Live in Pennsylvania? Live near a fracking well? If so, the chances of finding fracking fluid seeping into your drinking water — a major concern that’s been touted by environmental groups and independent researchers for years — may be more likely than previously thought.
Scientists at Duke University and California State Polytechnic University at Pomona found that water from wells and aquifers in Northeastern Pennsylvania contained traces of brine from the Marcellus Shale, the shale deposit found in the northern Appalachian region of North America and the deposit popularly cited for domestic fracking operations. Brine, a naturally occurring substance, is acting as an indicator to a disturbing fact: previously thought to be “contained” underground chemicals may not be so contained after all. In fact, these same chemicals could be seeping toward the surface and into our drinking water supply much more easily and frequently then predicted.
While no specific fracking chemicals were detected in this study, the mere thought that chemicals can move freely through underground rock layers more so than previously believed is very alarming. The findings also contradict the notion typically upheld by vested interests, predominately composed of oil and gas companies, that rock formations deep within the Earth will securely seal in material injected thousands of feet underground, whether through underground disposal or drilling. However, matter can’t just disappear and will inevitably end up somewhere down the line.
The joint Duke/California State University study isn’t the only one discovering a connection between injecting chemicals deep underground and local drinking water ramifications. In 2011, Duke researchers also found that “methane gas was far more likely to leak into water supplies in places adjacent to drilling.” In addition, in April of this year, Ground Water published a paper that predicted fracking fluid contaminants could “reach the surface within 100 years – or fewer if the ground is fracked.”
The oil and gas industry is not happy to hear this news, immediately questioning the legitimacy of the findings, citing “researchers do not know how long it may have taken for the brine to leak.” However, the question isn’t about how long it will take for chemicals to make their way to the surface of the Earth; the simple fact that brine can travel to the surface, therefore entering groundwater systems, is enough evidence to raise serious concern. Whether this process takes 10, 50 or 100 years shouldn’t matter. What should matter most is preventing any fracking chemicals from ever entering our water and our land, period.
Photo Credit: Meredithw