Friday, November 14, 2008

Investigations: Gas Drilling Sparks Debate About Water Contamination

"In July, a hydrologist dropped a plastic sampling pipe 300 feet down a water well in rural Sublette County, Wyo., and pulled up a load of brown oily water with a foul smell. Tests showed it contained benzene, a chemical believed to cause aplastic anemia and leukemia, in a concentration 1,500 times the level safe for people.

"The results sent shockwaves through the energy industry and state and federal regulatory agencies."

So starts a ProPublica investigation into how natural-gas drilling has sparked a debate about whether it is poisoning watersheds in the U.S. The drilling is usually done by a process called hydraulic fracturing. Pioneered by Halliburton, it shoots water and chemicals underground to break apart rock and release the gas. The process is used in Canada, too. Deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2004, ProPublica has found the chemicals may contaminate underground water aquefers, including in areas around New York City.

The piece says Canadian gas company Encana was fined in connection with gas drilling in Colorado done by a small company it now owns. Encana also agreed to a large settlement with one local woman who developed an adrenal tumour. Encana says chemicals used in the drilling are well contained. Nonetheless, Colorado and other states are looking at reforms to drilling practices.

TAGS: environment, investigations, energy

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