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EPA to Widen Drilling Study

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BINGHAMTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Sep. 14, 2010

Environmental Protection Agency officials said that they plan to widen their investigation into a natural-gas drilling technique that the energy industry says is critical to tapping huge new supplies of natural gas.

Controversy over whether the practice -- called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking -- poses a risk to drinking water and public health drew
hundreds of people to an EPA hearing here Monday.

The American Petroleum Institute, an energy industry trade group, says that, with the use of fracturing the Marcellus Shale formation, which extends from Ohio and West Virginia into southern New York, could produce as much as 18 billion cubic feet of gas a day and support as many as 280,000 jobs. The process involves pumping large amounts of water laden with sand and chemicals deep underground, fracturing rock to release the gas trapped inside.

EPA officials, in comments at Monday's hearing, said they intend to look beyond the issue of whether the chemicals used in pose a threat to water quality and also consider the impact of the large volumes of water the process requires. Agency officials said they also want to study the way gas wells are constructed and the risks that wells could leak gas or chemicals into underground water supplies.

Robert Puls, the EPA's technical lead on the hydraulic-fracturing study, said that with companies drilling as many as 16 wells from a
single well pad, "that's 80 million gallons of water. Where is that water coming from? Is it competing with other uses, in particular
drinking water?"

The industry has pressed to keep the EPA's focus on the question of whether the fracturing process itself puts ground water at risk. It
says wells drilled into rock thousands of feet below the surface pose no threat to public health, and that there have been no cases of water contamination linked directly to hydraulic fracturing.

Regulators in some states, however, have reported cases of drinking-water supplies contaminated by natural-gas wells, though it
isn't clear whether that contamination was caused by fracturing.

The industry is increasingly concerned by signs the EPA is taking seriously drilling critics' concerns that hydraulic fracturing puts
drinking water at risk.

In a statement Monday, the API sought to play down the water demands of gas drilling. If all the wells planned for New York state are
drilled, they could use as much as 28 million gallons a day, the group said. By comparison, it said, golf courses in the state use more than double the water -- or a seasonal average of 58 million gallons a day.

Monday's EPA hearing highlighted the divisions the drilling controversy has created in rural communities in southern New York and
northeastern Pennsylvania that sit atop Marcellus Shale fields. Many landowners and small farmers say gas drilling would be an economic lifeline. Opponents say could imperil the watershed that supplies drinking water for millions of people along the East Coast.

"There's a big difference between a 100,000-gallon hydrofracturing and a three million to five million gallon hydrofrack," said Neil
Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. He warned that the Northeast probably lacks the capacity to clean up the chemical-laden hydrofracturing fluids.

But the industry's promise of jobs -- and big payments for gas leases -- appeal to many people in southern New York, where jobs are in short supply. "Rich people do not want gas drilling or any economic development in their backyard," complained Douglas Lee, a resident who spoke at the hearing. "They have no concern about how our people make a living. Our communities are poor. We have a high unemployment. Our young people are forced to move away to find work."

Copyright (c) 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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