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Sierra Club’s Brune on Hydraulic Fracturing

Here is an excerpt from my interview with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a process whereby natural gas is extracted from the ground using large amounts of water, sand and chemicals.

I want to talk to you for a second about hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” It’s an issue that’s been in the spotlight lately in terms of EPA’s hearings on the issue. Disclosure of chemicals used in fracturing is going to be a big issue going forward. Some in the natural gas industry has said they are open to disclosure, but regulation should be done at the state level. Still others have said the chemicals used in fracturing are proprietary and shouldn’t be disclosed. I wonder if I can get your reaction to all of that.**

**

First, I have been following the EPA hearings very closely. We are concerned about the environmental and social impacts of fracking and we also thing that there should be much more effective regulations put in place. Federally, the Safe Drinking Water Act loophole should be closed. We think that EPA should adopt a minimum set of standards that would guide operations around the country and those standards should be augmented by different regional customizations because you’re dealing with different geological formations in different parts of the country.

As far as disclosure itself, simply disclosing the amount and types of chemicals is important. But nobody should be made to think that that is the most important issue. If your well water is being poisoned, I suppose it’s useful to know what chemicals are making you sick or making your well water toxic. More important, would be to eliminate any use of toxic chemicals. So, we do think it is important to disclose what chemicals are being used.

But we also think it’s a bit of a red herring and a distraction from a series of larger issues. One is to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals. But then also to look at how the water is handled, making sure that there are regulations put in place to make sure there’s no surface water discharge, that well casings are sufficient so that there’s no contamination from the produced water, which holds significant quantities of toxic chemicals. And that there’s no leakage of that water into drinking water or water used for irrigation.

The industry says it’s essential to use fracking to get access to these natural gas resources that they see as vital to the United States. Do you think that access to this natural gas is as vital as they say it is?****

I do think that natural gas can be useful in reducing or reliance on oil and it can also be useful in reducing our reliance on coal, and there are environmental benefits to both. At the same time, I think that we are seeing progress in the industry whereby the produced water can be recycled to a greater degree thereby reducing the amount of water that’s being used as well as the toxicity of that water. As far as disclosure is concerned, companies like Range Resources, have set themselves on a path to only use biodegradable chemicals. So, we’re starting to see models that refute what the industry by and large says, which is that they’re dependent on chemicals that are poisonous.

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