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Impacted citizens are “experts” with how the current system (doesn't) work.

New study validates citizen expertise by corroborating long-time citizen claims that drilling/fracking contaminates drinking water.

WASHINGTON, May 10 – EARTHWORKS and citizens from shale gas deposits around the country are sending a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu requesting that impacted citizens be represented on the federal advisory panel on the safety of hydraulic fracturing in natural gas drilling. The panel includes academics, ex-regulators and analysts, some of whom have professional ties to the oil and gas industry. But the panel does not have a single citizen from communities directly impacted by drilling and fracking.

Secretary Chu appointed a panel of “experts” to make recommendations on how to improve “the safety and environmental performance” of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, the practice of injecting chemical-laced fluids deep underground to free gas deposits trapped in shale formations. As the natural gas drilling boom has spread to 35 states, fracking has been linked to water contamination, air pollution, radioactive wastewater and accompanying human health hazards. A national network of people from communities impacted by drilling and fracking is pushing for reforms including revoking fracking's exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

But most of the seven members Chu named to the Energy Advisory Board's Natural Gas Subcommittee aren't even from oil and gas producing states. Three are former executives, past or present board members or advisors of oil and gas industry companies like Shell, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes. One is head of a national environmental group that favors increased drilling of natural gas to transition away from coal. Other members have environmental credentials, but none has experienced the struggles of communities on the front lines of the issue.

On the other hand, citizens who have lived with the drilling industry for years, and know its shortcomings first-hand, have been excluded. Furthermore, the value of their real-world expertise was just validated: a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences verified claims – common throughout drilling impacted communities – that fracking-enabled drilling pollutes drinking water.

“I know far more about fracking and gas drilling than I ever cared to know and still I am unable to protect my family's health,” said Susan Knoll of Bartonville, Texas, a community in the heart of the Barnett Shale, the nation's largest natural gas formation. “Our regulatory agencies have turned their backs on gas patch residents. We have lost our health, our homes and our dreams. We should not lose our seat at this table.”

Carol French of Bradford County, Penn., in the Marcellus Shale gas play, agreed. “I believe the most informed players (about drilling and fracking) are the landowners, not the politicians, lawyers, and businessmen,” French said. “Who gave them the power to decide over my community's health and quality of life?”

Nadia Steinzor, the Marcellus Shale representative for EARTHWORKS Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), doubted that the Energy Department panel — given its primarily pro-industry drilling makeup and premise of expanding gas development — would produce recommendations that go far enough to protect residents of the gas patch.

The Department of Energy charged the panel with looking at a range of questions relating to possible water contamination from fracking. But Sharon Wilson, Gulf Regional organizer for EARTHWORKS' OGAP, said its scope is too narrow, failing to account for air pollution, depletion of water supplies, pipeline spills, disposal of wastes and other important issues. She said EARTHWORKS and its partners will prepare a report for the panel on the multitude of problems facing communities in the natural gas boom, as well as a roster of local groups and people whose voices should be heard.

“A true panel of U.S. experts on health and safety in drilling should be made up of people who have oil and gas wells in their backyards,” said Wilson. “With some 600,000 wells across the U.S., it is shocking that Secretary Chu could not find a single panelist who has experienced drilling on their own property.”

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EARTHWORKS' Oil & Gas Accountability Project works nationwide to protect public health and the environment in communities impacted by oil and gas drilling and production.

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