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Fox writes: "Having investigated fracking myself for three years, I have heard the same story hundreds of times, from residents in gas-drilling areas from Wyoming to Arkansas, from Pennsylvania to Texas. It goes like this: the frackers move in - and all of a sudden your water turns color, or can be lit on fire, or smells like turpentine or leaves burn marks on you after you take a shower. It doesn't take a genius to connect the dots."

Workers at a natural gas well site near Burlington, Pennsylvania. Residents in Dimock, PA, are convinced their water has been poisoned by fracking. (photo: Ralph Wilson/AP)
Workers at a natural gas well site near Burlington, Pennsylvania. Residents in Dimock, PA, are convinced their water has been poisoned by fracking. (photo: Ralph Wilson/AP)



Shale Gas Drilling's Dirty Secret Is Out

By Josh Fox, Guardian UK

10 December 11

 

The EPA's findings about fracking's contamination of ground water have sent a shockwave through a gas industry in denial.


hursday's stunning announcement from US EPA that implicates hydrofracturing ("fracking") as the cause of groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming is news that has rocked the world. But as groundbreaking and innovative as the investigation has been, the news comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following fracking closely.

Anyone who lives in a gas drilling area can tell you: fracking contaminates groundwater. Citizens have been shouting this at the top of their lungs in fracking areas since shortly after the process of hydraulic fracturing was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005, paving the way for the largest gas drilling boom in domestic history. The exemption, known as the "Halliburton Loophole", allows fracking companies to inject toxic chemicals under the ground in huge quantities and not report it to the EPA. But with this much fracking going on, with thousands of wells being drilled and fracked in 34 states, and with thousands of reported cases of contamination, the gas industry just can't keep their secrets buried; they keep bubbling up through the ground.

Since April 2009, I have been documenting the water contamination in the gas fracking field in Pavillion, Wyoming. The testimony of Pavillion cowboys John Fenton, Louis Meeks and Jeff Locker and their incredible families is some of the most stirring in our film Gasland. Since that time, I have been closely following the extensive three-year EPA investigation, and the results have shown over and over again that there were contaminants in the groundwater, which posed a significant health risk to the residents.

Yet the EPA withheld any language that sounded conclusive - until now. When the whole world is watching, when the gas industry is decrying a lack of science (even as they obstruct and smear the science that has been done), and when the health of the state of New York, alongside significant areas in 34 states and 50 countries worldwide is on the line, you want to make sure that your methods are precise and your statements are conservative.

So, when the EPA now says, "When considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to groundwater that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing," that is something quite new. What is also clear is that the aquifer in Pavillion will never be cleaned. The contamination there, for the foreseeable future, is permanent. And considering that the permanent contamination of huge areas of groundwater in the US is now a scientifically proven risk, the Pavillion investigation, as extensive as it was, must become the new standard for investigating fracking complaints worldwide.

Having investigated fracking myself for three years, I have heard the same story hundreds of times, from residents in gas-drilling areas from Wyoming to Arkansas, from Pennsylvania to Texas. It goes like this: the frackers move in - and all of a sudden your water turns color, or can be lit on fire, or smells like turpentine or leaves burn marks on you after you take a shower. It doesn't take a genius to connect the dots.

And when reading EPA's water tablature from Pavillion, the notes are really familiar: a minor key refrain of benzene, xylene and other volatile organics, modulation over to glycol ethers and other chemicals in the antifreeze family, a bang-up chorus of thermogenic methane and a killer hook of acetone, naphthalene and 2-butoxyethanol. In fact, three days ago, practically the same list of fracking chemical ingredients found in Pavillion's water were found in water tests from Dimock, Pennsylvania - another poster town for fracking contamination of groundwater.

In Dimock, PA, like Pavillion, citizen's water went bad right after drilling and fracking moved in. Yet, the state agency, PA DEP, and the governor, Tom Corbett, have sided with the gas companies - and they deny any responsibility or long-term harm.

The EPA must intervene in Dimock immediately. An extensive study should be conducted there, with the same careful, methodical and thorough science that was employed in Pavillion. And while that study is conducted, the EPA should mandate that Cabot Oil and Gas supply the residents with replacement water; and the drilling moratorium in the area should continue.

