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"Fracking" Prompts Health, Environmental Questions about Gas Extraction

May 3, 2010

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The oil leak disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has many Americans considering other forms of energy production. But a process being used to extract natural gas in New York near the Connecticut border is causing concerns as well. Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as "fracking," uses sand, water and a mysterious chemical mixture to release the gas trapped between layers of rock. It's used in nine out of 10 such operations, although environmental groups are questioning its safety.

Todd Heller, senior manager with the National Wildlife Federation Public Lands Campaign, says the practice uses and wastes a lot of water, but the big concern surrounds the chemicals used, and companies' claims that they're a trade secret.

"When we tell people that this company is injecting chemicals into the ground, through your groundwater, they're sort of stunned. And then they say, 'What's in those chemicals?' Then, we tell them, 'We don't know what's in those chemicals.'"

Eller says oil and gas companies will often pay residents around extraction sites a fee, either up front or over time, compensating them for any issues that might crop up with their wells.

"Problem is, when those wells or the water resources are poisoned and contaminated, the value of their property is virtually worthless. It's a short-term benefit for a long-term problem."

Eller says cash-strapped states can't afford to dig deep themselves, to explore the possible dangers of fracking. He says ultimately, the federal government will have to play the role of enforcer.

"That's why we've called for federal regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee all of this natural gas development."

Industry officials say there's no solid evidence that fracking is causing problems with underground drinking water supplies. Five years ago, the industry won a battle to exempt fracking from regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

For more information, the National Wildlife Federation website is www.nwf.org

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT