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Fracking and the EPA: Two Endangered Species?

December 12, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that groundwater in Wyoming had been contaminated by chemicals associated with fracking - the process used to extract natural gas and oil using pressurized water and other fluids. It was news that didn't surprise Ramsay Adams of Catskill Mountainkeeper.

"We knew that they would find chemicals in groundwater. It's very significant in de-bunking the line that the industry has been using, saying that it's safe."

The EPA itself may not be safe, with some Republican presidential candidates saying they'll shut it down if elected, and 57 percent of likely Iowa caucus voters agreeing, according to a newspaper poll.

Adams and other critics of fracking point out that the natural gas industry has been exempted from federal clean air and water rules. Therefore, they say, state and local regulators need the EPA to help in determining the health and safety risks of fracking.

Adams says he's not oblivious to the jobs and economic boost New York could gain from extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation.

"Can they one day find a way to extract deep-shale, tight-formation natural gas? Maybe. But fracking is not safe. If we have to create jobs - which we do - we should be looking toward renewables."

The Canadian company that owns the Wyoming mine where groundwater contamination was found says the evidence is "a probability" and "not a definitive conclusion."

Jessica Ennis of the environmental group Earthjustice welcomes the evidence from the EPA's study of Wyoming fracking. She says it's part of the agency's vital role.

"If people don't want to be assured that their water is safe to drink and that their air is safe to breathe, then go ahead and get rid of the EPA. But I think it's common sense: EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, is there to protect the environment and public health."

EPA opponents, who include presidential candidates Michele Bachman and Newt Gingrich, say states should monitor the environment. Adams points out that states are already hard-pressed to monitor natural gas fracking.

"It falls directly on the states to regulate this industry. And that needs to be changed."

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY