Fracking Update: Dirtier Than Coal, Natural Gas Drilling Threatens U.S. Drinking Water

A review of recent natural gas news stories shows there are major problems with drilling, including serious health threats.

April 14, 2011

Natural gas drilling turns out to have some pretty steep hidden costs.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—It's becoming very clear that unconventional natural gas drilling and the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process used to free gas from deep shale formations underground, are a public health catastrophe in the making. In Pennsylvania, partially treated wastewater laced with radioactive underground contaminants and chemical cocktails are dumped back into rivers that serve as drinking water sources for thousands of people. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities just released some startling data. They tested "treated" gas drilling wastewater at a plant specially designed to handle this type of waste. Here's what was in that water:


· Levels of barium were 14 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limit in drinking water.

· Levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, were nearly 6 times higher than the EPA's consumption, water, and organism risk level.

· Levels of bromide, which can mix with chlorine and form toxic by-products, were more than 10,000 times higher than levels that generally cause concern.

Here's more important natural gas drilling news:

Last Call! Protect the most threatened river...TODAY! April 15 marks the deadline for comments to the Delaware River Basin Commission. So far, natural gas drillers haven't been allowed to drill in this important watershed that supplies drinking water to more than 15 millions people, including New York City and Philadelphia residents. (All drilling is banned in New York state until at least July 2011.)

You can sign the petition Friday up until midnight at

The Associated Press reports that a record-breaking 30,000 people have signed letters opposing natural gas drilling in the Delaware River basin.

Greenwashing Alert! You may have stumbled upon billboards or other ads hailing natural gas as clean energy. Earlier in the year, reported on preliminary research that suggested natural gas is actually dirtier than coal, long hailed as the most polluting fossil fuel. The Cornell research we cited is reportedly going to be printed in the journal Climatic Change. The investigative reporting team at the journalism organization Propublica offers more details, along with handy natural gas graphics explaining hydraulic fracturing, the type of technology used for capturing the gas from shale formations.

According to Propublica: "Howarth's findings are based in part on the EPA's revelation that far more gas escapes into the atmosphere in production fields than was previously known, and on a mathematical tweaking of the intensity of methane gas' effect on the atmosphere. Howarth, whose figures for total emissions exceed even the EPA's revised estimates, calculates the impact of methane in the atmosphere over a 20-year period, saying the urgent need to address short-term climate change justifies that calculation. Over 20 years, methane is considered 72 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in its effects on climate change. Using that approach, Howarth concludes that gas may be between 20 and 100 percent dirtier than coal."

Read the whole story: More Reasons to Question Whether Gas Is Cleaner Than Coal

Corbett continues backing industry over citizens' health. It's no secret Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is cozy with the natural gas industry. In fact, the industry funded his campaign to the tune of about a million bucks. Not only does he refuse to tax gas drilling companies (thought he's cutting funding for kindergarten and arts programs in schools), but now he's also taking away oil and gas inspectors' right to cite faulty drillers without first gaining clearance from the governor's office. Propublica broke the story.

What would you do...if your neighbors leased their land for natural gas drilling? The Associated Press reports on the ways natural gas drilling divides communities.

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