The controversy surrounding the natural gas industry’s practice of “fracking” —short for hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking—gained nationwide notoriety earlier this year after a documentary on the subject, “Gasland,” was nominated for an Academy Award. Last week, the debate on the safety and risks of fracking returned to Washington as members of Congress and the Obama Administration met to discuss efforts to regulate the rapidly growing industry.
The practice of fracking involves injecting a mixture of fluids and chemicals into the ground at high-pressure so as to fracture the rock, thereby releasing trapped natural gas. The natural gas industry contends that the process itself, and the chemicals used, are safe, however environmental safety and health concerns have been raised at both the state and national level.
Last Thursday, Lisa P. Jackson, administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, testified on the effects of fracking before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment. Ms. Jackson stated that, following reports that drilling wastewater containing radioactive material was being dumped in public waters without proper monitoring or treatment, the agency will scrutinize the waste disposal practices of natural gas producers. She also reported that she would order testing for radioactivity at water treatment plants that receive drilling wastewater and serve as intake sites for public drinking water downstream from such plants.