The underground drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has for the first time been definitively linked to contaminants in drinking water. As reported by investigative news site ProPublica, on December 8 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft report revealing that water contamination discovered in Pavilion, Wyoming, is almost certainly caused by fracking.
Frackng involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into the ground to fracture rock and release natural gas, and environmental groups and concerned community residents have long argued that these toxic chemicals can then leach into surrounding drinking water supplies. But definitive studies have been hard to come by. In Wyoming, however, 10 compounds related to fracking were found in residents’ drinking water, including benzene, methane, glycol ethers and alcohols. Benzene was found at 246 micrograms per liter, leagues above allowed concentrations of five micrograms per meter.
ProPublica writes that: “The agency’s findings could be a turning point in the heated national debate about whether contamination from fracking is happening, and are likely to shape how the country regulates and develops natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale and across the Eastern Appalachian states.”
In light of the findings, a spokesperson for Canada-based Encana Corp., responsible for the wells, has said the data remains inconclusive, but shares of the company’s stock still fell more than 6% following the report’s release.
And despite the company’s denials, The Wall Street Journal reports that Encana “has been providing fresh water to 21 homes in the area since August 2010, when it began meeting with the EPA and state regulators to find a long-term alternative to well water for the area.”
The EPA study followed complaints from residents of Pavilion, Wyoming, who voiced concerns about the way their drinking water smelled and tasted. Coverage of the new findings has noted that Wyoming fracking wells are only 1,220 feet deep, compared to rocks being fracked in Pennsylvania and other spots along the Marcellus Shale, which are thousands of feet deeper than water wells.
But as Amy Mall, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council writes on her blog: “This draft report makes it obvious that there are many factors at play, any one of which can go wrong. Much stronger rules are needed to ensure that well construction standards are stronger and reduce threats to drinking water.”