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Fossil Fuels EPA report finds fracking contaminated drinking water in wyoming

Published on December 8th, 2011 | by Tina Casey


EPA Lowers the Boom on Fracking in Wyoming

December 8th, 2011 by  

EPA report finds fracking contaminated drinking water in wyomingThe 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

aisle, for a repeal of the 2005 law exempting fracking brine from standard disclosure regulations, nicknamed “The Halliburton Loophole.” Sort of ironic that just a few years after the law was passed, Halliburton was at least partly responsible for gumming up practically the entire Gulf of Mexico (or at least, so says BP).  Stay tuned.

Image credit: Drinking water, some rights reserved by joshme17.

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • 204elliott

    It is not the franking that bothers me.It is that they use 2 million gallons to frack a well. The water goes in a injection well . The water will never go back to the water cycle!!!!!! They say they can clean it for refrack but they still have to mix fresh water with it so they can frack with it. So they can’t clean it. My body don’t run on oil. My garden don’t grow on oil.

  • Anonymous

    It is time the media starts talking about the alternative to hydro-fracturing that is environmentally friendly; LPG fracturing. It does not use water , does not use toxic chemicals, does not react with minerals in the rock formation so no salts, heavy metals or radioactivity are brought back to the surface. Virtually all the LPG is recovered after fracturing as a gas so there is nothing to haul away or decontaminate. It is safe, it is competitive and it is more effective than hydro-fracturing. Gasfrac Energy Services from Calgary , Alberta,Canada has been using this technology with dozens of companies in over 600 wells for the last 3 years. WHY IS THE MEDIA NOT TALKING ABOUT THIS DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY?

    • Anonymous

      I can think of two reasons:
      1. It’s not sensational, visuals like setting your tap water on fire make a rather dramatic visual.
      2. It’s more expensive, so unless companies are forced to use this technology, the bottom line is always more important than the people they inconvenience or harm.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for reading my post. I agree with the first reason but actually the cost for LPG fracturing is only more expensive up front. The cost is less when well cleanup is included; especially so when new proposed regulations for air pollution control are factored in.The wells also produce better than hydro-fractured wells ; from 20% to 300% depending on the tightness of the formation, because the properties of LPG compare favorably to water [ multiple lower surface tension and viscosity ] Find that hard to believe? Check the 3rd quarter 2011 Corporate presentation of Seaview Energy page 11 online. Other examples are available. The industry, heavily invested in hydro-fracturing ,does not publicly want to acknowledge the many advantages of this technology. Happy Holidays !

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