Drilling for natural gas by pumping a slurry of sand, water, and chemicals deep into the ground to crack the bedrock, a process known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking", has been officially linked to groundwater contamination according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report issued December 8th.
EPA: Hydraulic Fracturing Caused Drinking Well Contamination
EPA found at least 10 compounds known to be used in fracking fluids in test wells they drilled near the town of Pavilion Wyoming. While the drilling company EnCana contested preliminary data release two weeks ago, saying that contamination of local wells was from naturally occurring sources, EPA ruled out that among alternative explanations: "The presence of synthetic compounds such as glycol ethers … and the assortment of other organic components is explained as the result of direct mixing of hydraulic fracturing fluids with ground water in the Pavillion gas field,” the draft report states.
Fracking Report Based on Years of Research and Tests
EPA first found traces of contaminates in drinking water wells around Pavillion in 2008. After additional testing in 2010, EPA warned residents not to drink their water and to ventilate their homes when bathing and showering, to prevent explosions from the methane seeping into wells. Their draft report on all the tests and analysis to date concluded that the contamination was caused by both the fracking process itself and by leaking pools of fracking waste.
"...the EPA said that pollution from 33 abandoned oil and gas waste pits – which are the subject of a separate cleanup program – are indeed responsible for some degree of shallow groundwater pollution in the area. Those pits may be the source of contamination affecting at least 42 private water wells in Pavillion. But the pits could not be blamed for contamination detected in the water monitoring wells 1,000 feet underground.
"That contamination, the agency concluded, had to have been caused by fracking," reported Propublica
EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Report Contradicts Company Rhetoric on Safety
The report directly countered many arguments by drilling companies about the safety of hydraulic fracturing, including:
- that pressure from fracking forces fluids down, not up
- that the geologic layers are watertight and no chemicals can migrate toward the surface
- that fracking did not cause the problems with cement and steel barriers on gas wells that may have allowed methane to escape into residential wells.
One of the scariest things for residents near fracking operations is not knowing what chemicals might be in their water. As we've discussed in previous posts, gas companies are very secretive about what lubricants and chemicals they are using in tracking fluids.
EPA Fracking Report May Tip the Debate on Gas Drilling Safety
Opponents to fracking are declaring the report to be a smoking gun that will tip the debate on fracking safety. But proponents say not so fast: EPA did not go so far as to conclude that fracking in other parts of the United States had or could cause similar contamination. The hydrology, geology and drilling practices examined are unique to the area and EPA only extended their conclusions to the area surrounding Pavillion, Wyoming.