New data aids industry in latest fracking fight

The head of Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is under attack for some unfortunate comments he made about anti-fracking activists.

A House committee in Congress is disputing the methods used by the EPA in a study about the environmental impacts of fracking, even though no conclusions have been reached yet by the study, which is due to be completed next year.

Another study in a natural gas field in Pennsylvania has shown that, over more than a year, there was no evidence that chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, moved from deep gas wells to contaminate water wells in the area.

But that study is also ongoing. And, while some officials with the US. Department of Energy touted its results, others cautioned that it is too early “to make any firm claims.”

Welcome to the nation’s fracking fight where — depending on one’s point of view — hydraulic fracturing is either the greatest boon to developing our energy resources since crude oil gushers erupted in Texas more than a century ago, or it is the biggest health and environmental risk since DDT.

There’s little question that fracking — the process of injecting sand, water and a cocktail of chemicals into gas and oil wells to fracture deep rock formations — is unlocking more oil and gas than ever before.

A few years ago, experts talked of our national dependence on foreign oil lasting indefinitely, but federal agencies now see the possibility of this country becoming energy independent by the end of the decade, thanks in part to fracked oil and gas.

Meanwhile, environmentalists, some neighbors of drilling rigs and a few medical professionals have expressed concerns that fracking may pose both immediate and long-term health and environmental hazards. Industry officials and their supporters, as well as many state regulators, contend that fracking is safe as long as appropriate protections are in place.

To date, no scientific study has clearly linked the fracking process to the contamination of water wells. Any groundwater contamination that has occurred has come from surface spills or inadequately sealed wellheads. One study that seemed to initially connect fracking and water contamination, conducted by the EPA in Wyoming, was later rejected and is being redone.

That’s why the latest study by the DOE in Pennsylvania is so important. An unnamed drilling company allowed the DOE to inject tracer chemicals into a number of its wells over more than a year. Evidence of those chemicals was found deep in the rock formations where drilling was taking place, but none appeared in the water wells much closer to the surface.

Like Gov. John Hickenlooper and Gas Commission Director Matt Lepore, we believe all the evidence to date shows fracking is safe when properly conducted. But both industry officials and regulators need to work harder to reduce the number of spills and to alleviate surface contamination. And Lepore should retain his state postion. He’s doing a good job.

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