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Fracking debate heats up in public hearings

June 14, 2011
Weirton Daily Times

WASHINGTON, Pa. - To say the group assigned by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to determine the merits and risks of natural gas fracking has its work cut out for it may be an understatement.

"Why are you fracking with our children's future?" Pittsburgh resident Dana Dolney asked the advisers during the board's Monday public hearing at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa.

Dolney and other fracking opponents, including Josh Fox, director of the natural gas drilling documentary "Gasland," sparred with those who support fracking and gas development throughout the meeting. Each speaker had two minutes to address the board. Those opposed cited reported risks of air and water pollution, while proponents emphasized job creation and economic development.

"There is virulent, anti-Marcellus hysteria," said Pennsylvania resident Greg Wrightstone, noting he believes many of those who oppose drilling and fracking are in favor of solar and wind energy.

"The fears of pending environmental disaster are overblown," he added.

Chu appointed the board to study fracking last month. Members include John Deutch, institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Kathleen McGinty, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics at Stanford University; Stephen Holditch, head of the Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University; Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund; and Daniel Yergin, chairman of the IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

"They will also develop, within six months of beginning their work, consensus recommended advice to the agencies on practices for shale extraction to ensure the protection of public health and the environment," information from Chu notes of the board.

Fox questioned the credibility of the board, specifically noting Deutch has close ties to the oil and gas industry. Fox also said the meeting was not well advertised to let people know it was happening.

"This is a sham. This is not democracy," Fox said, prompting fracking opponents to erupt in cheers and applause.

However, Consol Energy and CNX Gas Corp. spokeswoman Laural Ziemba said her company takes as much care of the environment as possible.

"Our goals do not conflict with your goals," she assured attendees.

Others who supported natural gas drilling and fracking cited increased wealth among mineral owners and increased employment opportunities. They also noted that no state or federal regulatory agency has documented a case in which fracking has led to groundwater contamination, a claim that prompted opponents to loudly "boo" each time.

Central Pennsylvania resident Dave McKay said regulators need to be working with more stringent guidelines.

"We need tighter regulation, not written by the drilling industry, but written by the people living in the communities affected," he said.

The board is supposed to advise Chu and President Obama on how to "ensure the protection of public health and the environment" regarding natural gas development.

Fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, is a process that follows the actual drilling process. In fracking, gas drilling companies pump millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep within the earth to create fissures within the Marcellus or Utica shales, thereby releasing the natural gas.Many drillers now post the contents of their fracking solutions online, noting about 99.5 percent of the solution consists of water and sand. However, some of the 85 chemicals listed by the Pennsylvania DEP as having been used in some fracking jobs throughout the state include xylene and toluene. Information from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration indicates prolonged exposure to xylene can lead to liver and kidney damage.

For information about fracking, contact the U.S. Department of Energy regarding fracking at (202) 586-5000 or online at The.Secretary@hq

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