info 11.13.09

Drilling in the Marcellus Shale

Halliburton again.

Your drinking water is protected by the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act, except when it's not. The Halliburton Loophole, as it is known, was passed by Congress in 2005, an exemption that literally and figuratively undermines the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Why the loophole? Fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is a method in which water (huge amounts are needed), plus sand, plus chemicals are high-pressured into tightly packed shale. That causes the rocks to fracture, allowing for extraction of oil and gases otherwise trapped. You with us so far?

The technology to do this extraction has improved in recent years so that companies like Halliburton are suddenly chomping at the drill bit to frack the shale bounty. These companies lobbied Congress for the right to frack freely, without the regulatory oversight of the Safe Drinking Water Act interfering with their bottom line. Congress granted this drill-baby-drill exemption four years ago.

Without careful monitoring, however, and some say even with it, the environmental impact of this kind of drilling can be disastrous. Among the consequences: contaminated drinking water from the hydrofracking fluid runoff.

One example. As Abrahm Lustgarten at ProPublica has reported, water near the gas-rich, recently fracked fields in Wyoming's Sublette Country was analyzed this past summer. Lustgarten reports that the water contained benzene, "a chemical believed to cause aplastic anemia and leukemia, in a concentration 1,500 times the level safe for people."

The Marcellus Shale is a rock formation of black shale that covers 54,000 square miles across four states: Ohio, West Viriginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Marcellus has lots of natural gas, ready for the fracking, and, indeed, in Ohio and Pennsylvania, they're already drilling – and spilling. Drilling will begin in New York if the state's Department of Environmental Conservation gives the go-ahead, after their environmental impact review ends next month.

When you cut through the noise, the results seem clear. If Halliburton and friends are allowed to frack the million acres of Marcellus in the NYC watershed without proper regulation, it will just be a matter of time, and not a lot of it, before our drinking water becomes toxic.

Here's what you can do.

Learn more by reading this overview from the Natural Resources Defense Council (PDF).

Submit your comments to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Urge Congress to close the Halliburton Loophole.

Support Riverkeeper.


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