Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water, But Problem Not Widespread: EPA
The findings of a new federal report suggest that the controversial form of gas mining known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, can and does cause water contamination, but the problem is neither widespread nor systemic.
This month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a draft report on the potential impacts of fracking on drinking water resources. The EPA warned, however, that the findings could be due to a lack of data on the effects of drinking water, just as much as they could be attributed to the safety of the oil and gas extraction wells.
Fracking involves the injection of a mixture of water, sand and fluids, which the gas industry has fought to keep secret, into the ground at extremely high pressure, cracking shale deposits and freeing trapped natural gas, which can then be removed. Those fluids are then sucked from the ground and often disposed of in wastewater wells.
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The controversial process has come under increasing scrutiny over the last several years, as it has become an increasingly popular method of gas extraction with the development of new drilling techniques and the discovery of large shale reserves.
Critics have linked fracking to a variety of environmental problems, including pollution of from groundwater sources and increased truck traffic, as well as other concerns that can reduce property values and may sicken nearby residents.
“From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water sources,” the report’s executive summary states. “These mechanisms include water withdrawals in times of, or in areas with, low water availability; spills of hydraulic fracturing fluids and produced water; fracking directly into underground drinking water resources; below ground migration of liquids and gases; and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.”
EPA investigators said they did not find evidence that fracking contamination of drinking water was having a widespread or systemic effect on drinking water in the United States, but cautioned that its findings should not be used to assume fracking was safe for drinking water.
“This finding could reflect a rarity of effects on drinking water resources, but may also be due to other limiting factors,” the agency’s report warned. “These factors include: insufficient pre- and post-fracturing data on the quality of drinking water resources; the paucity of long-term systemic studies; the presence of other sources of contamination precluding a definitive link between hydraulic fracturing activities and an impact; and the inaccessibility of some information on hydraulic fracturing activities and potential impacts.”
Fracking Health Concerns
Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have expressed concerns for years that hydrofracking presents a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment.
The state of New York decided to ban some hydraulic fracturing late last year, after a state study found questions and concerns regarding the safety of large-scale extraction wells.
State officials said that a six-year study’s findings indicate dozens of significant potential adverse impacts, and found that the risks of high-volume hydraulic fracturing outweigh any potential economic benefits. That ban is expected to be expanded following a final version of that report released last month.
Last year, a Texas jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a family who sued a hydraulic fracturing company for being a public nuisance. According to allegations raised in a fracking lawsuit filed by the Parr family, nearly two dozen wells near their property caused a private nuisance, exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered property value.
Recently, a number of studies have shown that there may be a link between fracking and earthquakes, suggesting that the intense pressure from the unidentified fluids can cause ground tremors violent enough to damage property and cause injuries and possibly deaths.
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