Commentary: Natural gas 'fracking' must be proven safe

The Gulf oil spill disaster does not mean that oil and gas drillers should forfeit every shred of credibility when they claim they know how to operate safely. Not every single shred. They can keep a few.

So when natural gas companies say they can use a technique called hydraulic fracturing to extract gas from shale deposits, without messing up the groundwater, they deserve a respectful hearing. Then the government should make sure "fracking" is covered by clean water rules from which it is now exempt.

Fracking involves the pumping of large amounts of water laden with toxic chemicals into rock formations harboring the gas. The water usage can deplete aquifers, and there's a risk of contamination. Drillers say the method is being employed safely, but such assurances don't go far these days.

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