Chesapeake Energy Changes Natural Gas Drilling Over Water Concerns

by | Nov 3, 2009

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Chesapeakenatural gasDue to environmental concerns over safe drinking water, Chesapeake Energy Corp. has agreed not to drill for natural gas within the New York City watershed, a small area within the Marcellus Shale natural gas reserve, which includes some of the Appalachian regions of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia, reports EARTHWORKS.

According to Chesapeake Energy, the company’s decision is primarily based on the distraction caused by environmental concerns over drilling in the NYC watershed.

“Though Chesapeake believes it can drill safely in any watershed, including New York City’s as confirmed by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS), we have chosen to focus our efforts on more promising areas for gas development in the state,” stated Aubrey K. McClendon, Chesapeake’s Chief executive officer, in a press release.

McClendon also noted that the company supports setting high environmental standards for the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, and supports the Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision to have all hydraulic fracturing vendors register their products and reveal the chemicals used in them.

Chesapeake has already disclosed the frac chemicals, which can be found at either www.chk.com and www.hydraulicfracturing.com.

Hydraulic fracturing, the technology that has opened shale gas deposits across the country to profitable drilling, continues to be exempt from the U.S.’s safe drinking water law because of a loophole — called the Halliburton loophole — included in the 2005 energy bill, according to EARTHWORKS.

In June 2009, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) together with U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced companion Senate and House bills, called the FRAC ACT — Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, amending the Safe Drinking Water Act (H.R. 2776 and S. 1215) — to repeal the exemption provided for the oil and gas industry, ensuring that hydraulic fracturing is regulated to protect drinking water. The legislation would require them to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes.

Currently, the oil and gas industry is the only industry granted an exemption from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to the legislators.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” which is used in almost all oil and gas wells, is a process where fluids are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to blast them open and increase the flow of fossil fuels. This injection of unknown and potentially toxic chemicals, including diesel fuel, benzene, industrial solvents, and other carcinogens and endocrine disrupters, often occurs near drinking water wells, according to the legislators.

There are a number of cases in the U.S. where hydraulic fracturing is the prime suspect in incidences of impaired or polluted drinking water including Alabama, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming, reports EARTHWORKS.

As an example, the 2008 contamination of two springs in Western Garfield County, Colorado, has been connected with nearby water pits used to hold toxic sludge from gas wells, according to a report by Halepaska and Associates of Littleton, reports the Post Independent.

The report names the Williams Production and OXY USA gas companies as the “likely” culprits in the Prather spring contamination cases, based on studies of the groundwater, soils and drainage patterns of the terrain, according to the article.

Testing showed that the water was heavily tainted by a chemical brew known as BTEX, containing benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, which typically comes to the surface during the drilling process, reports the Post Independent.

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