February 10, 2010, 6:15 pm
Uncle Sam's chief environmental agency is launching a citizens' watchdog program to help track water pollution and waste disposal related to natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale.
It's called Eyes on Drilling, and it encourages people to report suspicious activity related to federal officials through a toll-free hotline. That includes location, time and date of problems; materials, equipment and vehicles involved; and observable environmental impacts, according to a press release issued this month.
The number: (877) 919-4372. Information about the program: www.epa.gov/region03/marcellus_shale/tipline.html.
David Sternberg, a spokesman for EPA Region 3, said large volumes of chemicals and waste handled at drilling sites, or en route to the sites, create spill hazards that can threaten surface and groundwater.
Effectively tapping natural gas trapped in shale, like the Marcellus, requires a process called hydraulic fracturing. Fracking for short, it uses millions of gallons of water and additives to break apart bedrock and release gas.
As a drilling function, it remains under the state's oversight. Yet because fracking involves handling copious amounts of chemical solutions over water tables, it has drawn the attention of federal regulators,
"EPA wants to get a better understanding of what people are experiencing and observing as a result of these drilling activities. The information collected may also be useful in investigating industry practices," Sternberg said. "The agency is also very concerned about the proper disposal of waste products, and protecting air and water resources."
The Eyes on Drilling program is through the EPA's Region 3 office, encompassing the Mid Atlantic Region where much of the Marcellus drilling has begun. The hotline will also take complaints taken from Region 2 callers, including New York, and pass them along to appropriate officials for follow-up, Sternberg said.Additionally, problems with drilling or other spills can be reported to the New York State Department