Environmental Working Group Reveals EPA Knowledge of Water Contamination From Fracking

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Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been known by the EPA to contaminate underground sources of drinking water since 1987. In a 25-year old investigative report, discovered by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Earthjustice, the EPA outlines how fracking for shale gas contaminated a domestic water well in West Virginia.

In a full-length report, called “Cracks in the Façade,” the EWG describes how the uncovered document contradicts the gas industry’s claim that there are no documented cases of water contamination due to fracking. 

The EPA found that fluid from a shale gas well more than 4,000 feet deep contaminated well water and that the incident was “illustrative” of pollution problems associated with oil and gas drilling. With now-uncharacteristic candor, the EPA report outlines how the contamination occurs: “During the fracturing process…fractures can be produced, allowing migration of native brine, fracturing fluid and hydrocarbons from the oil or gas well to a nearby water well. When this happens, the water well can be permanently damaged and a new well must be drilled or an alternative source of drinking water found.”

The report also describes how the EPA’s investigation into the contamination case was obstructed by confidentiality agreements signed between the gas industry and affected landowners. 

The EPA reported that the gas industry mostly settled out of court: “In addition to concealing the nature and size of any settlement entered into between the parties, impoundment curtails access to scientific and administrative documentation of the incident.”

The resurrected report is significant for the fracking debate, in which the issue of water contamination is central. Despite the importance of the EPA’s findings, neither the EPA nor Congress have ever cited the damning report.

In an interview with a former EPA official who worked on the 1987 report, the EWG found that numerous additional cases of groundwater contamination from fracking were also known about by the federal agency, but confidential legal settlements hampered further investigations.

The EWG says the discovered report brings the EPA’s integrity into question. It is unclear why the EPA did not cite its own findings in a subsequent and now largely delegitimized report on fracking in 2004. The 2004 report, which claimed fracking in coal bed methane presented no danger to drinking water, was pivotal in the passing of the 2005 Energy Policy Act which exempted the process from federal oversight. The EPA stressed that they studied only coal bed methane because they had “not heard concerns from citizens regarding any other type of hydraulic fracturing,” despite their own 1987 findings to the contrary.

These concerns over the EPA’s commitment to public health and safety are especially relevant, writes the EWG, as the body’s current two-year study of fracking is underway.

The additional studies, interviews and official documents included in EWG’s report confirm the importance of the EPA’s much-needed review of the process. 

The EWG concludes that their “investigation established that hydraulic fracturing poses significant risks to the drinking water sources on which more than 100 million Americans depend. The EPA’s report, combined with industry and government papers showing that fractures can spread unpredictably and can intersect with adjacent wells, strongly indicate that hydraulic fracturing puts these water supplies in danger.”

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“The EPA found that fluid from a shale gas well more than 4,000 feet deep contaminated well water”

So they are saying that frack fluid from 4000 feet down contaminated a surface well? Somthing does not add up in this story, there is something missing here. I would sure like to hear more details about this particular story. I have my doubts about it, its not passing my sniff test.

Well even if this story is completly true, I beleive the shale gas industry MUST switch to green fracking fluids right away. Its time to put these environmental complaints to bed, toxic frack fluids are a threat to the entire industry. The environmental left are getting way too much airtime over this. Im not sure why they use these fluids in the first place, but no matter, the fluids must be changed. Otherwise shale gas will never grow to the monster industry that it is dentined to be.

Carol, You have a master’s degree in “English,” and, presumably, a similarly non-technical undergraduate degree. When you aren’t contributing to DeSmog blog, you are working for a solar energy company.

Your attempts to undermine further development of the fossil fuel industry would be more credible if you knew what you were talking about and didn’t have a conflict of interest. It could be, of course, that you are completely sincere and have done sufficient independent research that your writing can stand on its merits. But since the entire premise of DeSmog blog is to smear people who don’t agree with them, it is relevant to remind you that if you were on the other side you would be open to these criticisms. Even if you didn’t deserve them.

The article covers the report, “Cracks in the Façade” by Dusty Horwitt, Senior Counsel, Environmental Working Group.

Everything in the article comes from the report, so what is the point in attacking Carol? Read the report and attack Dusty or the Environmental Working Group, if you must.