Fact Check: Contamination Of Groundwater By Fracking Was Documented In 1987

One of the most popular myths of supporters of unregulated natural gas drilling is that fracking — the hydraulic fracturing process that has spurred the drilling boom — has never contaminated groundwater. Although such supporters as Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) have been confronted with case after case of natural gas sites contaminating water with spills, blowouts, and other accidents, they argue that the fracking process itself poses no danger. They have been bolstered in recent years by statements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including administrators Carol Browner and Lisa Jackson:

BROWNER: “There is no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing at issue has resulted in any contamination or endangerment of underground sources of drinking water.” [Letter, 5/5/95]

BINGAMAN: And although there have been over a million hydraulic fracturing jobs conducted in the last 5 years, there have been zero confirmed instances of hydraulic fracturing contaminating drinking water. [Congressional Record, 3/7/02]

EPA: “EPA also reviewed incidents of drinking water well contamination believed to be associated with hydraulic fracturing and found no confirmed cases that are linked to fracturing fluid injection into CBM wells or subsequent underground movement of fracturing fluids.” [EPA, 6/2004]


LAMBORN: “More than one million fracturing jobs have been completed in the U.S. since the technique was first developed, and there have been no demonstrated adverse impacts to drinking water wells from the fracking process or by the fluids used in the process.” [U.S. House, 6/4/09]

AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: “U.S. government studies have shown no evidence of drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.” [Empire Energy Forum, 11/12/10]

INHOFE: [There’s] never been one case — documented case — of groundwater contamination in the history of the thousands and thousands of hydraulic fracturing. [4/21/11]

JACKSON: “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water although there are investigations ongoing.” [Senate testimony, 5/24/11

INHOFE: “Since the first use of hydraulic fracturing, producers have completed more than 1.5 million fracturing jobs without one confirmed case of groundwater contamination from these fracked formations.” [The Hill, 7/19/11]

In fact, a New York Times investigation reveals that in 1987, the EPA documented contamination of groundwater by the fracking process. In a report to Congress, the agency described how “fracturing fluid migrated into Mr. Parson’s water well” in West Virginia:

Although this represents just one documented case, that hardly means that fracking contamination is extremely rare. Researchers are “unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners,” Times reporter Ian Urbina explains.