The gas drilling industry has long contended that it poses little threat to drinking water –- and that environmentalists and local residents who complain about problems with their tap water are making things up.
As it turns out, there was real substance to the complaints.
A newspaper in the heart of the Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale drilling zone, the (Scranton) Times-Tribune, in 2011 filed a public information request under the state’s “Right to Know” law with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, asking for records concerning drinking water contamination by gas drilling.
About a year later, after a court battle, the paper received from the state agency more than 1,000 documents. Here is what the Times Tribune reported about the documents:
“State environmental regulators determined that oil and gas development damaged the water supplies for at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses between 2008 and the fall of 2012, according to…letters and enforcement orders written by Department of Environmental Protection officials.”
That number bears repeating: 161. That’s a lot more than the industry would have you believe.
“The state's records suggest that drilling-related contamination incidents increased with the start of the Marcellus Shale drilling boom, with about 4,000 wells producing gas since 2008,” according to an Associated Press report on the investigation. “Drilling damaged water supplies at a rate of more than 16 cases per year during the past five years, but for the 20 years prior to 2008 the rate was fewer than three per year.”
And how about hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting water mixed with chemicals and sand at high pressures to fracture shale rock formations and release natural gas? “Fracking” is an instrumental part of the gas extraction process for many wells drilled across Pennsylvania and elsewhere over the last decade.
Here’s what the Times-Tribune said about hydraulic fracturing: “ The state has never implicated the underground gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in a contamination incident, but inspectors noted that brine contamination suggesting ‘an infiltration of frac water into the shallow ground water,’ damaged six fresh-water springs used for drinking water in northwestern Pennsylvania.”
Bottom line: There is a risk to drinking water.
Many thanks to the Times-Tribune for taking the time and effort to find out the truth.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation