the company he used to run.

“Something like three-quarters of the frack water stays in the earth, but that which flows back has acquired additional toxins such as salts, xylene, benzene, ethyl benzene, toluene, heavy metals, and naturally occurring radioactive material usually consisting of radium isotopes—bone-seeking carcinogens.

“Because fracking takes place far below aquifers, groundwater contamination can be prevented by sealing drilling shafts, but the shafts aren’t always properly sealed. For example, in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania, 63 wells drilled by Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas in nine square miles have polluted groundwater and caused private wells to explode, 15 families allege in a lawsuit. Last November the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) fined Cabot $120,000 and ordered it to provide permanent water supplies to affected families.”

It’s notable that Wyoming, a state that has had a long and friendly relationship with the drilling industry, is the first to require that the contents of fracking fluid be disclosed.

It could be a harbinger of things to come.

New York State is working on new regulations to govern natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.  Pennsylvania’s government has lagged but is now showing signs of stirring from its regulatory slumber.  Meanwhile, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has launched a full-scale study of fracking and its environmental consequences.

Time will tell how far any of these new initiatives will go, but as long as the BP debacle in the Gulf drags on and fracking wells keep leaking and exploding in the Marcellus Shale, the change could be significant.

‘Gasland’ - Do the pictures tell the fracking story? 
Lawmakers in NY and PA weigh a gas-drilling moratorium  Fracking the Marcellus Shale: Disaster ahead?  
Out-of-control well spews--in Pennsylvania 
Don't worry, shale gas will rock your world 


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