Fracking's risks merit national moratorium

September 24, 2012

The letter from Steve Everley, a member of a research organization supported by the Independent Petroleum Institute of America ("Fracking gets an unfair rap," Sept. 21), is a bit misleading when it says that the moratorium on fracking "is just another way to obscure the fact that hydraulic fracturing has been examined, studied, assessed, and closely scrutinized for decades."

While it's true that hydraulic fracturing has been used and studied for decades, high-volume slick-water fracturing has been used only in about the past dozen years, and only in 2011 did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency begin to respond to concerns that fracking was causing problems when they received many complaints from Pennsylvanians who were badly impacted by it.

On Feb. 28, 2011, Ian Urbana, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, wrote that he found never-reported studies by the EPA and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways. But the EPA has not intervened. In fact, federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity.

And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008.

Maryland's moratorium was a step in the right direction. But current regulation by states is clearly not sufficient. Is federal regulation the answer? Perhaps, although it may not be possible to apply high-volume, slick-water hydraulic fracturing without excessive pollution and risk. A national moratorium is necessary — time to step back and better study the risks to water quality, air quality, and global warming. Only once such studies are completed can society begin to analyze what sort of regulation might be sufficient.

Brother Jerry O'Leary, Baltimore

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