In a new report released on December 8, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the first time officially blamed water contamination on a natural gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The process involves pumping a slurry of sand, water, and chemicals deep into the ground to crack the bedrock and release pockets of methane, which is how EPA says the drilling company EnCana contaminated groundwater outside Pavillion, Wyoming.
Fracking Chemicals Found in Drinking Wells
EPA first found contaminates in drinking water wells around Pavillion in 2008. After a second round of testing in 2010 and some isolated methane explosions, EPA warned residents not to drink their water and to ventilate their homes when bathing and showering. In the latest round of tests EPA, found at least 10 compounds known to be used in fracking fluids in deep test wells.
EnCana claims the contamination is caused naturally, but EPA concluded that both drilling and leaking pools of drilling waste to be the cause:
“…the EPA said that pollution from 33 abandoned oil and gas waste pits – which are the subject of a separate cleanup program – are indeed responsible for some degree of shallow groundwater pollution in the area. Those pits may be the source of contamination affecting at least 42 private water wells in Pavillion. But the pits could not be blamed for contamination detected in the water monitoring wells 1,000 feet underground.
“That contamination, the agency concluded, had to have been caused by fracking,” reported Propublica.
EPA Analysis Verses Industry Rhetoric on Fracking Safety
The report debunks many arguments by drilling companies about the safety of hydraulic fracturing, including:
• that fracking pressure forces drilling fluids down only, not up;
• that no chemicals can migrate toward the surface because the geologic layers are watertight;
• that fracking did not cause the problems with cement and steel barriers on gas wells that may have allowed methane to escape into residential wells, creating an explosion risk.
EPA Report the Smoking Gun on Fracking Safety?
While this report may and probably should cause regulators in New York State and Appalachia to look hard at industry claims of safety, EPA did not go so far as to conclude that fracking in other parts of the United States had caused or could cause similar contamination. EPA only extended their conclusions to the unique hydrology and geology in the area surrounding Pavillion, Wyoming.