Image credit: Wyoming: Upper Green River Valley/Flickr
Natural gas "fracking" has become a contentious issue in the U.S., and now residents in four regions are getting the opportunity to talk about their concerns with the practice.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding four public information meetings (two have already happened) on "the proposed study of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and its potential impacts on drinking water." "In some ways it was the first time many of the gas drilling activists got to voice their opinions to someone in power who might actually do something to regulate the environmental impacts of hydro-fracking," said Dewayne Quertermous, a Sierra Club volunteer, who attended the first public meeting in Ft. Worth, Texas, last week.
If you're unfamiliar with what's known as "fracking" for natural gas, here's how EPA defines it:
Hydraulic fracturing is a process that helps production of natural gas or oil from shale and other geological formations. By pumping fracturing fluids (water and chemical additives) and sand or other similar materials into rock formations, fractures are created that allow natural gas or oil to flow from the rock through the fractures to a production well for extraction.
Problem is, there are cases of gas drilling sites where the nearby water wells become contaminated. EPA says as much in its announcement: "(S)erious concerns have been raised about hydraulic fracturing's potential impact on drinking water, human health and the environment. To address these concerns, EPA announced in March that it will study the potential adverse impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on drinking water."
Quertermous joined nearly 600 people testifying on fracking at last week's Fort Worth public meeting. He said it went well and he's glad the community was able to voice their concerns.
"The state regulators are extremely pro-industry and local politicians have generally given the industry whatever they wanted," said Quertermous.
"Until recently, advocating for effective regulation of gas drilling here has been an uphill battle with little hope of any positive outcomes - but a shift in public opinion coupled with EPA studies and hearings provides hope that some sane regulations might be coming down the road."
Also dealing with natural gas in Texas - yesterday the news came down that natural gas drilling company Range Resources would voluntarily disclose the fracking chemicals it uses in Pennsylvania, but not in Texas.
"While we are glad to see the company announce this first step, it's only through full, nationwide disclosure and tough regulation of fracking chemicals that we can protect water and communities," said Jen Powis, Sierra Club's Senior Regional Representative in Texas.
Meanwhile, the second EPA public meeting was held Tuesday night in Denver, Colorado, where hundreds more gathered to make their concerns heard. The industry was also out in force at these hearings to defend the status quo.
"Sierra Club welcomes the EPA hydraulic fracturing study because Colorado residents have had severe impacts to their water wells from oil and gas operations, and the whole situation needs to be investigated, " said Gopa Ross, Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter Oil and Gas Chair, who attended the Denver hearing.
Ross is right on. Natural gas will be part of the transition from far dirtier energy sources - particularly coal - to a clean-energy future. For the Sierra Club, the responsible use of natural gas can help the nation address the complex problem of climate change, but only if we do it right.
Among the types of drilling projects the Club opposes are those in which the contents of fracking fluids are not disclosed to the public or contain an unacceptable toxic risk, and those that fail to protect drinking and surface water or violate air-quality standards. We also oppose drilling in protected areas and areas such as New York City's drinking water supply area.
Grassroots advocacy across the U.S. on this issue is so important. EPA must hear this from those who are already or may be affected. The natural industry must be regulated so that it does not adversely impact air, water, local communities and wild places.
So get involved now: The next holding four public information meetings">public meetings on the EPA study on water quality and fracking are July 22nd in Canonsburg, Pa., and August 12th in Binghamton, N.Y. There will also be EPA public meetings on the air quality impacts of onshore oil and gas operations in Arlington, Texas, on August 2nd and Denver, Colo. August 3rd.