CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday for the first time that fracking — a controversial method of improving the productivity of oil and gas wells — may be to blame for causing groundwater pollution.
The draft finding could have a chilling effect in states trying to determine how to regulate the process.
The practice is called hydraulic fracturing and involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to open fissures and improve the flow of oil or gas to the surface.
The EPA’s found that compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath a Wyoming community where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals.
Health officials advised them not to drink their water after the EPA found hydrocarbons in their wells.
Of course, the important and influential NY Times series on natural gas fracking reported back in February that “The dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.”
And the industry insiders who made up the DOE Fracking Panel warned last month of “a Real Risk of Serious Environmental Consequences” Absent Regulation:
It is the Subcommittee’s judgment that if action is not taken to reduce the environmental impact accompanying the very considerable expansion of shale gas production expected across the country — perhaps as many as 100,000 wells over the next several decades — there is a real risk of serious environmental consequences and a loss of public confidence that could delay or stop this activity.
The new EPA finding certainly supports that warning.
Here is more from the AP story on the implications of the preliminary finding:
The EPA announcement has major implications for the vast increase in gas drilling in the U.S. in recent years. Fracking has played a large role in opening up many reserves.
The industry has long contended that fracking is safe, but environmentalists and some residents who live near drilling sites say it has poisoned groundwater….
“EPA’s highest priority remains ensuring that Pavillion residents have access to safe drinking water,” said Jim Martin, EPA regional administrator in Denver. “We look forward to having these findings in the draft report informed by a transparent and public review process.”
The EPA also emphasized that the findings are specific to the Pavillion area. The agency said the fracking that occurred in Pavillion differed from fracking methods used elsewhere in regions with different geological characteristics.
The fracking occurred below the level of the drinking water aquifer and close to water wells, the EPA said. Elsewhere, drilling is more remote and fracking occurs much deeper than the level of groundwater that anybody would use.
This new EPA finding suggests that the agency is not making the mistake it made in the 1980s — see Exclusive: EPA Whistle-Blower Warns EPA Must Not Buckle to Industry Pressure and Greenwash Fracking Yet Again; 37-Year EPA Veteran: Oil & Gas “Industry is Targeting the Times” Because its Fracking Series “Had an Unprecedented Role in Prodding EPA into Action.”