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EPA seeks public comments on fracking

June 30, 2010
The EPA has announced four public informational meetings to seek stakeholder input into developing its proposed plan to study the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water. Stakeholders are requested to pre-register online at least 72 hours before each meeting.

The first meeting is scheduled for July 8 in Fort Worth.

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

The meeting is expected to attract people representing a variety of viewpoints. Environmental groups are calling for federal regulation of fracturing. Oil and gas industry officials, meanwhile, maintain that the process has been employed safely for 60 years, has never been proven to be a direct cause of groundwater contamination and is vital to a strong domestic energy supply.

"We feel that disclosure of the chemicals is imperative," said Esther McElfish of Fort Worth, president of the North Central Texas Communities Alliance, a group that supports a moratorium on new Barnett Shale drilling permits until the effects of drilling can be more fully assessed.

A Johnson County couple, Jim and Linda Scoma, sued Chesapeake Energy this month, blaming "drilling-related activities," including fracturing, for contamination of their water well. Chesapeake spokesman Brian Murnahan said the company "disputes the claims in the lawsuit."

Fracturing of Barnett Shale wells typically occurs more than a mile below underground aquifers that provide drinking water. Industry practice is to install multiple layers of pipe, known as casing, and cement inside the wellbore to isolate petroleum and chemicals from groundwater.

Regulatory officials in some states have said that, in rare instances, improper cementing or casing of the upper portions of wellbores probably contributed to groundwater contamination. Surface spills of fracturing fluids also occur, but they are usually relatively small and quickly cleaned up.

Environmental groups have called for new federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing. But the Oklahoma City-based Ground Water Protection Council that Mike Paque heads takes the position that states should continue to play the chief regulatory role because they already have experienced staffs in place and are more knowledgeable about the unique geology and hydrology of their regions.

The council is an association of state regulatory agencies that oversee the oil and gas industry and impose rules to protect groundwater. Members include the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which deals with various water issues.

"It would be nigh impossible for the federal government to step in and replace the thousands of people the states have doing it now," Paque said.

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