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Planet Ark World Environment News House Committee Investigates Drilling Practice

Date: 19-Feb-10
Country: US
Author: Ayesha Rascoe and Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON - The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee said on Thursday it was investigating the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on the environment and human health.

Some members of Congress want to pass legislation giving the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate fracking.

"As we use this technology in more parts of the country on a much larger scale, we must ensure that we are not creating new environmental and public health problems," said committee chairman, Representative Henry Waxman.

"This investigation will help us better understand the potential risks this technology poses to drinking water supplies and the environment, and whether Congress needs to act to minimize those risks," he said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," injects a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations at high pressure to force out oil and natural gas. The practice is used to stimulate production in old wells, but is now also used to tap oil and gas trapped in shale beds across North America.

The committee is seeking information from eight energy companies that use hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas from unconventional sources, including shale rock.

The companies the committee is requesting information from include Halliburton, BJ Services and Schlumberger.

Information was also asked of five smaller fracking companies that make up a growing share of the market: Frac Tech Services, Superior Well Services, Universal Well Services, Sanjel Corporation and Calfrac Well Services.

Fracking is essential to shale gas production, which has significantly boosted U.S. gas output. The Energy Information Administration estimates this resource could make the United States self-sufficient in natural gas supply by 2030.

Environmentalists say fracking, without a national safety standard, endangers human health by contaminating ground water. Residents in gas drilling areas have complained their well water was discolored or foul-smelling and that children became sick.

Oil and gas companies say the criticisms are completely unfounded and that gas drilling is done thousands of feet below ground, much deeper than most water resources. They also say officials have not linked any public health incidents to hydraulic fracturing.

(Editing by Carole Vaporean)

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