Natural gas companies have industrialized the Western US landscape, punching thousands of wells into pristine lands, injecting toxic chemicals, consuming millions of gallons of water, digging pits for hazardous waste and carving out sprawling road networks. Yet almost uniquely among U.S. industries, oil and gas drillers are exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other federal environmental laws.
Now an important new film exposes the tactics of the industry which threatens even more damage to the environment than the oil companies. Film director Josh Fox grew up in rural Pennsylvania on the Delaware River, which sits above the natural gas-rich Marcellus shale formation deep underground. When he was offered $100,000 to lease his property for natural gas exploration, Fox decided to chronicle drilling’s impact on the American landscape and its people.
On Monday, June 21 at 9:00 p.m. EDT, Home Box Office (HBO) will premiere “Gasland,” Fox’s documentary on the dangers of natural gas exploration. Writing in Variety, the entertainment industry publication, critic Robert Koehler said, “If a film can ever enact social change, which is rare, the potency of “Gasland” suggests that this may be that film.” Gasland has won acclaim on the independent film festival circuit, including taking home the Special Jury prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
“Gasland’s message is invaluable to our work educating lawmakers and the public on the dangers that unregulated natural gas drilling poses to public health and the environment,” said Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel at Environmental Working Group (EWG). “Mr. Fox’s film is particularly relevant in its depiction of the impact that unchecked gas drilling has had on the health of rural American families and the callous attitude of industry representatives.”
“I leaned heavily on EWG’s research on natural gas extraction techniques as source material for Gasland,” said Fox. “EWG’s advocacy for safer drilling brings heft to arguments urging lawmakers at the local and national level to address the astounding lack of regulation of natural gas drilling,” Fox said.
EWG is hosting a live chat with Fox following the HBO premiere on Tuesday June 22nd at
With the discovery of large natural gas reserves in the Marcellus shale, New York, Pennsylvania and other eastern states are now in line to experience similar devastation. As “Gasland” documents, residents of Pennsylvania have already had their drinking water contaminated in areas where drilling took place.
Recent research by EWG has focused on a process known as horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracturing, which has enabled gas companies to unlock huge new deposits of gas buried in deep shale formations. Known as “fracking,” the process shatters the rock to allow captive gas and oil to flow to the surface. Fracking is used in 90 percent of the nation’s natural gas and oil wells.
In “Drilling Around the Law,” http://www.ewg.org/drillingaroundthelaw, EWG showed that drilling companies are skirting federal law and injecting toxic petroleum distillates into thousands of wells, threatening drinking water supplies from Pennsylvania to Wyoming. Federal and state regulators, meanwhile, largely look the other way.
A report titled “Free Pass for Oil and Gas in the American West,” , documented that the boom in unregulated oil and natural gas exploration across the West poses a threat to public health and the environment. Exclusive EWG maps detailed drilling activity county by county.
EWG Safe Drinking Water Fact Sheet Produced in Conjunction with Earthworks – http://www.ewg.org/Safe-Drinking-Water-Act-Should-Cover-Hydraulic-Fracturing
Key findings of EWG’s reports included:
• Drilling companies are using dozens of petroleum distillates in their hydraulic fracturing fluids. These distillates, including kerosene, mineral spirits and diesel fuel, contain high levels of the so-called BTEX chemicals benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, which are toxic in water at minuscule levels. Benzene is of particular concern because it is a known human carcinogen in water at concentrations higher than five parts per billion.
• In a worst-case scenario, petroleum distillates used to hydraulically fracture a single well could contain enough benzene to contaminate more than 100 billion gallons of drinking water to unsafe levels, according to drilling company disclosures in New York and published studies. That’s more than then times the water used by the state of New York every day.
• In using petroleum distillates, companies are skirting the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires a permit for fracturing with diesel fuel (itself a petroleum distillate). In 2004, the EPA concluded that the use of diesel fuel in fracturing poses “the greatest potential threat to [underground sources of drinking water] because the BTEX constituents in diesel fuel exceed the [maximum contaminant level] at the point-of-injection.” EWG found that other petroleum distillates used in fracking can contain even higher levels of benzene but do not require a permit.
• Regulators in four states (New York, Pennsylvania, Montana and Texas) told EWG that they do not check to determine whether drilling companies are using diesel or other petroleum distillates. Regulators in these states and Wyoming said they do not issue permits for fracturing. A Wyoming official who asked not to be named said companies there commonly fractured with diesel.
• In February, the House Energy and Commerce Committee reported that two companies, B.J. Services and Halliburton, had injected diesel in hydraulic fracturing operations in at least 15 states from 2005 through 2007. At least some of these injections occurred on or after Aug. 8, 2005, when the Energy Policy Act of 2005 became law. This law exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Underground Injection Control permitting requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act except when diesel is used, so the two companies may have broken the law if they fractured with diesel without a permit. The committee did not disclose where the injections occurred.
• The committee also found that B.J. Services violated a non-binding 2003 agreement with EPA not to inject diesel fuel directly into underground sources of drinking water in coal bed methane formations.
• Companies have sought to drill for natural gas in the watershed that provides New York City’s drinking water. The city has strongly opposed such drilling.
• Industry often claims there is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing has ever contaminated drinking water, but people from Pennsylvania to Wyoming have clearly documented that their water was affected.
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