(NaturalNews) Oil and gas companies are engaged in fracking, a gas drilling process hailed as an economy booster, job creator and greener energy source. However, fracking has propelled hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous, carcinogenic and radioactive chemicals into gas wells in 13 states, according to the new House and Energy Commerce Committee report covered in the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/lDzSYo).
The drilling method, also called hydraulic fracturing, uses a fluid consisting of water, sand and chemicals injected under high pressure to release oil and gas from cracks in shale rock 5,000 to 8,000 feet underground. The practice has been mired in controversy with claims that it is destroying the environment while some lawmakers work hand in hand with energy industry lobbyists.
Natural gas is a key element in President Obama's goal to have 80 percent of electricity produced from clean sources, like wind and solar, by 2035, according to a recent Business Week article (http://buswk.co/eq19Aa) -- 90 percent of that gas is obtained through fracking.
The Marcellus Shale, a rock formation in eastern North America where fracking is rampant, is thought to contain 490 trillion cubic feet of gas, making it the second-largest gas field in the world. It has enough gas to heat U.S. homes and power electric plants for twenty years.
The "shale gas rush," in pursuit of this massive energy reservoir, is creating thousands of jobs and reviving the economy in states such as Wyoming, Texas, and Louisiana, according to Business Week (http://buswk.co/eq19Aa). It created $389 million in tax revenue in Pennsylvania and 44,000 jobs in 2009.
The benefits to politicians of supporting fracking, particularly in this economic climate, are clear. Business Week states: "the drilling is receiving little federal oversight from the EPA and state and local authorities are writing their own rules and having trouble keeping up."
Fracking fluids to date have been kept secret by the oil and gas companies that use them as proprietary information. They argue that making the ingredients public would hurt competition, according to a Reuters article (http://bit.ly/lt6wfa). But public fears surrounding the practice are due in large part to that secrecy. With the new HECC report, it is clear those fears are not unfounded.
The report, which was written by Representatives Henry A. Waxman of California, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Diana DeGette of Colorado, found a mixture of ingredients in the fluid ranging from harmless to strange to dangerous. It also blamed the companies for "injecting fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify."
Harmless ingredients included salt and citric acid, while bizarre ingredients included instant coffee and walnut hulls. Many ingredients, however, were listed as "extremely toxic," and included ingredients such as lead and benzene, which is a known carcinogen.
The Environmental Protection Agency is attempting a national study on the dangers of fracking to public drinking water but the task is a difficult one with companies refusing to make their ingredients public, according to the EPA e-mails reported in the aforementioned New York Times article (http://nyti.ms/lDzSYo).
Environmental and health concerns
Harmful chemicals are already spreading into surrounding areas during drilling accidents such as well casing failures underground or spills above ground. Environmentalists and lawmakers are concerned, however, that these dangerous fracking chemicals may be seeping through the layers of shale and contaminating drinking water even under normal operating conditions.
New information also shows that the process is releasing far more methane into the atmosphere than previously thought, according to a New York Times article (http://nyti.ms/g78RtJ).
In a recent incident, thousands of gallons of fracking fluid leaked into Towanda Creek in Bradford County, Pennsylvania due to the failure of equipment at a Chesapeake Energy Corp. gas well, according to Associated Press (http://bit.ly/jzP2kP) and MSNBC (http://on.msnbc.com/lhaFP6). The fluid, which could not be contained initially, traveled across farmlands and into the stream. The energy company finally got the well under control on Monday, April 25, five days after the leak began.
Legal action has been taken against Chesapeake Energy, Chesapeake Appalachia and Nomac Drilling on behalf of three Bradford County families who leased their land to the energy companies. The families claim that they are "experiencing daily suffering due to the negative effects of oil and gas drilling," according to thedailyreview.com (http://bit.ly/gTcSuE). The papers, filed by The Marcellus Shale Oil and Gas Litigation Group, claim that the "negligent and grossly negligent oil and gas drilling activities" have contaminated the individuals' properties and water supply.
See it with your own eyes
After being offered approximately $100,000 to lease his land to gas companies and allow them to use his land for fracking, Josh Fox said no to the money and decided, instead, to produce the HBO documentary "Gasland" (http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/trailer/) and discover what exactly fracking entailed.
He found water flowing from kitchen faucets that could be set on fire due to high levels of methane, large pools of toxic waste that kill cattle and vegetation, chronically ill residents with the same unusual symptoms living in drilling areas in disparate locations around the U.S., and well blowouts and gas explosions that are routinely covered up.
In a PBS interview (http://to.pbs.org/de6oUK), Fox said the drilling is happening in 34 states and has been going on for the last 10 years.
Investigative news outlet, DCBureau.org, uncovered indirect conflicts of interest with New York lawmakers and fracking in its documentary "The Marcellus Shale: The Politics of Gas" (http://bit.ly/ifs8hP). In one instance, DC Bureau found that U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey of New York was advocating strict control over hydraulic fracturing while his wife lobbied for the American Association of Professional Landmen, whose members acquired gas leases in the state for energy companies. Another instance, found that Republican State Senator George Winner endorsed revisions by the gas industry to gas mining laws at the same time his law firm represented the largest natural gas producer in New York.
DC Bureau also discovered an industry-drafted law that aides the energy industry in continuing the controversial practice of fracking. The compulsory integration law allows energy companies to drill beneath private property even without landowners' permission.
Independent Oil and Gas Industry of New York crafted the law, said Christopher Denton, an attorney representing dozens of landowners in cases regarding the law.
"This is IOGA's statute," Denton said. "They drafted it, introduced it, got a sponsor for it and pushed it through with no legislative hearings whatsoever."
Compulsory integration can only be used if the gas company signs leases on properties totaling at least 60 percent of the proposed land total, which is usually a required minimum of 640 acres. After that threshold is reached, the company can force the remaining property owners to join, according to the DC Bureau article (http://bit.ly/hDsbY3).
The energy companies are surging ahead with the "shale gas rush" and politicians can clearly see the benefits, but whether they will stop to consider the costs to the environment and the health and rights of the landowners remains to be seen.