In what is sure to be a pivotal finding in the future regulation of the hydraulic fracturing industry in this country, the Environmental Protection Agency published a 120 page report today concluding that the process known as ‘fracking’ does indeed cause contamination of water supply.
The EPA study, based on analysis of water from test well sites in Pavillion, Wyoming, concluded that the contaminants — predominantly glycol ethers — were most likely due to seepage from the gas-drilling process. The analysis showed that the groundwater in this area contained at least 10 organic compounds known to be present in fracking fluid (note: there are believed to be scores, if not hundreds more, chemical compounds in this fluid of unknown identity).
The EPA draft report, entitled ‘Investigation of Ground Contamination near
Pavillion, Wyoming’, states:
“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 report also notes that:
“Alternative explanations were carefully considered.”
The report would seem to bury many of the claims made by the Gas Industry concerning the safety of the fracturing process. One of the main arguments used to assert the safety of the process is that the hydraulic pressure would force fluid (only) downward, and not upward, and futher, that the deeper geologic layers pose a “water tight barrier” against the chemical moving up towards the surface (where drinking water aquifers are often located).
Industry officials also asserted that other problems with the cement and metal casing around the wells was not connected to fracking.
EnCana — the gas company that owns the Pavillion wells — has not yet commented on this newest report, however, following the EPA’s release of preliminary water test data two weeks ago, a company spokesman continued to deny that the company’s drilling activity was responsible for the pollution and asserted that it was caused by “poor general water quality parameters” amongst other “natural causes”
This current EPA report comes separate from a larger, national study being conducted by the Agency to determine whether fracking presents a risk to our nation’s water resources. This was down to avoid further accusations of bias by pro-industry members of Congress, such as Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who commented on this newest Wyoming study, calling it “offensive”.
This story has history:
Residents of Pavillion, Wyoming started complaining that their drinking water has turned brown in the mid 1990′s, shortly after existing, nearby gas wells were “fracked”. The problem got worse in 2004, and for a time, the gas companies operating in the area trucked in replacement drinking water. This practice was stopped in more recent years.
In an initial sampling in 2008, EPA scientists found traces of hydrocarbons and other contaminants associated with frcking fluids. A second analysis in 2010 by federal health officials and the EPA confirmed these results, and residents were urged not to drink their water and to ventilate their homes while showering to prevent explosions from released methane gas.
To confirm these earlier findings, EPA investigators drilled two water monitoring wells to 1,000 feet. Water quality data from the test wells was published this past November and confirmed that “high levels” of carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene (a constituent of diesel fuel, used in the fracking fluid, and a member of the B.T.E.X. family of carcinogens) as well as a chemical called 2 Butoxyethanol which is known to be used in fracking fluid.
The evidence keeps on coming in
The government findings are sure to ignite more debate amongst Congress, but they are part of a mounting body of evidence that fracking is a source of chemical contamination for local water supplies.
A previous study of fracking well sites in Pennsylvania and New York by Duke University scientists found extensive evidence of thermogenic methane contamination (associated with deep shale beds) in drinking wells located within a kilometer of fracking sites.
The gas industry has been largely in denial mode for more than a decade. Today, with all the growing scrutiny of this process, it is common to see beautifully filmed and scored Gas Industry promotional spots — which never mention the term ‘fracking’ — on nearly every channel on cable television. But it seems that regulation of this process, if not an outright ban, is inevitable.
To be sure, it’s going ot be a big fight, as powerful energy intersts proclaiming “energy security” reasons and “hundreds of thousands of jobs” will be pitted against safe drinking water and exploding, flammable faucets.
Some source material for this post came from the SciAm article EPA: Natural Gas Fracking Linked to Water Contamination
Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles and essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is also an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). Michael currently lives in Seattle, Washington.