Fracking pits ag against oil and gas

Dec 27, 2011

Technically, it’s called “hydraulic fracturing,” but the fairly new drilling process commonly known as “fracking” is pitting the nation’s livestock industry against the U.S. oil and gas industry because of fears it could contaminate groundwater.

A spotlight was focused on the controversy when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Dec. 8, 121-page report that fracking may have polluted groundwater at Pavilion, WY, where more than 100 oil wells are being drilled.

Reacting to the EPA report, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said the report was scientifically questionable. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said new EPA rules restricting fracking could devastate the economic recovery of his state, where about 3,000 wells use fracking. He advocates that states regulate it instead.

Fracking injects large volumes of chemicals and water into shale rock to free up natural gas and oil. An estimated 33 percent of all natural gas drilling, up from 14 percent in 2009, now uses fracking. As it becomes increasingly popular, the petroleum industry fears EPA opposition could imperil the employment of tens of thousands of Americans.

EPA has announced it is preparing new rules for regulating fracking in 2012. In 2005, Congress reaffirmed it does not want EPA to regulate fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act.

States now regulate gas drilling. Like other states, Florida and Texas recently required companies to disclose their fracking chemicals.

The draft EPA report linking fracking and groundwater for the first time has not been reviewed by independent experts but already has drawn criticism from some who counter the U.S. Geological Survey has detected organic chemicals in the small Wyoming town’s vicinity for at least 50 years.

On the other hand, fracking has been blamed on crop failure, air contamination, flammable drinking water, chronic sickness and even house explosions in other areas. The Veterinary & Human Toxicology journal in 1991 reported seven instances where oil and gas wells were suspected of poisoning livestock.

Ranchers fear that highly toxic fracking chemicals—such as hydrochloric acid, ethylene glycol, ben zene and formaldehyde— could leak into water supplies. They can cause soil to become acidic and infertile. Gases released from the process, like ozone, can hamper crop growth and harm grasslands.

Livestock producers also are concerned that the millions of gallons of water required in fracking could deplete essential water supplies. In July 2010, 28 beef cattle in Pennsylvania were quarantined after wastewater from a gas well leaked. There also are worries land values could drop sharply for property near the operations. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent