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New Report on Gas Production: Proceed With Caution

November 18, 2011

SAN ANGELO, Texas - Natural gas is an important, temporary ingredient in the nation's evolving energy diet, according to a new report which warns against rushing forward with controversial extraction practices - such as hydraulic fracturing now common in Texas shale deposits - without sensible research and regulations.

Christy Youker, a San Angelo education scientist who has studied the "fracking" boom, says it's a race between an industry seeking quick profits and job-starved communities seeking information about the risks. So far, she says, the industry's been winning.

"They're moving fast. And the communities need to organize and move fast as well. Not because they're anti-job or anti-money coming into their community, but because we need to make sure that these environmental regulations are put in place."

While the oil and gas industry insists hydraulic fracturing is safe, the National Wildlife Federation report documents cases of pollution and health problems associated with the process. It calls for greater public disclosure of practices and chemicals used, as well as the elimination of certain loopholes in environmental laws afforded to drillers.

New Texas transparency rules are being written. State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, says the rules are a good first step, but trade-secret exemptions, for example, still will allow incomplete disclosure. In the meantime, he says, communities are being transformed before anyone is sure of the impact on air, water and health.

"We have over 2,000 wells within the city limits. As a practical matter, the city of Fort Worth has been turned into an industrial zone itself, directly impacting neighborhoods with literally thousands of people."

He says Fort Worth's unusually high asthma rate could be attributable to drilling practices.

Gas from "fracking" is artificially cheap, according to the report, because technologies have been outpacing safeguards. Youker worries that the industry's full-steam-ahead approach exploits low-income regions desperate for economic revitalization.

"It's quick money to these people that need money. And you'll wait for regulations to come down the road - hoping that they'll come - but when they're waving that money in front of your face, it's really hard to say no."

New federal rules could be on the way. The Environmental Protection Agency has been holding a series of gas-production hearings, the Department of Energy recently offered recommendations, and the Interior Department is expected to issue new disclosure rules affecting public lands.
The report is online at nwf.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX