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PRI Goes to Washington (via Binghamton), part 2

September 22, 2010

As I talked about in our last post, PRI attended the EPA meeting in Binghamton, NY to hear about their plans for their water/hydraulic fracturing study. We also attended to hear comments and concerns from you. We want to make sure that our outreach covers the scientific aspects of your concerns about natural gas drilling in ‘tight shales,’ and we needed to hear about them from you.

The EPA hearing allowed about 3 hours of public commentary. People who registered to speak were allowed 2 minutes each to highlight what they thought was important for the EPA study to include. Each session had its own mix of public comments, and the one I attended, the first of the 4 sessions, had about an equal mix of people who could be considered pro- or anti- drilling. Of course, since they were addressing what should be included in the EPA study, many appeared neutral and could not be categorized.

By and far, the crowd seemed most divided over one issue: whether the scope of the EPA study should be limited to ‘hydraulic fracturing’ in the sense of the technological drilling advances that allow drilling in tight shales to occur, or if it should include all water usage, disposal, and contamination problems that the process of drilling natural gas using hydraulic fracturing could potentially incur. Those who argued the former suggested that hydraulic fracturing safety is the reason the study has been undertaken, so risks associated with casing, surface spills, etc., which are risks in any form of drilling, are outside the scope of the study. Those who argued the latter suggested that all of the risks associated with drilling for natural gas in ‘tight shales’ would not be incurred without the technology of hydraulic fracturing and so they are all inside the scope of the study.

Many other points were made during the public forum. These included:

  • defining hydraulic fracturing (multi-stage, traditional, horizontal vs. vertical, etc)
  • requiring tracers in industrial liquids used (including water) to help make regulation more effective
  • suggestions of the following places for potential case studies: Bainbridge, OH, Towanda,  Dimock,  Pavillion, Durango, New Mexico, Bedford Co., Clarfield Co., Pulteney, and Dunkard Creek.
  • Stronger federal regulations would help states and counties in their regulation efforts
  • require list of chemicals posted at sites nationally
  • Look for places to retroactively establish baseline levels of water contaminents pre-drilling
  • Compare water quality issues with tight shale gas drilling to coal strip mining
  • vertical wells require far less water than horizontal wells, but more habitat fragmentation can occur with vertical wells

Of course, this is just a small fraction of the comments made in 3 hours by 100 individuals in just one of the 4 sessions at the EPA hearing. Most of these were mentioned by multiple individuals, multiple times, so I think they represent a fair amount of the comments given on how the EPA can complete their study effectively. Were you there? Did you make a comment? What did you say?

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