Well Water
The EPA has confirmed that fracking could be contaminating well water. Image: Flickr / Rajeiv Patel / CC-BY

In the last few days, the Environmental Protection Agency has released a report confirming that the practice of fracking could contaminate ground water. What will be done with this information is yet to be determined.

The fracking process

Fracking (also called frakking) is a process developed by gas and oil companies to extract hydrocarbons from the ground. Water combined with sand, chemicals and other heavy elements is pressure-pumped into the ground. The heavy water and pressure fracture cracks that already exist in the ground, releasing natural gas and oil, most of which can be extracted by drilling companies. Fracking is largely responsible for the new oil boom in areas like Wyoming, North Dakota and the Marcellus Shale on the East Coast of the U.S.

EPA confirms fracking damage

Since oil and gas companies started fracking to extract oil and gas, residents of nearby areas have started complaining of a chemical taste and smell in their well water. Oil and gas companies denied that fracking would leach chemicals into groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency, however, has just completed a survey of areas where fracking is occurring.

The study confirms that groundwater in areas where fracking happens is contaminated with chemicals used, as well as natural gas that dissolves in water as the rock fractures. Closer-to-the-surface groundwater also shows contamination from disposal grounds of previous oil and gas operations. Many environmentalists and social advocates are pointing to the EPA study as further evidence that fracking is a process in desperate need of federal regulation. Currently, only two states require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals used in fracking.

EPA study questioned

Several senators, business leaders and gas officials have all spoken up to question the validity of the EPA study of the pollution potential of fracking.

Sen. James Inhofe said the study was “not based on sound science but rather on political science.”

“Its findings are premature, given that the Agency has not gone through the necessary peer-review process, and there are still serious outstanding questions regarding EPA’s data and methodology,” the Oklahoma Republican said in a statement.

The conclusions of this study are not going to be easily accepted by any group, for both political and scientific reasons. Fracking allows for an industry that creates a huge number of jobs. Additionally, the process of fracking is slightly different depending on the type of rock and geological formations it is attempting to fracture, which means the EPA may need to do several more studies before the findings are accepted and spur any regulatory action.


USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/environment/story/2011-12-08/epa-fracking-pollution/51745004/1
Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2011/12/10/fracking-does-contaminate-groundwater-carry-on-drilling-regardless/
Public Radio International http://www.pri.org/stories/science/environment/epa-acknowledges-link-between-fracking-well-pollution-in-wyoming-7413.html

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