It is hard to prove something that is happening thousands of feet below the ground. It's very difficult and costly, both in time and money. To prove that fracking has contaminated water, even as obvious as it can be to residents who can see the apparent cause and effect, takes extensive and expensive hydrogeological study. Hundreds of chemicals need to be tested over a period of years in a large sample area. In Pavillion, nearly 50 water wells were sampled, two deep monitoring wells were drilled and years of working with the immense pool of data was required. After viewing the EPA draft study (pdf), no one can ever again say that robust science has not been brought to bear on fracking.

But the trail doesn't end there. The gas fracking industry has been so poorly regulated for so long, the legacy of contamination and obfuscation has been allowed to run unchecked for so many years, that the EPA and the United States now faces a Herculean task of investigating the thousands of cases that mirror Pavillion and Dimock - from Texas, to Louisiana, Colorado, Arkansas, Michigan, New Mexico and more.

Beyond the US, Europe, South Africa, China and Australia are right now contemplating embarking on the "shale gas revolution"; they should take note of the EPA's findings. As the story unfolds, the real answer bubbles inexorably to the surface: fracking is deeply flawed; it is inherently contaminating in its present form and must be halted immediately. The empty excuses of the gas industry and the pro-fracking politicians who defend them just don't hold water.

 

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+32 # Tippitc 2011-12-10 16:29
Common sense tells you that all of these toxic chemicals (which the gas companies do not have to disclose) injected into the ground are going to contaminate the ground water. This is not rocket science!! And if this chemical stew is so benign, why is fracking exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act?! All gas company execs and elected 'officials' where fracking is going on, prove it - drink this water for a couple of weeks and then we will see what you have to say.

In the not too distant future the fluid we will be fighting over won't be oil or gas, IT WILL BE WATER!!!!
 
 
+33 # Ken Hall 2011-12-10 21:54
We can live without natural gas. We can't live without potable water.
 
 
+29 # BLBreck 2011-12-10 22:04
Let's add to this horror that even the NY Times has called the fracking industry a giant Ponzi Scheme, where the wells do not produce any where near what they are purported and the main way money is made is by bundling the leases and selling them to suckers. Sound familiar?
 
 
0 # MidwestTom 2011-12-11 06:11
From about 1920 on anyone who drilled a well in northeastern Indiana had a good chance of getting natural gas coming up with his water. Everywhere from Richmond to Fort Wayne, to South Bend had the problem. This was long before fracking was invented.
 
 
+12 # awen 2011-12-11 07:02
Thank you Josh Fox for doing the leg work to expose the reality of fracking and the cover-up intended to protect big money interests. Your documentary Gasland is amazing, and your continuing efforts to get the word out to the world deserves many many thanks.
 
 
+14 # Lute 2011-12-11 07:35
Consider this, if you please: In my region of Central New York there is a steam and pond we call "Disappearing Lake" -- tho it is not a lake. Some 30 years ago, my friend Dan, now a senior manager with the DEC, released a coded dye into this body of water. The dye showed up two years later just above the Arctic Circle in Canada.
The point is: No one knows the movement of water or other fluids beneath the surface of the earth. Fracking be damned.
 
 
+1 # ojkelly 2011-12-11 07:59
What is the cite to the EPA pdf?
we know the effect,but which cause? I would imagine that the contamination is from the waste ponds and spillage of chemicals above ground,which are adjacent to the aquifer, not migration from a mile down. (Aquifer is not a lake, BTW, its a shallow dirt sand formation with lots of water mixed in, mud, if you will. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquifer
Wells need casing too(a pipe around the hole) so the junk pumped down doesn't get into the as it passes through the water table. Mining and oil are exempt from general EPA rules like CERCLA, as long as they leave it next to the ine.They create acid lakes by gold mines, don't they? Awful.http://en .wikipedia.org/ wiki/Tailings
 
 
+1 # soularddave 2011-12-11 21:44
So the sock puppet has arrived! Cast your doubt to us? Not a chance. We know the science, and have been eagerly waiting for the EPA to finish its work - and now it confirms what has been said all along.
You want citations? Ask the folks who brought our attention to their plight of contaminated drinking water in their homes.

You need to lay off the kool aid and try the stuff that used to be drinkable water.
 

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