Fracturing battle in Texas merits attention
“SHALE we drill?” natural gas producers are asking.
“You shale not,” the federal government is answering.
“Oh yes we shale,” Texas energy regulators are saying in response.
Forgive us this day our wordplay as we explore the depths of a growing controversy over the use of hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas from shale formations.
On one side are the producers and regulators in energy states such as Texas and Oklahoma. On the other are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and media darlings such as the creator of “Gasland,” an anti-Big Gas contender for an Academy Award in the documentary category. State regulators want to keep the right to oversee hydraulic fracturing. The EPA wants to take that right away and, perhaps, take fracturing along with it.
Despite low and stable prices for gas, a fuel with a history of volatile pricing, the industry is besieged by concerns over the effect of fracturing on groundwater. The promise of a relatively clean-burning fuel, offered at an attractive and stable price (at least for now), is tarnished by perceptions of a drilling technique that's partly responsible for the fuel's abundance and lower prices.
In Texas, an EPA crackdown on a producer working the Barnett Shale, the nation's second-largest shale play, has not only the producer up in arms but the state officials charged with regulating drillers. The EPA said Range Resources has contaminated water wells. The Texas Railroad Commission (equivalent to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission) voted 3-0 in favor of a position holding that Range isn't contaminating groundwater.
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