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Hydraulic fracturing issues are already answered

In his Feb. 28 column, "EPA must regulate hydraulic fracturing," Theodore Adams asks a series of questions about hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale as if those questions have not already been answered. One has to wonder how he developed such strong opinions if he wasn't aware of these basic facts.

To start, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing -- or fracking -- are two distinct processes. Drilling creates the bore hole, and the process of hydraulic fracturing releases the trapped natural gas so it can freely flow up the well and into a system of pipelines.

All processes related to natural gas exploration and extraction are regulated by the states which, because of their vast geological differences, can do a more thorough job. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would never be able to regulate these processes efficiently or cost-effectively. In fact, Steve Heare, director of EPA's drinking water protection office, recently said states are "doing a good job already" regulating hydraulic fracturing, adding that there is no evidence that suggests the process contaminates water.

Adams asks if plans are submitted to the state before drilling begins. The answer: yes. New York regulates every step in the process. Do these plans contain maps of streams and water wells? Yes. Is there a waste management plan and a list of chemicals to be used? Yes and Yes (the list of chemicals is public information). And, yes, operators and the state Department of Environmental Conservation ensure that wildlife is considered and protected. The aquifers are protected from the drilling and fracking process by multiple thick steel casings and special concrete.

To answer more questions posed by Adams, samples of ground and surface water will be taken before, during and after the drilling and extraction processes, and operators will be insured and bonded to ensure environmental issues -- however unlikely -- will be mitigated.

Oil and gas operators are not exempt from the Clean Water Act. The act was never intended to monitor drilling or hydraulic fracturing, only the disposal of wastewater. Well operators work with state regulators and also comply with many federal regulations, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act. All of these acts have rules for record-keeping and reporting. These regulations ensure all chemicals are properly handled and stored, and that workers and first responders are made aware of the substances they handle.

More than 75,000 oil and gas wells have been vertically drilled, with thousands fracked over the past 60 years in New York. Today there are more than 13,000 active, producing wells.

The time for study is done; it's time now to let this industry expand, and let New York and its residents reap the benefits of clean-burning natural gas.

Brad Gill is executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York.

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