Anyone who has seen the documentary film Gasland or YouTube videos of tap water on fire probably has a good idea of the environmental and health risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. “Fracking” involves injecting chemicals, water, and sand into the earth to fracture shale and open fissures through which natural gas will freely flow.
As noted in the film and in numerous nonprofit group materials (e.g., Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, NRDC, NWF, EarthWorks), fracking impacts include well explosions, severely contaminated drinking and surface waters, air pollution, and potentially earthquakes. But the fracking industry is exempt from key provisions of federal environmental laws.
In the face of this regulatory vacuum, the public is moving on multiple fronts. A few things to watch for in 2012 (or sooner):
- Updated Department of Interior regulations for fracking on public lands, including required disclosure of fracking chemicals
- The release of initial research results in the EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing Study relating to ground and drinking water
- Stakeholder opportunities in the EPA’s development of Natural Gas Wastewater Standards
- State attempts at mitigation or moratorium, including potential action in Vermont.
- A final EPA rule on New Source Performance Standards for air emissions from the oil and natural gas sector
- Responses to the Department of Energy’s Shale Gas Commission report on “improving the safety and environmental performance” of fracking. Shale Gas Commission
- An EPA Permitting Guidance on Underground Injection Control for facilities that use diesel fuels in their injection fluids
- A rising tide of justice-seeking private lawsuits