Operation to include precendent-setting safeguards
By Summit Voice
Washington D.C. — Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers announced April 1 that natural gas deposits were discovered on U.S. Capitol grounds during the construction of the underground Capitol Visitor center. The discovery — made prior to the visitor center’s opening in 2008 — was announced today after mineral rights and jurisdictional issues were resolved allowing leasing to proceed and gas production oversight to be implemented.
An unsuspected natural gas bearing shale formation — similar to the Marcellus Shale underlying middle Appalachian states, the Barnett Shale in north-central Texas, and other shale gas plays around the country — was uncovered as the pit was dug for the several stories deep undergound Capitol visitor center. The new visitor center was deemed necessary in the wake of 9/11 to mitigate the possibility of terrorist attack on the Capitol Building.
It is this type of shale gas, now accessible because of a recent gas production innovation known as horizontal hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) that has increased U.S. natural gas reserves to the point that President Obama made natural gas part of his Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future announced on Wednesday at Georgetown University.
Production of shale gas is controversial, however, because of concerns from adjacent communities over potential impacts to public health and drinking water. Hydraulic fracturing is exempt from portions of the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act — shielding the toxics used in the process and the process itself from public scrutiny and governmental oversight. EARTHWORKS, hundreds of affected communities, and the Oscar-nominated documentary GASLAND, argue that the result is polluted air, water and communities.
“I’ve lived with frackers in my community for the past 20 years,” said Gwen Lachelt of Durango, Colorado. The Oil & Gas Accountability Project director continued, “if drilling is safe then I’m a platypus. I don’t think those folks in D.C. know what they’re doing.”
Mr. Ayers, thanks to his unique powers as steward of the Capitol, enacted public health protections where Congress and the states have not. Drilling will proceed under a regulatory regime as if the federal environmental exemptions did not exist. As a result, Congress and the public will know exactly what toxics are being injected underneath the Capitol, baseline water testing will be required, and no waste pits will be permitted.
“I’m pleased that the Architect of the Capitol has decided to impose precedent-setting environmental and public health standards on shale drilling on US Capitol grounds,” said Lauren Pagel, EARTHWORKS’ Policy Director. She continued, “But I am left wondering why the communities across America faced with drilling in their backyards can’t receive the same protections.”