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New Data: Fracking Helped Boost U.S. Energy Reserves

A new report says U.S. oil and gas reserves are up by about a third - that number rise higher thanks to hydraulic fracturing. The paper released by the Energy Information Administration, the research branch of the U.S. Energy Department, says that reserves of oil and gas that can be developed using current technology are up 35 percent this year from 2011.

Hydrofracked oil and natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in western Pennsylvania (see map image) is a factor in the rise in estimated domestic reserves as formerly unobtainable resources trapped in tight geological formations are now being harvested through fracking.

The report indicates that New York's moratorium on fracking may be keeping the Empire State on the sidelines of the energy boom that has had a positive economic impact elsewhere in the Marcellus Shale region. Some anti-fracking activists argue that the falling prices of natural gas are softening the demand for nuclear, solar, wind and other greenhouse-gas-free energy sources that are seen as long-term energy solutions for a cleaner planet.
John Holko is President of Lenape Resources, a gas driller based in western New York - he says the increase in reserves has stabilized hydrocarbon energy costs throughout the country, thus stimulating research and development of green energy technology while creating new jobs.
But many questions about fracking remain, including its potential effect on human health, agriculture, and the chance for increased threat of earthquakes in and around well sites.  

A 2012 Penn State study titled "The Impact of Marcellus Gas Drilling on Rural Drinking Water Supplies" found that, overall, fewer than 1 percent of the water wells tested showed quantitative evidence of increases in sediment or metals that were both noticeable to the water supply owner and confirmed by water testing results. Researchers say occasional changes to groundwater can be expected with any land disturbance or drilling activity, but that they are often temporary.

A study of hundreds of thousands of fracking operations since 1929 by Durham University in the United Kingdom found that Hydraulic fracturing used to access oil and gas from rock and shale hasn’t caused “significant” earthquakes. The study, released in April, did find the process has the potential to reactivate dormant faults.

Bob Nied is a member of the board of directors of the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities, based in Schoharie County. He  says the collateral damage in the approach to fracking gas is rural communities, taken advantage of purely for profit by gas exporters.

There's also a movement to define whether fracking will be overseen at the federal or state level. New York, Massachusetts, Delaware, Vermont, and Rhode Island have threatened to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to halt fracking.

New York State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah has been conducting review on the potential health impacts of fracking since September 2012. Advocates on both sides of the issue expect that a definitive health assessment would either open the state to fracking, or prompt a total ban on the practice.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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