The Environmental Protection Agency has just released a draft report on its investigation of water contamination in the town of Pavillion, Wyoming, which confirms a preliminary finding that identified fracking chemicals in drinking water used by the town’s residents. The initial report did not to jump to the conclusion that nearby fracking operations were in fact the source of those chemicals, but the new draft puts two and two together and concludes that yes, they were.
Don’t Tar All Frackers with the Same Brush
Fracking refers to the practice of drilling for natural gas in shale formations by jamming a chemical brine underground. That sounds like trouble from the get-go in terms of the potential for water contamination, but in announcing the draft report, EPA was careful to describe this particular case as a problem specific to the Pavillion area, where fracking operations were “taking place in and below the drinking water aquifer and in close proximity to drinking water wells,” a situation that EPA states is not characteristic of all such operations around the country.
Frackers, Stand Up and Be Counted
Be that as it may, EPA is in the preliminary stages of cataloging fracking operations nationwide, in order to get a grasp on the broad impacts of a federal energy policy that has encouraged natural gas production. While fracking has long been conducted in relatively underpopulated regions of the country, new discoveries in and around Appalachia are rapidly bringing the practice into contact with far more heavily populated areas including Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, and fracking is immanent in North Carolina. It makes sense to know what you’re getting into before you start some trouble that you just can’t stop – doesn’t sound too controversial, right?
Pay No Attention to that Fracker Behind the Curtain
Actually, cataloging the impact of fracking operations is by nature a huge matter of controversy, because a web of regulatory exemptions has enabled the natural gas industry to avoid disclosing the chemicals and other substances that go into fracking brine. Normally, operations involving hazardous or potentially hazardous materials must list those materials on Material Safety Data Sheets, but fracking is exempted from disclosing proprietary information and certain other chemical ingredients. The EPA draft report on Pavillion notes that the investigation was hampered because the Material Safety Data Sheets did not include complete information, so good luck with that thing about a definitive nationwide study.
Beginning of the End of Fracking Secrecy
Despite the crippling lack of a strong regulatory framework, details about the chemicals in fracking brine have begun to surface and anecdotal evidence is piling up. The new report brought forth calls in Congress, at least from one side of the
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.