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Legislative Battles on Shale Gas Fracking Continue on Several Fronts

The controversy over the hydraulic fracturing process used to produce shale gas continues, with Pennsylvania and New York becoming a new battleground as development of the giant Marcellus Shale goes ahead in those states.

Environmentalists welcomed the passage of a bill out of a committee in the Pennsylvania House that would ban gas drilling near rivers, lakes and drinking water sources and would require drillers to disclose what chemicals they are using in “fracking.”

The process involves injecting water and chemicals under high pressure to fracture the shale rock and allow pockets of stored natural gas or oil to escape. Environmentalists argue that the chemicals used in the fracking then seep into the groundwater and pollute it.

Victoria Switzer, a gas lessor in Dimock township in northeastern Pennsylvania, has been attending town hall meetings on shale gas to warn residents about the environmental risks posed. Switzer has 63 gas wells within nine square miles of her home, including one only 710 feet away. She told one reporter that there was so much methane in her well that her water bubbled like Alka-Seltzer.

In neighboring New York State, which also includes part of the Marcellus Shale, a state lawmaker introduced legislation calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes a two-year study currently under way on the impact of the process on water quality and public health.

Steven Englebright, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development, said it’s important to make sure the state’s environmental quality and water supply aren’t destroyed in the pursuit of energy independence.

In Washington, meanwhile, a Colorado congresswoman was persuaded to abandon her legislation that would have required gas producers to disclose the chemical used in fracking to either state regulators or the EPA.

Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado’s 1st District, had proposed her bill as an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, but was persuaded by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman to withdraw it so as not to torpedo an agreement with Republicans to get the entire bill passed.

Waxman cited current investigations into hydraulic fracturing both by his committee and by the EPA and suggested that the issue would get further consideration at a more appropriate time. A few states do require disclosure of the chemicals, as the Pennsylvania legislation is seeking.

Earlier this year, Waxman, a California Democrat, sent letters to eight energy companies asking about their use of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas production and seeking details about the chemicals used in the process.

By Darrell Delamaide

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Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on May 28 2010 said:
    Victoria can't have "63 wells within nine square miles of her home". Square miles is an area, not a distance. Are there 63 wells within 9 miles or does she live in a 3 mile by 3 mile area which has 63 wells within it?
  • Anonymous on May 30 2010 said:
    this extractive method should be banned as incompatible with public health, sound economic development, and protection of the environment for current and future generation. Very energy- and water-intensive.How about moving from fossil fuels now and depreciating your energy reserves over time?

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