Groundwater Contamination Debate

The Debate
: Can the process of hydraulically fracturing underground natural gas wells contaminate groundwater?

Industry Position:  There has never been a documented case of groundwater contamination due to hydraulic fracturing; the process occurs thousands of feet below drinking water aquifers. Therefore, the chemicals used in the fracturing process pose no threat to drinking water.

Opposition Position:  It can and has contributed to pollution of underground drinking water sources.

The Data:  Previous lawsuits from landowners were settled by the industry and the data kept private for various litigation reasons. A U.S. EPA report now indicates that hydraulic fracturing has been linked to at least one case of drinking water contamination in West Virginia in 1987 and could feasibly contribute to future problems.

Future Obligations:  Some improved regulations and protections have been put in place since 1987, but the risk still exists if natural gas drilling is done hastily or if abandoned wells exist nearby. Once pollutants are introduced into underground water aquifers they are very difficult to remove, so significant care and review must be taken if drilling is going to continue. The EPA report further supports the need for increased government and industry transparency across the board. It should also be stated that a large-scale health impact assessment is needed to comprehensively determine the risk that the entire natural gas drilling operation poses to public health.

Compiled by: Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Communications Specialist, Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC), Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) department, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH); and Doctoral Student, GSPH

2 replies
  1. Jim Weiss
    Jim Weiss says:

    When the EPA was scoping its current study on the effects of hydrofracking on drinking water, the industry lobbied hard to restrict it to only the brief period of events during the actual fracking process. The environmental community stressed the necessity of including the entire life cycle of shale gas extraction in this study, and that was the position eventually adopted by the EPA. We should avoid allowing the industry to frame this question.

  2. Marc W. McCord
    Marc W. McCord says:

    There is at least one other proven case where frac’ing led to groundwater contamination. The EPA cited Range Resources of Fort Worth, Texas for polluting the water well of the Lipshy family of Parker County, Texas. After the Region 6 office of the EPA did fingerprint testing they determined that the pollution in the Lipshys’ water well exactly matched that found to be in use in the frac’ing process of the nearby Range Resources well.

    The Lipshys have files a multimillion dollar lawsuit against Range Resources, and Range will probably settle that one out of court and seal the records so that industry can continue its false claims about no proven cases of contamination existing.

    It is a fool who believes that the earth is perfectly sealed and that no migration paths exist for chemicals to migrate from deep within the earth to the surface. If you look at mountains, then you will see trillions of cracks and fissures in the rocks. It is the same underground, as well. Only a liar would make the claim that there is no way for deeply injected chemicals to come back up into groundwater or to the surface.

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