Global environmental challenges
Must the natural gas industry clean up its act?
Natural gas is regarded as a relatively clean source of energy but there is mounting evidence that it has a dirty side.
In August U.S. government scientists reported that they had for the first time found chemical contaminants in drinking water wells near natural gas drilling operations, fueling concern that a gas-extraction technique is endangering the health of people who live close to drilling rigs.
The Environmental Protection Agency found chemicals that researchers say may cause illnesses including cancer, kidney failure, anemia and fertility problems in water from 11 of 39 wells tested around the Wyoming town of Pavillion in March and May this year.
On Monday, I reported that high concentrations of harmful compounds have been found in the air in a north Texas town that is in the heart of the region’s gas industry, according to a report released by an environmental consultancy.
The study by Wolf Eagle Environmental Engineers and Consultants found high concentrations of carcinogenic and neurotoxin compounds in the atmosphere at seven locations around the rural town of DISH, which is about 50 miles northwest of Dallas.
Carcinogens are linked to cancers while neurotoxins are toxins that act on nerve cells.
The report said the levels of several of the substances exceeded those that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) uses as benchmarks or triggers that could prompt it to investigate or take action. This does not mean that these levels are an immediate hazard but the town’s mayor Calvin Tillman told me that he would like to see the several compressor stations in the area shut down until people are reassured that they are not emitting toxins.
DISH is on the Barnett Shale, a large geological formation in north Texas that contains vast amounts of natural gas.
What do you think? Is natural gas a viable option in the quest for an energy source cleaner than coal, which emits about twice as much carbon dioxide? Or must the industry first clean up its own act?
(Photo: A worker at EnCana’s Frenchie Draw gas-drilling rig in central Wyoming guides sections of steel pipe into an 11,000-foot well on September 19, 2009. REUTERS/Jon Hurdle)