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NRDC submits recommendations for upcoming EPA fracking study

Kate Sinding

Posted September 30, 2010

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As the EPA prepares to launch what we hope will be the first-ever credible, comprehensive study on the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, a key component of oil and natural gas drilling, on Tuesday NRDC submitted formal comments on what we believe the study must explore. If done properly and given the attention it deserves – this study could give us an unprecedented look the full range of potential impacts to communities, including clean drinking water and public health.

Passions are running high on where and how drilling should happen and all eyes are on EPA to see what comes out of its study. Rightly so – fracking and drilling can literally take place in Americans’ own backyards. Communities have a right to defend themselves against any potential long-term health and environmental impacts from poorly regulated, careless oil and gas operations. They need to know they can count on EPA to protect them against big corporations bringing toxic chemicals into their homes – and that the government will hold them accountable for their actions.

The official public comment period on EPA’s study wrapped up Tuesday night, following a handful of hearings EPA hosted in fracking hot spots around the country to give residents a chance to weigh-in. Those public hearings came to a close earlier this month in Binghamton, NY, ground zero for the debate over proposed drilling in the state. NRDC was among the hundreds who showed up at the New York hearings to voice a range of concerns and opinions over the proposed drilling in the state, which has become the latest front in this national battle.

The official written comments we submitted elaborated on our comments to EPA in BinghamtonBottom line: These big corporations should not be allowed to frack unless they can prove it’s safe for our health, our communities and our environment. In order to ensure this, we stressed the following main points to EPA before it undertakes this fracking study: 

  • The study must consider fracking’s impacts from START TO FINISH on the surrounding communities and environment. This means studying the entire process from exploration to production. It includes activities that go hand-in-hand with hydraulic fracturing, because at every stage there are health and environmental risks – from land-clearing, to drilling, trucking, and managing chemicals and waste before and after corporations frack.
  • EPA must examine ALL potential health and environmental risks from fracking. Much of the concern over fracking relates to its impact to clean drinking water, but unfortunately we know the potential consequences do not stop there. EPA must evaluate risks of significant air pollution, marred landscapes, disrupted habitat, and altered community character.
  • The study must evaluate the full scope of impacts to Americans’ drinking water. This means looking at the broad range of ways fracking may contaminate drinking water, including but not limited to impacts from chemicals in fracking fluids, spills and leaks on land, treatment and disposal of contaminated wastewater, land clearing, and stormwater runoff.

Additionally, we called on EPA to look at: the potential for fracking to cause earthquakes, risks to the produce and livestock in our nation’s food supply, the country’s capacity to treat and dispose of large amounts of wastewater from the process, and available technologies and best practices for minimizing risks.

EPA’s study could play a critical role in ensuring protection from the risks fracking poses to America’s drinking water, health, landscapes, and communities. By undertaking a broad, comprehensive study, we hope EPA will set a solid stage for our country to ensure no drills are allowed to come into our backyards unless companies prove it can be done safely.

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1mtnmamaSep 30 2010 12:08 PM

Thank you very much for this article and making it a concern to educate the citizenry.
Just another in a series of environmental atrocities and hazards to life, health and the pursuit of happiness in America and Appalachia.

jamesOct 1 2010 10:53 AM

so why would you HOPE that the result is in favor of a frac' ban? would you rather see people working? would you rather find out that this is ok for the world? Why do you hope that this is bad for us who work in the field? I'd like to see a study on the costic stuff in solar pannels.

jamesOct 1 2010 10:58 AM

MT mama... did you not know that we had burning water in Pa long ago? did you not know that the level of gas in pa soil was so high that plenty of people died from cancer BEFORE this started? the gas can kill you faster than the so called cems in water. and frac water is only 1% cemical and 99% water/sand. over 100,000,000 gallons of water is used to frac a well. why do city people tell country people how to live?

upstate nyerOct 3 2010 01:00 PM

James -

I'm a country person, and I'm scared that people like you will force me leave Upstate NY, this place that I love so much, and move elsewhere. That would suck.

By the way, 1% of 100,000,000 gallons of water is 1,000,000 gallons. That's ONE MILLION gallons of chemicals. That's enough gallons to do a lot of harm. Have you also heard that hydrofracking can potentially bring radioactive compounds up to the surface and into the water supply?

I *hope* there's a safe way to frack. But I'm not sure there is, and I don't really trust the EPA too much. They've sold out once-too-often to "special interests".

DissentaOct 5 2010 06:44 PM

James said: "over 100,000,000 gallons of water is used to frac a well." My understanding is that it's closer to 2 million to 5 million gallons of water per frac. Even at 5 million gallons, 1% would be 50,000 gallons of toxic fracking chemicals. That's much less than james' estimate but still a helluva lotta poison. Plus nasty toxic organics are brought up to surface in the frack waste water, euphemistically called 'production water' (unclear how much, 25% or 75%?) from deep in the earth (for thousands of years these earth toxins were safely hidden below, away from human life and environment on the surface -- see Sandra Steingraber, "Living Downstream," $11 on Amazon, grab it) containing extremely dangerous elements, so it's not just poisonous fracking chems but poisonous earth elements that shale gas drilling exposes us to.

Anybody who thinks shale gas production is a "clean" process needs to look again and get educated.

DissentaOct 5 2010 06:57 PM

PS to my comment above: We have a serious emerging problem with 'production water' in how to dispose of that hideous cocktail since recycling might be limited to just a few rounds before becoming too toxic for workers to handle; frack water ponds are stinky and evaporate the poisons into the air where they are breathed in by our children; and, finally, production water cannot be adequately treated to purity of clean drinking water to return to streams and rivers without huge expense and maybe not at all. Some experts say the toxic ingredients cannot be filtered or purified away.

Reminds me of another "save the world" energy technology that got caught in this trap: nuclear energy and nuclear waste with added irony that shale gas production water contains radioactive elements along with all the other toxins.

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