Grave Concerns Over Fracking Ripple Across Multiple States and Put Federal and State Regulators at Odds


In the absence of federal leadership on the fracking issue, we’re seeing the debate shift to state and local jurisdictions, from New York to Texas. The results reflect the relative clout of environmental concerns, with New York initiating a fracking moratorium while industry-friendly regulators in Texas defend the practice in a high-profile case.

The Dow Jones News Service reports that “…Texas regulators and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency remained at odds Tuesday when the state oil and gas regulator said natural gas drilling wasn’t the cause of contamination discovered in a pair of drinking water wells last year.”

This is a huge issue because it’s the first time that federal regulators have actually fingered fracking as a cause of environmental pollution. Remember, the highly controversial practice is exempt from clean water laws, and the industry refuses to fully disclose the chemicals it uses in the process. Yet the Texas Railroad Commission – which despite its name is not a trade group but rather the state’s regulatory body for oil and natural gas – claims that the drilling operations aren’t responsible for the contamination found in the drinking water wells in Parker County, outside of Fort Worth.

Back in December, the EPA found that a drilling company was responsible for a gas concentration that (according to Dow Jones) created “’…an imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire’ and ordering the company to take steps to protect area homeowners and investigate nearby natural gas operations. Residents who lived near gas-producing wells owned by Range had complained of ‘flammable and bubbling drinking water’ beginning in late August, the EPA said at the time.”

And, of course, that hard-hitting New York Times series on fracking by Ian Urbina continues to raise hell in related communities, and not just those directly impacted. The downstreamers are starting to take notice, like the Lehigh Valley Sierra Club chairman.

The local press is quoting Don Miles, chairman of the local Sierra Club, as saying that “…hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ will pollute wells and rivers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and New Jersey if it’s allowed to continue unchecked.” In addition, Miles called the Marcellus natural gas drilling boom “…the greatest natural threat to Pennsylvania in the last 50 years.”

That level of concern is not much different from what we’ve seen surfacing in other places, but it’s interesting because the Marcellus Shale doesn’t actually reach into the area of Lehigh and Northampton counties. However, the concern is that the Delaware and Lehigh rivers extend into those areas and could be contaminated by fracking and/or the industry’s mishandling of produced waters. Those rivers provide drinking water for much of the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, Mr. Miles notes.

The EPA says it is investigating the effects of hydraulic fracturing on groundwater and will release preliminary findings next year. Really? Preliminary results “next year” sometime? By then, fracking will be the biggest local environmental issue in the country.

Here’s the Lehigh Valley story from the Express-Times newspaper:

Here’s the Dow Jones report via

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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