It seems like the questions regarding the safety of gas drilling are always the same: Can it pollute the water? Does it make people sick? Is it dirtying the air? These are all reasonable questions that have been left unanswered by a lack of funding.
Nationwide efforts to investigate the impacts of drilling have been stalled. In June a House committee rejected an Obama administration request to fund $4.2 million in research on how drilling may affect water quality. In Pennsylvania $2 million dollars in funding was stripped. That $2 million included a statewide health registry to track respiratory problems, skin conditions, stomach ailments, and other illnesses potentially related to gas drilling.
Meanwhile, experts, government officials, environmentalists, industry leaders, and doctors continue a back-and-forth battle over whether gas drilling is safe. Although there hasn’t been confirmation that drilling causes illnesses, many in the battle (and residents in drilling areas) feel that full-scale, widespread research is necessary to find the truth.
The recent boom in natural gas production is a result of new drilling technology and advances in hydraulic fracturing have made large amounts of gas reserves accessible. But since the advances are “new,” unanswered questions are leaving unsettled anxiety about pollution. During hydraulic fracturing gas is pulled from the ground through a process in which large volumes of water, sand, and chemicals are injected deep into the ground to break rock apart and free the natural gas.
Environmentalists say that the fracking fluids could rise and pollute shallow drinking water aquifers. They also claim that methane leaks cause air pollution. The gas industry and some government officials say fracking is safe when done properly. However, there have been occurrences where faulty wells have polluted water.
With public fear and the possibility of pollution, lawsuits are on the horizon. In fact, in Pennsylvania families who claim their wells were ruined were awarded a $1.6 million settlement by Chesapeake Energy. Although Chesapeake agreed to the settlement, the company didn’t acknowledge any fault.
There have been attempts by various groups to study the effects of fracking, but more research is needed. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has drafted new rules to control air pollution from gas drilling. Officials in Pennsylvania and other states have tightened regulations on well construction.
Despite some of the efforts made to protect public safety, many critics say public health effects are not enough of a priority.