In 31 U.S. states, the natural gas industry employs a controversial drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves injecting chemical-laden water deep underground to fracture the bedrock and release natural gas trapped beneath. The process is largely unregulated by the states and this fracking debate has been heating up for years as a result. In 2005, President George W. Bush signed an energy bill that exempted natural gas drilling from the requirements of The Safe Drinking Water Act.
EPA to Look at Fracking Impact on Drinking Water, Regulate Wastewater
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a few long-awaited details about its study of the drinking water implications of fracking.
"The new EPA study will look at the entire water lifecycle of hydraulic fracturing in shale deposits, beginning with the industry's withdrawal of huge volumes of water from rivers and streams and ending with the treatment and disposal of the tainted wastewater that comes back out of the wells after fracking. Researchers will also study well design and the impact of surface spills of fracking fluids on groundwater," reports the Associated Press.
EPA also began the process of regulating wastewater from fracking operations, which in many cases is stored on site it large lagoons and in others runs off into rivers or is pumped through municipal wastewater treatment, which may not be equipped to deal with drilling contaminants.
The regulatory process is likely to take years and complete results of the study won't be ready until 2014.
Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water
In the mean time, communities around the country are accusing gas companies of contaminating well water with solvents, chemicals, and escaped natural gas. In the case of Dimrock, Pennsylvania, a company has been providing bottled water to residents since January 2009 because of widespread well contamination in the community linked to drilling. In another case, a house outside Cleveland Ohio exploded when methane seeped into the house through the plumbing.
The industry claims their operations are safe, "[b]ut a string of documented cases of gas escaping into drinking water -- not just in Pennsylvania but across North America -- is raising new concerns about the hidden costs of this economic tide and strengthening arguments across the country that drilling can put drinking water at risk," reports ProPublica, an independent journalism organization.
Secret Fracking Fluid Formula Obscures the Risk
The industry has long claimed that the exact composition of the solvents injected into the ground to extract gas is a matter of trade secret. In order to study whether fracking fluid is contaminating well water, the EPA was forced to subpoena the ingredient lists from companies so they'd know what chemicals to test for.
In 2010, two companies admitted to a committee before the U.S. Congress that diesel fuel is among the ingredients in their fluids A report to Congress in April 2011 revealed more than 750 chemicals are involved, including several that Berkey Filters can remove below detectable levels.