EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

January 12, 2013

Column: The fractured thinking of natural gas 'frackophobes'

If frackophobes are to be believed, natural gas fracking is the most frightful environmental nightmare since Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant melted down after an earthquake and tsunami.

In “Promised Land,” Matt Damon’s new anti-fracking movie — funded in part by the United Arab Emirates — one character demonstrates this production technique’s “dangers” by drenching a toy farm with household chemicals and then setting it ablaze.

In the upcoming pro-fracking film, “Fracknation,” one Pennsylvania homeowner absurdly claims that fracking polluted his well water with weapons-grade uranium.

In a New Yorkers Against Fracking agitprop poster, the Statue of Liberty furiously topples natural gas drilling towers with her torch as energy company 18-wheelers flee in horror.

These warnings might be believable if fracking regulators seemed even slightly worried. Instead, federal and state environmental officials appear positively serene about hydraulic fracturing, a decades-old technology that uses sand and chemically treated water to shatter shale deposits far below the water table and liberate natural gas from the ruptured rocks.

“In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater,” Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson said last April. In May 2011, she testified on Capitol Hill: “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”

The EPA tested drinking water in Dimock, Pa., which ecologists claim fracking has tainted. “EPA has determined that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action by the agency,” it concluded last July.

“A study that examined the water quality of 127 shallow domestic wells in the Fayetteville Shale natural gas production area of Arkansas found no groundwater contamination associated with gas production,” the U.S. Geological Survey announced Wednesday.

“Significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF,” or high-volume hydraulic fracturing, according to a February 2012 preliminary report from New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pondered this issue since 2010 and promises further contemplation, including another draft of what DEC now calls an “outdated summary.”

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