Maryland Report Finds Fracking Poses Little Risk To Drinking Water In The State

A jar holding waste water from hydraulic fracturing is held up to the light at a recycling site in Midland, Texas, Sept. 24, 2013. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PAT SULLIVAN
A jar holding waste water from hydraulic fracturing is held up to the light at a recycling site in Midland, Texas, Sept. 24, 2013. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PAT SULLIVAN

A draft report on the risks of fracking in Maryland has found little risk of drinking water contamination in the state, despite multiple reports of contamination from fracking in other states.

The report, which was put together by Maryland’s Department of Environment and Department of Natural Resources, ranked the risk of contamination of soil, ground water or surface water from a spill during most parts of the fracking process as “low.” It found that current state regulations and proposed “best practices” could reduce much of the risk of water contamination from fracking, and that in general, water contamination wasn’t high on the list of risks related to fracking.

“The high standards set for casing and cementing practices, management of materials and wastes on and off the site and careful siting resulting from location restrictions, setbacks and geologic studies, yield a low risk that ground and surface water supplies will be impacted either through surface spills or subsurface releases during the drilling and waste transport process,” the report states.

The report did, however, state that there’s a greater likelihood of contamination of water by methane — rather than fracking chemicals — especially in gas wells set 2,000 feet — rather than 3,280 feet — from a water well.


The report assessed other risks as well, finding that Maryland faced moderate to high risks associated with increased truck traffic to and from fracking sites, and that the state faced a high risk of road degradation as a result of this increased traffic. It also ranked air pollution risks from fracking as moderate to high.

But the report’s overall classification of water contamination risks as low goes against the multiple reports of contamination of water near fracking operations. A September study linked failures in casing and cementing in gas wells to water contamination in Texas and Pennsylvania, a state that in August revealed that fracking had led to hundreds of cases of water contamination. A 2013 study found that the closer a person lives to a fracking well in Pennsylvania, the more risk that person has for methane contamination of water supplies. West Virginia has also linked water complaints to fracking, and according to a 2013 report, chemicals from oil and gas wastewater pits have contaminated water sources in New Mexico at least 421 times.

Rebecca Ruggles, director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network, told the AP that Maryland’s draft report was too optimistic about proposed “best practices” in fracking and ignored the risks to water supplies associated with well casing failures.

An August report published by the University of Maryland and commissioned by Gov. Martin O’Malley had slightly different findings from the DEP and DNR’s report, identifying high risks to air quality and moderately-high water-related risks. That report also contained a range of recommendations for reducing fracking-related risks in the state, including requirements for a review of health impacts and monitoring plans for air, water, and soil health.

The draft DEP and DNR report is open to public comment until November 3. Maryland currently doesn’t house any fracking operations, so these reports will help the state determine whether or not to allow fracking, and what policies to implement if it does.