Experts discuss New York State Attorney's fracking lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers

02/17/12 Liz McKibbon
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Hydrofracking is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock under the Earth’s surface. The New York State Attorney General is bringing charges against the Army Corps of Engineers to crack down on the lack of regulation of the process known as fracking. Two of the main players spoke about the lawsuit to students, faculty and members of the public at Stetson Law yesterday.

Mauricio Roma is a geologist who works on the case for the New York State Attorney General Office. He said studies have shown evidence of radioactive material left over from hydrofracking fluids.

“The way it works… we have this vertical well then it goes horizontal for 4000 feet, the pipe is very narrow, it’s about maybe 5 inches in diameter, not that much, and they have to inject through that pipe, 5 million gallons.”

Philip Bein is lead council for New York’s lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers. Concerns have been raised nationwide about ground water contamination with fracking. But Bein said air pollution is also a major concern.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that the problems or risks to the environment posed by this new technology go beyond water. And air pollution is a significant issue. In Wyoming, which we think of as a pretty, pristine, clean state… the air was good for ozone, until they started developing natural gas using this technology, and they’re now in nonattainment.”

Bein said many states have a “drill now, regulate later” policy. He said Pennsylvania has suffered because of this strategy.

“That approach has led to significant pollution incidents of both surface and ground waters. The Monongahela River which provides drinking water to over 300,000 people, was contaminated by waste water affluent from natural gas drilling, that was sent to publicly owned treatment works, which essentially are unable to handle this waste stream.”

Bein said a major problem is the lack of EPA regulation of oil and gas companies which are not held to the same standards as other industries.

“And in 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, referred by some as the Haliburton Loophole, in a pejorative way, but what that did was to take hydrofracking out of the regulation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. And therefore that federal law intended to protect the purity and safety of our drinking waters, just doesn’t apply.”

He hopes the current court case will close that loophole and wants to compel more inspection from federal government. Roy Gardner is Stetson Law’s interim dean and said it’s important for lawyers to communicate with scientists.

“If we’re really going to solve any of our environmental challenges, lawyers need to take an interdisciplinary approach to the problem.”

Monongahela River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ 2010,

Gasland, a documentary about fracking

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