Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Chemophobia might fracture natural gas initiatives
As an unscientific follow-up to last week’s interminable “toxic sugar” story is another chemophobic rant from The New York Times. This time it’s about chemicals involved in the hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) process used to release natural gas from shale deposits deep underground. The Times reporter Ian Urbina would have you believe that the trace levels of chemicals (such as toluene and benzene) used during hydrofracking may ultimately end up in our drinking water. His article revolves around a Congressional investigation report stating, “Questions about the safety of hydraulic fracturing persist, which are compounded by the secrecy surrounding the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.” Written by Representatives Henry A. Waxman (D-California), Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Diana DeGette (D-Colorado), the report also criticized companies for at times “injecting fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify.”

Matt Armstrong, attorney for the natural gas industry, however, argues that, "This report uses the same sleight of hand deployed in the last report on diesel use — it compiles overall product volumes, not the volumes of the hazardous chemicals contained within those products. This generates big numbers but provides no context for the use of these chemicals over the many thousands of frac jobs that were conducted within the timeframe of the report."

Meanwhile, if the U.S. turns away from hydrofracking for natural gas, we may want to consider Europe’s “cold” condition in the aftermath of their green energy investments. Paul Driessen, senior policy adviser for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, points out that in Europe, whose latest winters have been the coldest in centuries, the trend towards green energy sources has caused home heating supplies to be priced out of reach for many of its needy residents.

In agreement, ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross further posits that, “The carcinogenic effects associated with benzene come from studies of high-exposure occupational workers. This has little or nothing to do with the traces of benzene present in hydrofracking liquids, let alone the hypothetical amounts that might conceivably migrate from shale gas deposits to drinking water. To deny Americans the possibility of plentiful, cheap and safe natural gas because of hyper-precautionary fears about ‘toxic and carcinogenic’ chemicals from hydrofracking fluid seems terribly irresponsible.”

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