EPA announces plans to regulate "fracking"

Steam rises from the Kawasaki natural gas power station in Kawasaki city, Kanagawa prefecture, south of Tokyo on August 25, 2011.

Bob Moon: From the Marketplace Desk of No Surprises, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to regulate natural gas. Specifically, that controversial form of extraction called fracking. That's a process where resources trapped within rock are essentially flushed out with water under high pressure.

Environmentalists cheered today's news. Gas drillers gave a mild grumble. But as Marketplace's Scott Tong reports from our Sustainability Desk, new rules could actually be a win for industry in the long run.


Scott Tong: Today's gee-whiz technology in natural gas production is fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which means lots of water shoots into the ground and out during the drilling process. Plus chemicals.

The end wastewater is what the feds plan to regulate. No details yet, and new rules are three years away. But already, industry's twitchy.

Attorney Barclay Nicholson at Fulbright and Jaworski advises drillers.

Barclay Nicholson: I'm not sure that having more regulations through the EPA is the right way to go. But I think probably it's something coming whether the industry wants it to come or not.

There's growing concern fracking endangers drinking water, and a hit documentary on the subject. Fact is, the big drillers already recycle wastewater, or inject it underground.

They do the right thing, says analyst Raoul LeBlanc at PFC Energy.

Raoul LeBlanc: You have people that are already meeting or exceeding standards. And the regulation is really designed to try to bring up the laggards.

Tens of thousands of big and little companies are fracking. And companies fall short in the self-policing department, according to Steve Levine at Georgetown and Foreign Policy Magazine.

Steve Levine: They're incapable, or they do not want to browbeat the bad actors into doing it right. And so all you need is one Gulf of Mexico-type accident in the fracking field.

And the regulators will bring down the hammer. Levine suspects gas drillers, in private, quiet moments, actually welcome the feds.

In Washington, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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