Fracking Congress Finally Wakes to Natgas Danger

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Congress–or at least a few Democrats in Congress–are at last investigating the explosive and toxic dangers of deep drilling for natural gas–the newest, hottest fad in the oil and gas industry.

From The Hill’s energy and environment blog:

House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Edward Markey (Mass.) and Rep. Rush Holt (N.J.), the top Democrat on the energy subcommittee, asked the Interior Department for detailed information on the prevalence of a drilling practice known as “fracking” on public lands.

During fracking, water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground to free valuable natural gas deposits. Activists and environmentalists have long criticized the practice, pointing to the potential for drinking-water contamination and environmental damage.

The nonprofit investigative group ProPublica has been documenting the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for more than a year. Flaming water faucets? (video) Check. Toxic groundwater and river pollution from unlisted and unregulated drilling chemicals? Check. But it took a story (a good one) in the New York Times to get legislators’ attention. The critical documentary “Gasland” may have given the legislators an uncredited kick as well.

The Times definitely advanced the story, digging up unpublished EPA  and industry studies concluding that radioactive fracking waste was polluting rivers, sometimes only a few miles from drinking water intakes. And the practice is all but unregulated. Free pollution from the free market.

The story also had the most succinct summary of what fracking is doing in states where it’s growing fastest, particularly Pennsylvania:

“We’re burning the furniture to heat the house,” said John H. Quigley, who left last month as secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “In shifting away from coal and toward natural gas, we’re trying for cleaner air, but we’re producing massive amounts of toxic wastewater with salts and naturally occurring radioactive materials, and it’s not clear we have a plan for properly handling this waste.”

If only the Congressional attention had come before the midterm election. There’s little likelihood that any major regulation of any industry can pass the House nowadays, even if inaction means poisoning whole communities.

At least a Congressional investigation can dig up some ammunition to help states pass their own regulation.

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