Congress Steps Into Gas-Drilling Debate


Congress is stepping into an environmental debate that has raged in New York, Pennsylvania and other states where energy firms are using a technique known as "hydraulic fracturing" to drill for natural gas.

Democratic U.S. Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts want to know exactly which chemicals are being used in the fracturing process, The Wall Street Journal reported . The process involves millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals being injected into the earth "to crack open gas-bearing rocks," as the Journal describes it.

Hydraulic fracturing has alarmed many environmentalists, who are concerned that the chemicals involved — which some drilling firms have kept a secret — could contaminate local drinking water supplies. The debate is most intense in upstate New York, where energy firms want to tap into a huge natural gas field that happens to be near the drinking-water basin for New York City.

The outcome of debate also could have budgetary implications for some states. In Pennsylvania, for example, where a natural gas field is being eyed by energy companies as a potentially huge source of business, Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell wants to tax the gas drilling to help balance the state budget, Reuters reported last week .

ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news service, has reported in detail about natural gas drilling in the states, including the debate over hydraulic fracturing, which remains largely unregulated in many places. Of 31 states in which natural gas drilling occurs, 21 have no regulations specific to fracturing and only 10 require that the chemicals involved in the process be disclosed, ProPublica reported .


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