by Tom Kenworthy
As controversy over the use of hydraulic fracturing mounts across the U.S., the Natural Resources Defense Council has produced a handy fact sheet on best practices that can reduce risks of pollution from the technique.
The four-page publication details the various risks to both surface and underground water from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is used in oil and gas drilling operations and has become more widespread with the development of large new reserves found in shale rock formations.
Fracking is used to stimulate oil and gas production and involves the injection of a mix of water, chemicals and sand underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release the oil or gas.
Risks to surface water supplies include depletion of fresh water supplies, spills of fracking chemicals, and leaks of flowback fluids that can include fracking chemicals once the well is completed. Threats to underground water supplies can come when wells are poorly constructed, when fractures extend farther than planned, and when old oil and gas wells that have been capped serve as a migration corridor for fracking fluids used in new wells nearby.
In order to avoid those possible problems, NRDC recommends, among other things, that the public be fully informed of chemicals used in fracking, that fracking be regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, and that wastes associated with oil and gas development be regulated under federal and state hazardous waste laws.
In addition, NRDC lists many best industry practices that should be uniformly used, including better site planning and analysis, careful well construction, cementing and casing, and proper handling of wastewater.
This list of recommendations is a must-read for industry, policymakers, and environmental groups.
Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow at American Progress.