New GAO Study: Long-Term Health, Environmental Risks of Fracking are Unknown

Posted By Lowell F. on October 11th, 2012

The findings of a new GAO study on the environmental and public health risks of oil and gas “fracking” don’t exactly give us a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Oil and gas development, whether conventional or shale oil and gas, pose inherent environmental and public health risks, but the extent of these risks associated with shale oil and gas development is unknown, in part, because the studies GAO reviewed do not generally take into account the potential long-term, cumulative effects…a number of studies and publications GAO reviewed indicate that shale oil and gas development poses risks to water quality from contamination of surface water and groundwater as a result of erosion from ground disturbances, spills and releases of chemicals and other fluids, or underground migration of gases and chemicals…In addition, shale oil and gas development poses a risk to land resources and wildlife habitat as a result of constructing, operating, and maintaining the infrastructure necessary to develop oil and gas; using toxic chemicals; and injecting fluids underground. However, the extent of these risks is unknown.
In other words, we appear to be moving full-speed ahead on oil and natural gas fracking, even though we have essentially no idea what the long-term public health and environmental risks might be from those activities. The problem, as we’ve pointed out previously, is that once an aquifer is contaminated, it’s difficult if not impossible to see how it could ever be un-contaminated.
If all that were not sufficiently worrisome, it also turns out that “U.S. regulators are having a tough time keeping pace with rapidly expanding shale oil and gas development.”  That’s in addition to serious problems at the state level, such as in New York, where “inadequate enforcement guarantees irresponsible oil and gas development.”  Perhaps it’s time to call a “time out” on fracking until these problems are addressed, and until we know what the long-term risks are?
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