EPA Finds Hydrofracking Chemicals Contaminate Drinking Water

Our guest blogger is Tom Kenworthy, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

So much for the oil and gas industry claim that the practice of hydraulic fracturing has never polluted a drinking water well.

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency officially threw that claim in the waste pit. It announced that an investigation of water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming had linked the chemicals found in a ground water aquifer that was a source of drinking water in private wells to the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of nearby natural gas wells.

The agency said in a news release:

EPA’s analysis of samples taken from the Agency’s deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicates detection of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels.

Fracking is a widely used industry practice to stimulate production of oil and gas from deep wells. It involves the pumping at high pressure of large quantities of water mixed with sand and chemicals to fracture underground rock formations and release oil and gas.

The oil and gas industry – along with some prominent federal officials – have long claimed that because fracking occurs so far below groundwater aquifers that migration of the chemicals used in fracking into drinking water supplies was not possible and had never occurred.

Last May, for example, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson testified on Capitol Hill that she was not aware “of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water.”

Now it looks like she’s going to have to revise and extend those remarks. And it looks like the industry is facing some tough times ahead as it seeks to keep up a rush of shale gas development in fields stretching from New York to Texas.

For more information about the need for greater scrutiny on fracking, see Kenworthy’s report on “Bringing Fracking to the Surface

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