A coalition of 69 environmental groups has urged President Obama to “employ any legal means” to halt hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and suggested a federal moratorium until further environmental studies of the practice are completed.

In a letter last Monday, the environmental groups — including Earth Day Network, Greenpeace USA, Public Citizen, the Center for Environmental Health and other regional and national groups — claim that fracking has contaminated groundwater in more than 1,000 cases across the country.

“Despite its obvious hazards, regulation necessary to ensure that fracking does not endanger our nation’s water supply has not kept pace with its rapid and increasing use by the oil and gas industry,” the letter said.

One of the environmentalists’ demands is for a federal moratorium until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completes its study on fracking (see NGI, Feb 21; Feb. 14; March 22, 2010).

The ink was barely dry on the environmentalists’ letter when Energy In Depth (EID), an industry-backed national shale gas education initiative, blasted the the groups’ claims in a rebuttal letter. “[Fracking] has been used more than one million times without a single confirmed case of drinking water contamination,” EID said. “The fact that their ace in the hole here is a tautology — water ‘may’ become contaminated in the future — speaks volumes about the overall lack of credibility.”

The EID also pointed out that strict regulations governing fracking have been implemented at the state level, and that supplanting them with federal regulations was a dangerous idea.

The environmental groups also want additional measures to protect water and air quality, reduce the impacts on global warming and a public dialogue on the future of natural gas. They also want fracking’s exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) eliminated.

The groups predicted the EPA’s findings would fall short of their expectations. They also criticized the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Natural Gas Subcommittee, which on Thursday released a report urging regulators and industry to cooperate on a “best practices” strategy in developing shale gas resources (see related story).

“The first phase [of the EPA study] will end by 2012, but this study will take several years to complete,” the environmentalists said. “By this time, even more of the nation’s drinking water may become contaminated by fracking. And while [Energy Secretary Steven Chu] has assembled a committee to recommend and identify best practices … assuming they are even implemented, [they] can of course not in themselves provide adequate protection from risks that are not yet fully known.”

EID argued against federal interference in an area that has always been a state preserve. “The rock formations underlying Wyoming differ from those in Pennsylvania, and Michigan’s geology is considerably different from Louisiana’s. Thus, an EPA-based, one-size-fits-all federal approach would actually increase risks by removing the flexibility of state regulators to apply tight standards that align with reality instead of ideology.”

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