June 19, 2010

What do you know about "fracking"?

"Fracking" chemicals (pronounce that carefully)

Drilling for natural gas [450,000 gas wells in the U.S.] relies on a process of special concern known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." In fracking, companies like Halliburton inject, at high pressure, into each well up to 8 million gallons of water and toxic chemicals (like kerosene and diesel fuel). This fluid fractures underground formations, unlocking natural gas that had been trapped. But is it worth the risk? Small communities in New York state may not think so, after they heard from other small Colorado towns. They cannot now drink their local water.

There's a big debate in Congress today over whether to repeal the provision of the Safte Drinking Water Act that allows gas companies to conceal which chemicals they inject into the ground as "trade secrets." Each well requires the high-pressure injection of a cocktail of nearly 600 chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins, diluted in 1 million to 7 million gallons of water.

"Gasland," an HBO documentary, will air on Monday, June 21 ( 9 p.m. ET/PT) and again on June 24, 26 and 30, and July 5. It traces hydraulic fracturing across 34 states from California to Louisiana to Pennsylvania. The exposé by filmmaker Josh Fox, alternately chilling and darkly humorous, won the 2010 Sundance Film Festival’s special jury prize for documentary. It details how former Vice President Dick Cheney, in partnership with the energy industry and drilling companies such as his former employer, Halliburton Corp., successfully pressured Congress in 2005 to exempt fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws.

Gas companies are seeking drilling rights to the humongous Marcellus Shale Field, dubbed “the Saudia Arabia of natural gas” below New York and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the field sits beneath the last unfiltered watershed in the U.S. and serves tens of millions of residents of New York City, Philadelphia, and the surrounding area. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, roughly 10,000 gas wells supposedly spew more pollution into the air than all the cars and trucks in the region, the film reports.

Last March, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will conduct a comprehensive $1.9-million study on the “potential adverse impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on water quality and public health.”