Feds should regulate natural gas drilling

As drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale grows, pundits have been quick to pronounce it as part of a revolution in energy production. Some have even declared that there is no longer a need for other alternative sources in supplying electricity.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If ever there was a time for an honest reassessment of government policy on energy production, it's now. And what that reassessment would conclude is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should regulate natural gas drilling­ otherwise we run the considerable risk to public health and safety from contaminated drinking water and dangerous airborne emissions, including toxic chemicals like benzene.

I know my prescription doesn't square with the views of many who wish to maintain the essential free ride for natural gas. But a half-century of working on energy policy issues as an engineer and a regulator has left me convinced that­ with the health and safety of millions of people at stake ­the temptation to ignore the risks of natural gas drilling on a massive scale and emissions from natural gas facilities could be a calamitous mistake.

Natural gas has many virtues as a fuel compared to coal or oil, and its share of energy must and will certainly grow in the years ahead. The process of extracting natural gas, however, is not risk free. Known as hydraulic fracturing, it involves injecting into the ground a combination of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure to break down shale formations to unlock deposits of gas. When hydraulic fracturing is combined with horizontal drilling, reserves previously thought inaccessible are now recoverable, which is a significant benefit.

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