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Scope of Science: Regulating Oil, Gas Industries

The technological advance of horizontal drilling was a game changer for the oil and gas industry. When oil and natural gas were previously being harvested, vertical drilling was the only way to extract the fossil fuel. With horizontal drilling, wells can now be fracked and re-fracked, at different depths and in all directions. By increasing the area of exploration for natural gas, many previously untouched landscapes are now being scarred due to the fracking boom.

Fracking, shorthand for hydrologic fracturing, uses tons of water, sand and chemicals- under high pressure—to create cracks in the bedrock, allowing methane gas to escape. Some claim this process is “cleaner” than dirty coal, but, on a global warming potential basis, new research shows that natural gas, oil and coal, are all equally dirty on emissions.

The fracking boom is spreading like wildfire and has already reached 33 states. Many of these states leave the oil and gas industry unregulated, as no laws are in place to keep them accountable. Because these methods are so new, state and federal governments aren’t implementing regulations as quickly as new fracking pads and semi-trucks are pouring onto undeveloped land. Stringent technology controls slip through the cracks, and the industry is happily cutting corners and keeping their pockets full by not using ‘best practice technologies’.

Not only is the oil and gas industry exempt from the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Safe Water Drinking Acts, but the pollution associated with fracking does not need to comply with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the Toxic Release Inventory.

Earthjustice continues to fight for strict regulations and work toward clean energy. With more than 500,000 gas wells across our nation, it is time to invest in a renewable future. Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg explains, “So, what characterizes a boom? It's big. It's sudden. And it blows a lot of smoke. And the natural gas boom is doing all of that to an extreme. It’s too much, and it’s too fast.” Science, research and development needs to be done on the consequences of fracking because health and environmental impacts may be greater than previously predicted.

The unprecedented rate of leases and permits for the natural gas industry needs to be slowed, as this boom may lead to explosive and irreversible impacts down the road.

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