Sunday, December 6, 2009

Washington Post "Drilling right into an environmental debate"

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oil and gas companies have figured out how to turn shale rock into natural gas gushers, but they have also hit a deep well of anxiety about the environmental impact of drilling in some of the country's most scenic areas.

The debate revolves around a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, which unlocks natural gas by shattering shale rock with high-pressure blasts of water, chemicals and sand.

Starting up a well requires 3 million to 7 million gallons of water. Drillers mix in chemicals that environmentalists say can imperil rivers and springs. Critics say natural gas can seep into drinking supplies, too.

Large volumes of water, containing leftover chemicals and mineral waste, return to the surface once a well is complete; that water requires safe disposal or treatment. Residents fear accidents, even if firms take precautions such as using steel tanks. More>>>