Risky Gas Drilling Threatens Health, Water Supplies
The rapid expansion of natural gas drilling across the nation endangers human health and the environment.
Drilling of the Marcellus Shale has already begun in nearby Dimock Township, Pennsylvania, and so have the first reports of dangerous spills. In September 2009, three spills of hydraulic fracturing fluid totaling more than 8,000 gallons polluted local wetlands and a creek, causing a fish kill.
photo: © J Henry Fair Photography
The oil and gas industry is seeking to expand natural gas production across the nation, as new technology makes it easier to extract gas from previously inaccessible sites. Over the last decade, the industry has drilled thousands of new wells in the Rocky Mountain region and in the South. It is expanding operations in the eastern United States as well, setting its sights most recently on a 600-mile-long rock formation called the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from West Virginia to western New York.
Nearly all natural gas extraction today involves a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which dangerous chemicals are mixed with large quantities of water and sand and injected into wells at extremely high pressure. Fracking is a suspect in polluted drinking water in Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming, where residents have reported changes in water quality or quantity following fracturing operations.
NRDC opposes expanded fracking until effective safeguards are in place.
Natural gas producers have been running roughshod over communities across the country with their extraction and production activities for too long, resulting in contaminated water supplies, dangerous air pollution, destroyed streams, and devastated landscapes. Weak safeguards and inadequate oversight fail to protect our communities from harm by the rapid expansion of fossil fuel production using hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."
Americans shouldn't have to accept unsafe drinking water just because natural gas burns more cleanly than coal. Many companies don't play by the rules that do exist and the industry has used its political power to escape accountability for its actions, leaving the American people unprotected. And no industry can claim to be part of the solution if it supports exemptions from basic laws designed to ensure that we have clean water, clean air, and the ability to make our voices heard.
NRDC works to build a healthier energy future -- one that is centered on clean, safe, renewable sources of power, used efficiently. Energy efficiency and renewable energy must be our country's top energy priorities because they are the quickest, cleanest and cheapest solutions to global warming and other pollution problems.
We also support strong safeguards for production of all energy sources to minimize risks to our health. Since natural gas burns more cleanly than other fossil fuels, it can contribute to protecting public health when it is used to displace dirtier fuels like coal.
NRDC supports establishing a fully effective system of safeguards for hydraulic fracturing to protect our health and land and is committed to working with the federal government, states, communities and industry to put these safeguards into place right away.
These safeguards include:
- Putting the most sensitive lands, including critical watersheds, completely off limits to fracking;
- Not allowing leaky systems by setting clean air standards that ensure methane leaks are well under one percent of production to reduce global warming pollution, and requiring green completions and other techniques to reduce air pollution;
- Mandating sound well drilling and construction standards by requiring the strongest well siting, casing and cementing and other drilling best practices;
- Protecting the landscape, air, and water from pollution by closing Clean Air, Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water loopholes, reducing toxic waste, and holding toxic oil and gas waste to the same standards as other types of hazardous waste, funding robust inspection and enforcement programs, and disclosing fully all chemicals;
- Using gas to replace dirtier fossil fuels like coal by prioritizing renewables and efficiency, implementing recently established mercury, sulfur and other clean air standards, and setting strong power plant carbon pollution standards; and
- Allowing communities to protect themselves and their future by restricting fracking through comprehensive zoning and planning.
NRDC's staff blog
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