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National News: Fracking Caused Drinking Water Contamination, EPA Confirms

December 8, 2011

Today the EPA confirmed that the presence of multiple chemicals in high concentrations in drinking water in Pavilion, Wyoming can only be due to fracking. Pavilion residents have complained for years about drinking water contamination, reporting black water and water that smells like gasoline or diesel and chemicals. Residents have reported neurological impairment, loss of smell, and nerve pain.

WHYY / NPR reporter Susan Phillips captures the significance of today’s EPA finding:

Fed­eral envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tors have made a direct link between the con­tro­ver­sial drilling prac­tice known as hydraulic frac­tur­ing and ground­wa­ter con­t­a­m­i­na­tion. The EPA released its draft inves­ti­ga­tion results on water pol­lu­tion in Pavil­ion, Wyoming Thurs­day. The report is the first time fed­eral reg­u­la­tors have made such a detailed link between frack­ing and ground­wa­ter pol­lu­tion. The results should have wide­spread reper­cus­sions as states, such as New York and Penn­syl­va­nia, are in the midst of cre­at­ing new gas drilling reg­u­la­tions. Up until this report, indus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and the head of Pennsylvania’s Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion have insisted that frack­ing can be done safely. DEP Sec­re­tary Michael Krancer recently tes­ti­fied in Con­gress that the idea that frack­ing pol­lutes ground­wa­ter is “bogus.”

Read the rest of Susan Phillips’ brief and cogent report, “EPA Blames Fracking for Wyoming Groundwater Contamination,” here.

The Associated Press story about the EPA report is rapidly spreading. Here it is in Time’s science blog, complete with links, under the headline, “EPA Implicates Fracking in Groundwater Pollution“:

The EPA announced Thursday that it found compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals in the groundwater beneath a Wyoming community where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals.

Health officials advised them not to drink their water after the EPA found hydrocarbons in their wells.

The EPA announcement has major implications for a vast increase in gas drilling in the U.S. in recent years.

Read more here.

And from the EPA’s own press release about the report, a key paragraph:

EPA’s analysis of samples taken from the Agency’s deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicates detection of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels. Given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to ground water contamination, EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time.

The EPA press release contacts are listed as: EPA HQ: Larry Jackson, 202-564-0236jackson.larry@epa.gov; EPA Region 8: Richard Mylott, 303-312-6654,mylott.richard@epa.gov

For more information on EPA’s Pavillion groundwater investigation, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/wy/pavillion/index.html

Take Action

With this report hot off the press, so soon after the New York Times reported on Pennsylvania residents suffering abdominal pain, intense dizziness, nosebleeds, blisters in nose and throat, headaches, joint aches, and rashes related to nearby gas drilling, we think it’s time to spring back into action to protect Pennsylvania. Call and write PA state senators and representatives immediately, urging them to vote “NO” on SB 1100 / HB 1950, the bill which strips municipalities in Pennsylvania of their ability to limit or ban gas drilling. Right now we need our local officials to have more power, not less, to protect our people.

It’s become painfully obvious that the top level of Pennsylvania’s DEP has no intention of protecting Pennsylvanians and every intention of protecting the gaslords. PA DEP Secretary Krancer has attacked legitimate scientists (Duke University), called EPA findings “bogus,” and stopped water delivery for families in Dimock who have drinking water contaminated with naphthalene, phenanthrene, butyl benzyl phthalate, 1-methylnapthalene, 2-methylnapthalene, ethylene glycol, diethylene glycol, triethylene glycol, 2-methoxyethanol, methylene blue active substances, gas range organics, and acetone.

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8 Comments
  1. December 9, 2011 1:53 am

    NO FRACKING :EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Walter T permalink
    December 9, 2011 10:05 am

    My cousin at the EPA sent me this article from the Hill:

    State of play: Some Democrats are using a draft EPA report on pollution from the gas drilling method called hydraulic fracturing to renew calls for overturning a 2005 law that exempts the controversial practice from certain Safe Drinking Water Act regulations.

    EPA released a preliminary report Wednesday that linked groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyo., to the method, which involves high-pressure injections of water, sand and chemicals to break apart rock formations and enable trapped gas to flow.

    “Today, EPA released preliminary findings that raise additional questions about the scientific basis for exempting hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
    “These draft findings reinforce the need for state and federal regulators to ensure that hydraulic fracturing of natural-gas wells proceeds with the strongest possible safeguards in place to protect public health and the environment,” he said.

    Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), an opponent of the gas development method dubbed “fracking,” similarly pointed to the draft report in stating that “hydraulic fracturing poses a serious and direct threat to drinking water and should not hold a special exemption from our nation’s basic environmental laws like the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

    EPA, however, issued several caveats alongside the report, and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead’s (R) office called the findings “scientifically questionable” and said more testing is needed.

    “We believe that the draft study could have a critical impact on the energy industry and on the country so it is imperative that we not make conclusions based on only four data points,” he said in a statement.

    “Those familiar with the scientific method recognize that it would not be appropriate to make a judgment without verifying all of the testing that has been done,” Mead said.

    ClearView Energy Partners said in a note Thursday that the report is not “conclusive” and, like EPA, noted that it surveyed gas wells that differ from many fracking operations.

    But it could nonetheless affect federal policy, the consulting company said.

    “EPA and [the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management] may continue to make their case for expanded federal regulation of oil and gas production, potentially using today’s report to suggest that state-level disclosure, well integrity and water treatment rules are weak or inconsistent,” ClearView states.

    “Second, state-level regulators themselves may seek to augment existing rules in an effort to stave off federal intervention, accelerating a trend we have described in the past as ‘preemptive self-regulation,’ ” their note states.

  3. December 13, 2011 1:38 pm

    Nice article, Iris. However, you fail to point out the same press release you quoted also states “The samples were consistent with chemicals identified in earlier EPA results released in 2010 and are generally below established health and safety standards.” And again: “Detections in drinking water wells are generally below established health and safety standards.” The concentrations they referenced in the quote you supplied are primarily from surface contamination sources: surface pits used for storage/disposal of drilling wastes, produced water, and flowback fluids. This is obviously not a good thing, but something that happens in pretty much every industry that deals with chemicals…not just hydraulic fracturing.

    Additionally, there is a distinction between results from the deep monitoring wells installed by the EPA for this study, and more shallow domestic wells which were also sampled. In most – if not all – cases, the domestic wells showed many times less concentrations of any contaminant type…below health and safety standards (as the press release mentioned twice) and often times below detection limits entirely.

    One more thing, which should be a VERY important point, is that any study on hydro-fracking needs to be site specific. The general methods in which hydro-fracking is conducted and, more importantly, the geology of the area in which it occurs is a very large factor. You cannot take one study and apply it to all sites. The EPA report, if you read it, shows that hydraulic fracturing in Pavillion occurs at a much more shallow depth than is typical of hydro-fracking, is much closer to the overlying aquifer, and is spatially located much closer to water wells within that aquifer. In most cases – PA included – fracking operations occur in geologic units separated from aquifers by thousands of feet and are generally far from water wells.

    Does this mean contamination of any kind won’t occur? Of course not! My point is in no way an endorsement for hydro-fracking. The EPA’s draft report on the Pavillion, WY study clearly shows that some level of contamination has occurred at both shallow and deep levels and, even with the site-to-site differences, I’d expect to see similar findings elsewhere.

    I’d just like to see more thorough assessments of this practice rather than obviously one-sided ranting about why it’s so great or that it’s the spawn of the devil. I’m sure a well-formulated argument which presents *all* the facts, even the ones that seem to go against the overall argument, will gain more respect from the average citizen and educate them in a way where they can trust the information as factual and not just an attempt to sway the opinions of the reader. We all hate it when the “gaslords” don’t give all the facts (or deny them), why shouldn’t we do it for them, giving a thorough and fair assessment while still delivering the message that people need to hear?

  4. Joseph P Senft PhD permalink
    December 13, 2011 1:57 pm

    1. We Americans use, per capita, approximately twice as much energy for our lifestyle in comparison to our neighbors in Europe, 10 times more than those in China, and 100 times more than those in Bangladesh. We do not need to develop new fossil fuel energy resources, just become less sloppy in our use of energy. 2. A recent report from two executives from the solar industry in the US suggests that this industry can now project more jobs than those projected for increased natural gas extraction from shale. Please check this. 3. It took nature billions of years to produce fossil fuels; why should we chose to consume them all in a few hundred?

  5. January 4, 2012 6:42 pm

    Love the photo showing nighttime drilling at the Guardian article here:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/09/epa-reports-fracking-groundwater-pollution

  6. February 18, 2012 1:31 pm

    The contamination of groundwater from environmental pollution is a serious issue. Groundwater and aquifers are the few sources of water we have. About 3 percent of the world’s water is fresh. Because our drinking water comes from fresh water and groundwater makes up a good portion of the world’s fresh water, we have a need to preserve our water resources as much as possible. Our drinking water isn’t in infinite supply as most people think. It’s unfortunate that most corporations care more about making money than preserving and protecting our water supply.

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