by Larry J. Schweiger

I posted this response on National Journal’s blog in response to the question:

Should the federal government seek to regulate a controversial extraction method for natural gas known as hydraulic fracturing?

Today’s methods make gas drilling a filthy business. You know it’s bad when nearby residents can light the water coming out of their tap on fire.

But that’s just the start of the problems. In the old days, oil companies produced natural gas, which was relatively easy to extract, as a by-product of oil drilling in this country. Today, most of the remaining domestic reserves are so-called “unconventional” deposits trapped in shale, coal & sandstone formations. To free the gas, companies pump chemicals, sand & water into the ground under high pressure to fracture, or frac, the rock formations.

Hydraulic fracturing fluids contain a toxic cocktail of petroleum distillates—benzene, toluene and other carcinogens (the precise recipe is a trade secret). The fractured formations are then “dewatered” to release the gas. In one of the driest regions of the country, groundwater is being polluted, pumped to the surface & dumped into holding ponds to evaporate.

No other industry could get away with this. But in 2005 Congress exempted gas drillers from provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act by passing the “Halliburton loophole,” inserted into the law at the request of a former Halliburton executive, then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

Hydraulic fracturing is not going to be the way we solve our nation’s long term energy need. It’s a dirty Frankenfuel that pollutes the land and water while gushing carbon pollution. The right way to turn is real and serious investments in clean energy.