* EPA hopes to launch study this year on the chemicals
* Companies say shale contains a century of US gas supply
(Adds background, bylines)
By Jon Hurdle and Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, March 8 The top U.S. environmental
regulator said she was "very concerned" about fluids blamed by
some for polluting water supplies near sites where drillers use
them to extract natural gas from shale deposits.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson
said she hopes her agency will launch a study this year into
the nature of fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing process
of natural gas drilling.
"We are going to look at what the fluids are, what's in
them. We are very concerned about that," she told Reuters after
a speech at the National Press Club.
Exploitation of the cleaner-burning fuel could allow the
United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut its
dependence on coal and petroleum imports. When burned, natural
gas emits only half of the carbon dioxide per unit as does
coal, which generates about half of the electricity in the
Critics, however, say the chemicals used in fracturing can
contaminate water supplies.
Jackson said the study would examine any environmental
impact from the fracturing fluids. But the study would depend
on a "reprogramming" of funds because the current budget has no
provision to pay for it, she added.
The EPA said last month that a budget had been proposed to
allow it to conduct a "comprehensive" study of hydraulic
fracturing following a request by Congress to look into the
safety of chemicals used.
Hydraulic fracturing injects millions of gallons of water,
sand, and a proprietary mix of chemicals up to two miles
underground where it breaks open fissures in the gas-bearing
Drilling companies are scrambling to develop vast shale
deposits that are estimated to contain enough natural gas to
meet U.S. needs for up to a century. Industry maintains its
processes are safe.
Energy companies say fracking chemicals are injected into
the ground thousands of feet below drinking water aquifers and
that well shafts are encased in layers of steel and concrete,
preventing any escape of chemicals into groundwater.
But some residents who live near gas-drilling rigs say
their water has become foul-tasting, discolored or even
flammable because methane from gas wells has seeped into
domestic water supplies.
Industry spokespeople say there has never been a proven
case of groundwater contamination from fracking. A bill in
Congress would require gas companies to disclose the chemicals
used in fracking and give the EPA oversight of the industry,
which is now regulated by the states.
(Reporting by Jon Hurdle and Timothy Gardner; Editing by