House Democrats Call On EPA To Investigate Fracking’s Link To Water Contamination In Three States

CREDIT: AP Photo/Mike Groll

Gillie Waddington of Enfield, N.Y., raises a fist during rally against hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, N.Y., on Monday, Jan. 23, 2012.

House Democrats are calling on the EPA to reopen an investigation into whether fracking operations contaminated water in Wyoming, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Eight members of Congress sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Tuesday, asking her to reopen investigations into water contamination in the three states. The EPA investigations in Pavillion, WY, Dimock, PA and Parker County, TX were all called off between mid-2012 and mid-2013, before the agency determined for sure what had caused each region’s contamination.

“The EPA was established to hold states accountable and guarantee baseline protection for the American public and shared environment, and these families deserve that protection,” the letter reads. “Members of these communities currently do not have safe, clean drinking water and need EPA’s help to address the ongoing water contamination issues in their homes.”

In 2012, the EPA closed an investigation into contamination in Dimock, PA — a town that was featured in the documentary Gasland — after it determined that contamination levels were below the federal safety standards, but in 2013 a leaked document from the agency reported that fracking had caused “significant damage” to drinking water aquifers in Dimock. The report concluded that the damage to aquifers can sometimes be repaired in less than a year, but sometimes the aquifers take more than three years to recover.

Also in 2012, the EPA dropped its claim that Range Resources Corp. had contaminated drinking water in Parker County, TX — but over a year later, the EPA Inspector General published a report saying the agency had been right to investigate possible causes of water contamination in Parker County.

And this June, the Pavillion, WY investigation was turned over to the state of Wyoming, a pass-off that meant the investigation will furthermore be funded by EnCana, the drilling company whose natural gas wells may have been the ones responsible for the contamination. The EPA decided to hand off the study after it published test results in 2011 that found an aquifer in Pavillion tested positive for high levels of carcinogenic compounds and at least one chemical used in fracking.

“We’re seeing a pattern that is of great concern,” Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the NRDC told ProPublica last year. “They need to make sure that scientific investigations are thorough enough to ensure that the public is getting a full scientific explanation.”

Though the EPA has dropped these investigations into fracking and water contamination, other studies have linked fracking with water contamination and other environmental and health effects. In January, an AP investigation found that fracking operations were contaminating well water in two states. In 2013, an Environment America report found that fracking wells in the U.S. generated 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in 2012, and that in New Mexico alone, chemicals from oil and gas pits have contaminated water sources at least 421 times. And in Pennsylvania, fracking may be linked to the skin rashes, infections, headaches and dizziness that residents have complained of suffering.