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Fact sheet: Fracking operations and Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale

What is fracking? The term “fracking” is short for “hydraulic fracturing,” a process for extracting oil and gas from rock formations, especially shale. Drillers blast a stream of high-pressure water mixed with sand and a chemical brew into the rock formation. The water fractures the shale to release the natural gas, while the sand keeps the fractures open. Today fracturing is used in nine out of ten natural gas wells in the United States.

A significant amount of water is needed. A four-stage operation can easily use 2.3 million gallons of water. When this water is pumped back to the surface, it can contain hundreds of suspended contaminants: hydrocarbons, minerals, dissolved salts, traces of radioactive compounds, and many of the secret chemicals originally included in the blast. This used water, often referred to as “frack fluid,” must be specially treated to remove these impurities; a sewage treatment plant is not able to safely or effectively remove the contamination.

The Marcellus Shale
The Marcellus Shale is a rock formation beneath Pennsylvania and parts of New York and West Virginia. About two-thirds of Pennsylvania has a portion of the Marcellus Shale at a depth of one to 1.5 miles below the surface It was long thought that the shale held a huge amount of natural gas, but until recently that gas was too expensive to develop. Recent advances in drilling technology and rising natural gas prices have attracted new interest in extracting the gas.

Geologists estimate that 116 to 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are trapped in the shale, though it is not currently known how much is recoverable. The United States uses about 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, so the Marcellus Shale represents a considerable resource.

Currently, some 120 new Marcellus Shale gas wells are drilled in Pennsylvania every month. That means more than 2,700 Marcellus wells were drilled from 2006 to March 2011.

Who regulates extraction operations?
Fracking operations have come under fire for pollution and other problems. For example, a recent Duke University study found high methane levels in ground water near hydraulic fracturing projects.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is responsible for reviewing and issuing drilling permits, inspecting drilling operations, and responding to complaints about water quality problems. Many believe the DEP is overwhelmed. Ben Cardin, the U.S. Senator from Maryland, told a federal panel, “State regulators, facing their own massive budget cuts, have tried to fill the void. In the Marcellus Shale area, Pennsylvania’s response has been characterized as playing continual regulatory catch-up, as regulations have routinely failed to address issues.”

The federal government can only provide limited assistance. In 2005, following lobbying efforts from then-Vice President Dick Cheney — the former head of Halliburton — Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act except when diesel fuel is used. Despite this loophole, companies have injected over 32 million gallons of fracking fluids containing diesel fuel in wells in 19 states. The EPA has failed to take any enforcement action against these violations of federal law.

What do you do if you have been affected?
We can all understand the appeal of tapping the Marcellus Shale for our energy needs. The economy is sour, energy is expensive, and a huge domestic source of natural gas can mean jobs and income that Pennsylvania needs.

But at what cost? We can’t value profits over people. Fracking on this scale has never been tried before. Experts suspect that fracking operations pollute the land, contaminate the water, and pose enormous safety risks for nearby communities. With two-thirds of Pennsylvania overlapping the Marcellus Shale, all our neighborhoods are at risk.

By law, the federal EPA cannot intervene. State and local government officials are too bedazzled by the potential for enormous business profits to take the risks seriously. State regulators have too many responsibilities and not enough resources for the job.

So what can be done when a fracking accident happens, or contamination spreads? The companies and executives responsible for negligent operations should be held accountable for their actions. That’s where Ostroff Injury Law can help.

We are committed to standing up for our clients’ rights to compensation when they have been injured. Call us at (855)FRACKLAW to arrange for a consultation about your case. We can help get legal justice for the wrong done by energy companies willing to sacrifice peoples’ health for greater profits.