Drilling Down on Fracking Concerns: The Potential and Peril of Hydraulic Fracturing to Drill for Natural Gas

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–March 21, 2011.  Today, the Center for American Progress released the brief “Drilling Down on Fracking Concerns: The Potential and Peril of Hydraulic Fracturing to Drill for Natural Gas,” by Tom Kenworthy and Daniel J. Weiss with Lisbeth Kaufman and Christina C. DiPasquale. This brief examines the issues involved in the hydraulic fracturing process and sets forth recommendations for responsible development of natural gas.

This issue brief explores the ecological and economic issues of hydraulic fracturing, a widely used oil-and-gas drilling technique that is spreading rapidly to develop vast reserves of natural gas trapped in deep underground shale formations. This brief concludes that hydraulic fracturing needs to be done carefully and be well monitored, with particular attention paid to the full scope of carbon dioxide released into our atmosphere to gauge accurately the consequences of global warming due to the expanded use of natural gas.

Policymakers need to get to the bottom of the many questions relating to hydraulic fracturing, ensuring that the public health and environment are well protected from the production of shale gas. Also, a better understanding of whether switching to natural gas will produce significant reductions in carbon dioxide pollution is essential before we commit to a massive expansion of natural gas use.

The Center for American Progress advised such a cautious approach in an August 2009 report about the potential for natural gas to serve as a “bridge fuel” to a lower-carbon economy written by CAP president and CEO John Podesta and United Nations Foundation President Timothy E. Wirth. While advocating the expansion of natural gas to replace dirty coal and foreign oil, they also detailed their concerns about the toxic chemicals that fracking can employ, the release of the potent greenhouse gas methane associated with natural gas production, and air pollution problems.

The United States and other nations face an urgent need to reduce carbon dioxide and other global warming pollution. Already the abundance of inexpensive natural gas has led the Energy Information Administration to project that gas will be the fastest growing source for electricity generation between now and 2035. Ample, inexpensive supplies of natural gas could reduce pollution by replacing dirty coal plants, and powering trucks and buses. But it is imperative to ensure that we don’t exacerbate one major public health threat while trying to solve another one.

Actions to achieve more certainty on that point include:

  • Giving EPA the authority to oversee hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and requiring full public disclosure of the chemicals used in the process under the Community Right to Know law.
  • Requiring drillers to track and disclose what happens to wastewater from withdrawal from wells to its disposal.
  • Mandating adequate tests for radioactive elements and other contaminants in wastewater and regular testing of water supplies near drill sites before, during, and after drilling, to detect contaminants.
  • EPA shall develop air and water emission limits based on best management practices, and the states shall enforce them. To pay for enforcement and wastewater treatment costs, gas producers should pay a very small fee per trillion cubic feet.
  • EPA’s voluntary Natural Gas Star program to capture fugitive methane should be made mandatory for wells above a certain size. EPA reports that current participants turn a profit from selling the methane, so this will not add to producers costs.
  • Making a comprehensive and credible study of the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from the production and use of natural gas.

Read the full brief here.

Source: americanprogress.org

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