Government Accountability Office delivers mixed message on gas, oil drilling

Extent of risks from shale drilling is unknown, Government Accountability Office says in a new study.
By KEVIN BEGOS Published: October 13, 2012
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Shale gas and oil drilling pose environmental and public health risks, but the extent of those risks is unknown, the Congressional Government Accountability Office says in new study.

The GAO, an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, reviewed existing scientific reports on shale drilling, and spoke to state regulators, industry experts and environmental groups.

Regulators from Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas said state investigations found that the part of the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has not been identified as a cause of groundwater contamination, the report notes.

Travis Windle, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, suggested that the GAO report, “like so many other independent reports, determines that hydraulic fracturing is safe and that this critical, tightly-regulated technology has never impacted groundwater.”

But the GAO also noted that, according to studies and publications, “underground migration of gases and chemicals poses a risk of contamination to water quality.” For example, the GAO said that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources found in 2008 that a gas well with a faulty seal allowed natural gas to build up and migrate into the local aquifer, infiltrating drinking water wells.

George Jugovic, president of the Pennsylvania environmental group PennFuture, said he doesn't think the public cares which specific part of the drilling process poses a threat to health or the environment.

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