The Truth About Fracking

A horizontal drilling, or hydraulic fracturing, test site in Troy, Pennsylvania. It is one of several horizontal Marcellus wells concentrated in a small area.©

For anyone still wondering if hydraulic fracturing or "fracking"—a means of extracting natural gas by injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure underground to break through rock—is safe, a new video called "Stand Up New York!" offers a quick tutorial. The video, from subversive ad agency Agit-Pop Communications, begins by showing the unspoiled beauty of New York State, followed by a vision of an Exxon sign, a gas explosion and water so toxic that a lighter can set tap water on fire. The list of chemicals involved in the fracking process scroll down the left-hand side of the screen in jaw-dropping numbers.

Despite involving such a dangerous cocktail of chemicals, hydraulic fracturing is exempt from Clean Water Act regulations due to what’s known as the "Halliburton loophole." Vice President Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton before taking office under President Bush, and Halliburton is the company that patented the fracking procedure. Under Cheney’s Energy Task Force, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found in 2004 that fracking "poses little or no threat to drinking water."

EPA whistleblower Weston Wilson—who appears in Agit-Pop’s video—vehemently disagrees, calling the EPA’s study "scientifically unsound." When the EPA study was reviewed by Earthworks, among others, it was found that data pertaining to how fracking would contaminate drinking water had been removed. Both local governments and national efforts are underway to close the Halliburton loophole, but in New York the race is on. Geologists estimate that the Marcellus Shale, a black shale formation extending deep underground from Ohio and West Virginia northeast into Pennsylvania and southern New York, contains between 168 trillion to 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. If oil and gas companies are allowed to start drilling, southern New York, as evidenced in the video, will be one continuous expanse of drilling rigs and the drinking water of tens of millions of people in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey will be at risk.

In February, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.sent letters to 14 oil and gas companies involved in fracking, including Halliburton, as part of a Congressional inquiry. They asked companies whether they are drilling near drinking wells and how they are managing wastewater, only to have their questions deflected.

SOURCES: Earthworks; New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation; ProPublica; Stand Up New York! Video.