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Tag Archives: drinking water contamination fracking

  • Half of all fracking sites are located close to private drinking water wells

    A new study has revealed that almost half of all fracking wells are located less than 3 kilometers from a groundwater well supplying drinking water to domestic households.

    Given this finding, you may want to question whether your drinking water is safe for consumption. If you are one of the 45 million Americans who rely on groundwater supplied by private drinking water wells rather than treated water supplied by a public drinking water utility you should really be asking this question. While the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulations in place to ensure that water supplied by public water utilities is safe, these rules don't apply to private drinking wells. Instead the onus rests on owners of private wells to ensure that their drinking water is free from harmful contaminants.

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    A 2016 report on the impact of fracking sites on public water supplies conducted by the EPA found that a drinking water supply sited near a fracking site was more likely to be negatively impacted by a contamination event, yet until now, the impact on private drinking wells had not been assessed.

    Two researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara set out to rectify that by compiling an extensive database of privately owned drinking wells, then compared the locations of these wells to fracking sites. After scientifically analyzing fifteen years of data (2000-2014) that included 27,000 wells across 14 different states, the researchers discovered that around half of all fracking wells operating in 2014 were located within 2-3 kilometers of a privately owned groundwater well. These findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    "This co-location emphasizes the need to determine the frequency that hydraulic fracturing activities impact groundwater well water quality. This knowledge is important to maintaining high-quality water in many domestic wells," said Scott Jasechko, an assistant professor at UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and co-author of the paper. "Our results underscore the importance of increased water monitoring efforts near both hydraulically fractured and conventional oil and gas wells in ascertaining the risk of contamination and in protecting water well quality."

    The researchers mapped out the locations of wells and fracking sites on a series of maps, including one that tracked hot spots — areas that were more vulnerable to contamination. According to the authors, to be more effective and efficient, the limited resources that are available for assessing and addressing contamination should be channeled to these hotspots, which also include conventional oil and gas wells as well as fracking wells at some sites.

    "We can use these hotspot analyses9 to focus resources, so that we can learn more about oil and gas contamination mechanisms: How often do they occur, and do they have an impact on groundwater?" explained Debra Perrone, an assistant professor of environmental studies at UCSB.

    According to Jasechko, the results of this study highlights the need to expand monitoring of private drinking wells in order to identify private water supplies that could potentially be impacted and to proactively contain, isolate and remediate any water that has been potentially contaminated before it can harm people using this supply. He recommends that stronger policies, including regular quality testing, are put in place to protect private groundwater wells located in close proximity to fracking wells.

    In many cases, these types of studies are limited by the amount of data that is available. This was not the case for this study, however, the researchers acknowledge that the lack of consistent data proved problematic, as there were huge differences in the methods used to collect data across both states and industries.

    To this end, Perrone suggests that one recommendation they have in terms of policy is to introduce a national standard for collecting data pertaining to construction of groundwater wells. She also recommends that a national standard for collecting data from both conventional oil and gas wells and unconventional gas extraction wells be implemented to increase transparency across jurisdictional boundaries.

    Journal Reference

    Scott Jasechkoa & Debra Perrone. Hydraulic fracturing near domestic groundwater wells. PNAS. (2017) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1701682114

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