Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Groundwater Contamination Issues

There has been some recent press about the potential damage to groundwater from natural gas drilling, especially with the rush to drill gas shales. CNN Money recently posted an article and video story and pointed out that many of the new finds are near large metropolitan areas, including the Dallas metro area, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and New York City.

This is getting a large amount of attention in the northeast where the Marcellus Shale is attracting a lot of attention. While this is not a recent discovery, like the Haynesville Play, it is causing a great deal of excitement and trepidation in an area that is not as experienced with oil and gas exploration as the south central portion of the U.S.

The big issue is the chemicals and water pumped into the wells as part of the fracing process. Interestingly, in 2005 Congress passed a law that made the chemicals proprietary business information, which allowed the drilling companies to keep them confidential. (An aside: it is frightening to think of the lobbying that must have gone into creating that very specific law.) It puts the state and federal regulatory bodies in a difficult position. Because the companies don't have to disclose the chemicals, the regulatory bodies can't truly understand the threat to the groundwater. Outside of this particular issue, many advocates claim that states have insufficient regulations to protect groundwater in general.

I'm in no position to take sides in this debate, but one thing is clear: for the truly successful development of the Haynesville Shale (and other shales), there must be a balance between maximizing production and protecting the surface land, which includes the health of the people, the quality of the drinking water, minimizing pollution and protecting agricultural uses, among others.

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