Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Contamination

It’s frustrating to try to figure out what the deal is on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination.

Fracking proponents will tell you unequivocally that “there’s still no evidence of hydraulic fracturing fluids migrating from depth to contaminate aquifers.” They hang their hats on a largely debunked 2004 EPA study that claimed, “the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coalbed methane wells poses little or no threat to USDWs (underground sources of drinking water).”

But evidence is mounting that there is a relationship between fracking and water contamination. A peer-reviewed 2013 study from Duke University concluded that “some homeowners living near shale gas wells appear to be at higher risk of drinking water contamination from stray gases.” Another recent study from the University of Texas-Arlington found elevated levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in groundwater near fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale. Neither study is conclusive, but it’s clear that we need to get conclusive answers.

But here’s where the frustration comes in. The EPA, which has the resources and the responsibility to fund studies that determine the safety of our water supply, is caught in political infighting and isn’t doing its job in providing conclusive proof of the dangers that fracking poses to water supply.

They’ve come close, but they can’t seem to find their way to the finish line.

In 2011 they issued a report showing that a pair of monitoring wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavilion, Wyoming contained high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in fracking. The findings were limited to raw sampling data. The agency did not interpret the findings or make any attempt to identify the source of the pollution, being careful not to cross a political line in interpreting the data. But instead of completing the peer review necessary to validate the study, the EPA punted, turning the investigation over to the state of Wyoming in 2013.

In July of this year, the EPA issued a press release that announced the results of a study on drinking water in Dimock, PA. The release stated that “the EPA has determined that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action by the Agency.” However, according to the Los Angeles Times (original link not available), it turns out that regional officials with the EPA based in Philadelphia did not agree with EPA’s national office’s decision to close the investigation on water contamination in Dimock. They leaked a PowerPoint slide that showed very different conclusions: Image

The EPA is supposed to deliver a definitive study on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water in 2014, but who knows whether that will actually happen, whether it will be killed by pro-fracking Congressmen, or whether it will be definitive at all. Political pressure is already mounting.

***

The bottom line here is that fracking is happening along the Beartooth Front and activity is about to accelerate. Does it make sense to wait to (maybe) get the definitive word on whether fracking causes water contamination, or do you want to take action now to protect our precious aquifers? If Energy Corporation of America is going to be drilling, they need to act aggressively to prove that their activity is not harming the water supply:

  • ECA needs to disclose the chemicals they are using in the fracking process.
  • ECA should pay for baseline testing before fracking occurs, and then re-testing throughout the process to make sure that chemicals are not being introduced into the water supply.
  • When testing shows that water is polluted, ECA should clean it up right away.

The community needs to hold ECA accountable. You can help by joining the Carbon County Resource Council or the Stillwater Protective Association today.

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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3 Responses to Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Contamination

  1. CHARLIE DONNES says:

    Hi David,

    The fact is . . . ECA is NOT legally required to make any disclosures or justifications . . . and won’t, but will issue palliatives to keep you sleeping while they drill and perhaps irrevocably pollute.

    If you listen to the bawling and whining for compassion and “fairness” from the locals and NPRC and their “local grass-roots affiliates”, you’ll get the same place they got whining for BEC to stop investing in Highwood: NOWHERE.

    The people who know how to handle these sorts of things are EarthJustice, MEIC, Powder River Resources: the people who will do the legal and factual research and then (as possible), get injunctive relief and/or sue the shit out of the counties, the ‘developers’, MT State Lands, BLM, USFS, and anybody else they (we) can.

    I’d be happy to talk to you about any of this . . .

    Charlie Donnes

  2. Jeanna Gelernt says:

    “A peer-reviewed 2013 study from Duke University concluded that ‘some homeowners living near shale gas wells appear to be at higher risk of drinking water contamination from stray gases.'”

    Methane occurs naturally in groundwater, especially in areas rich in natural resources. It is expected that shale gas wells will be drilled in the same areas as natural occurring methane in groundwater, due to the abundance of the resource. An analysis of the isotopes indicates whether the methane is naturally occurring or is associated with shale gas development. It is not enough to say “some homeowners living near shale gas wells appear to be at higher risk of drinking water contamination from stray gases” and automatically assume that fracking is responsible for the presence of these gasses.

    Landowners who rely on USDWs (underground sources of drinking water) near shale gas formations should expect to find such gasses in their drinking water, just as they should expect those gasses to be produced. The connection should be between the presence of stray gasses in USDWs and the USDW’s proximity to shale gas formations, not between gas detection in USDW and the production of the naturally occurring gasses in those formations. Until Duke University performs and reports the results of the complex isotopic analysis of the gasses that have been detected in USDWs, there expensive study offers only the conclusion that landowners living near shale gas formations find shale gas in their drinking water -a conclusion that does not require such a study…

  3. Pingback: Baker Hughes to disclose all fracking chemicals. Don’t get too excited. | Preserve the Beartooth Front

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