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 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 Shale Daily, Feb. 9; Daily GPI, March 19, 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. “We recognize that the president is very busy this week,” the EID said. “To help him and everyone else out, we read through every last detail of the [environmentalists’] letter…[and] decided to add something that was painfully absent: facts.”

The “facts” are that 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. As a comparison they cited the moratorium enacted in March by the Canadian province of Quebec (see Shale Daily, March 10).

The environmentalists also want fracking’s exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) eliminated.

While the groups commend the Obama administration for tasking the EPA with its fracking study and also setting up the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) to identify the industry’s best practices, they submit that both efforts will inevitably fall short of what’s needed (see Shale Daily, April 4; Feb 22).

“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. “Instead of studying environmental justice and poetry in college, the authors of this letter would have been more informed … had they taken a single geology or physical geography course,” the EID said.

“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.

“There is no evidence to back up [their] claim that hydraulic fracturing is ‘poisoning people,’ likely because what’s written on a unicorn’s back or along the rim of the leprechaun’s pot of gold isn’t typically admissible as evidence. Unfortunately, this is typical of the types of claims against hydraulic fracturing: hyperbole without evidence.”