The dirty truth behind the new natural gas. Related: A V.F. video look at a town transformed by fracking.
By Christopher Bateman•
Photographs by Jacques del Conte
WEB EXCLUSIVE June 21, 2010
"With natural gas being heavily promoted in TV ads and by politicians and proponents such as oilman and hedge-fund manager T. Boone Pickens, many Americans have come to see the resource in a positive light. Natural gas burns more cleanly than coal and oil do, we are told, and there’s an abundance of it right there, under our soil, making it a logical and patriotic energy source for America. We are told that it can help wean us off our dependence on foreign oil as we make the transition to renewable energy. Yet our supplies of natural gas are ultimately finite, and, increasingly, they must be accessed via hydraulic fracturing. In fact, more than 90 percent of natural-gas wells today use fracking.
Shale gas has become a significant part of our energy mix over the past decade. From 1996 to 2006, shale-gas production went from less than 2 percent to 6 percent of all domestic natural-gas production. Some industry analysts predict shale gas will represent a full half of total domestic gas production within 10 years.
It’s not just the oil-and-gas industry that’s excited about the possibilities. Last year, even a progressive, Washington, D.C.–based think tank, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, desperate for solutions to global warming, touted natural gas as “the single biggest game changer for climate action in the next two decades.” President Obama has been supportive of shale gas and says he wants to see an increase in domestic natural-gas production.
But shale gas and hydraulic fracturing haven’t needed much help from the Obama administration. That’s because they already got a huge helping hand from the federal government under the Bush administration. Although fracking was never regulated by the federal government when it was a less prevalently used technique, it was granted explicit exemptions—despite dissent within the E.P.A.—from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the wide-ranging energy bill crafted by Dick Cheney in closed-door meetings with oil-and-gas executives. While the average citizen can receive harsh punishment under federal law for dumping a car battery into a pond, gas companies, thanks to what has become known as the Halliburton Loophole, are allowed to pump millions of gallons of fluid containing toxic chemicals into the ground, right next to our aquifers, without even having to identify them.
Claiming that the information is proprietary, drilling companies have still not come out and fully disclosed what fracking fluid is made of. But activists and researchers have been able to identify some of the chemicals used. They include such substances as benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, boric acid, monoethanolamine, xylene, diesel-range organics, methanol, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, ammonium bisulfite, 2-butoxyethanol, and 5-chloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazotin-3-one. (Recently, in congressional testimony, drilling companies have confirmed the presence of many of these chemicals.) According to Theo Colborn, a noted expert on water issues and endocrine disruptors, at least half of the chemicals known to be present in fracking fluid are toxic; many of them are carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, and mutagens. But Colborn estimates that a third of the chemicals in fracking fluid remain unknown to the public.
While the E.P.A. under Obama is finally undertaking a new review of fracking—a 2001 review commissioned by the Bush administration was tainted by conflicts of interest and suppression of science—that report is not expected to be completed until the end of 2012. Congressional hearings held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee have been taking place since 2009, but proposed legislation to get rid of the Halliburton Loophole has made little progress on Capitol Hill." Article and video>>>>
Read More http://www.vanityfair.com/business/features/2010/06/fracking-in-pennsylvania-201006?currentPage=all#ixzz0riyWsFCL
Wednesday, June 23, 2010