News / USA

Tighter Natural Gas Extraction Rules Debated

Hydraulic fracturing raises health concerns

Breast cancer survivor Dana Dolney, at the Shale Gas Outrage protest in Philadelphia, wants the names of chemicals used in fracking to be publicly disclosed.
Breast cancer survivor Dana Dolney, at the Shale Gas Outrage protest in Philadelphia, wants the names of chemicals used in fracking to be publicly disclosed.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Pennsylvania sits atop the largest deposit of natural gas in the United States. Called the Marcellus Shale, it's a rich reserve trapped in a vast, kilometer-deep rock formation which is regarded as an important domestic source of energy and economic engine for the region.

A drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that combines horizontal and vertical drilling with water, sand and chemicals has made it economical to extract.

But the rush to drill has sparked a national debate over whether and how these drilling operations should be regulated to protect public health and the environment.

Fifteen hundred protestors brought their concerns to Philadelphia this fall for “Shale Gas Outrage,” a rally calling for a halt to gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. They warn it is a disaster of unprecedented proportions unfolding across Pennsylvania.

The Marcellus Shale runs under three-quarters of their state and into Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland and New York. Only Maryland and New York have instituted a moratorium and are moving with caution while they study the issue.  

A year ago in western Pennsylvania, the call to ban fracking won unanimous approval from the Pittsburgh City Council.

“We now have three surrounding municipalities who have their own ban modeled on our bill,” says Councilman Doug Shields, who sponsored the measure. “And I see that movement growing. But, it's difficult when you’re up against the power, the might and the money.”



That view is shared by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization.

“We think that natural gas drilling generally and hydraulic fracturing in particular is an inherently risky process," says the group's senior counsel, Dusty Horwitt, who is lead author of an investigative report linking gas drilling to specific cases of water contamination. "We would like to see a moratorium on drilling and fracking near water supplies until we have some better science so that we know exactly what the risks are.”

Despite the public outcry, private well contamination is hard to prove. In Pennsylvania, private water wells are not regulated. And pollution, fracking proponents argue, could come from other sources such as abandoned mines, agriculture run-off or leaky septic systems.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just released preliminary results of a three-year study in Pavillion, Wyoming, that found chemicals associated with fracking turning up in local ground water.

The EPA findings strengthen the case for repeal of a provision in the 2005 Energy Act that exempts fracking from the Clean Drinking Water law. Sen. Robert Casey, a democrat, is behind the initiative. At a recent government hearing he called for tough national standards.

“Why should we have a set of tough environmental rules that protect drinking water and ground water in one state and have a state next door or across the country have a whole other set of rules?" he said. "So I think we can get this right.” 

But Congress is divided on the issue. At the same hearing, Republican Sen. James Inhofe voiced his opposition to federal rules. “States are different. In my state of Oklahoma, the Anadarko Shale, we’re talking about 30,000 feet (9144 meters). Go just north to Kansas (and) their shale is between 3,000 feet (914 meters) and 4,000 feet (1219 meters). So it’s different, and that’s why this one-shoe fits all just doesn’t work in this case.”



A similar debate rages in the U.S. House of Representatives where Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection secretary Michael Krancer was recently called to testify.

Krancer made it clear that he opposes federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing for many reasons. "Not every state does it. Not every state does it the same way. Not every state has the same geography. It’s also a matter of philosophy; should we have the federal government establishing a lowest common dominator?”

Back in his office at the state capital in Harrisburg, Krancer sees the Marcellus Shale as an economic boon and feels confident it can be managed in an environmentally-responsible way.

“There is no such thing as any energy source that has zero consequences or zero other impact. So whatever energy source it is there are things that need to be managed and at the end of the day, if there is no energy, there’s no economy and frankly we need energy to survive.”

In the meantime, beyond its Wyoming report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is completing a more comprehensive study at Congress' request to determine what impact hydraulic fracturing might be having on drinking water. The initial findings, expected in 2012, could spawn stricter federal regulations and even more intense debate on Capitol Hill and in communities across the nation.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid