Though it appears almost certain that localized incidents of water well contamination can be attributed directly to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling in many parts of the U.S., some inside the industry and those wishing to see it boom in the face of a struggling economy are hoping to convince critics otherwise.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, representatives of leading natural gas drillers and some state regulators who believe fracking is a cure for many economic and energy woes are trying to blame poorly constructed wells for incidents of water contamination that’s driven some neighbors from their homes or forced them to find alternative sources of fresh water.
Until now, poorly constructed wells have shared part of the blame for localized water and air pollution with the overall and inherent dangers of the fracknig process. The pro-fracking advocates want to convince critics that fracking can be conducted safely if wells are constructed properly, namely through the use of proper subterranean cement. Those same leaders are willing to admit that faults in the pipeline that extends from the surface to several miles underground have allowed methane gas and other chemicals and toxic agents used in the fracking process to escape the well and penetrate shallow aquifers which help supply private water wells with the necessary resource.
At least some regulators and even some environmental advocacy groups are willing to admit that poor well construction has been identified as the reason behind many incidents of fracking-related pollution. This is being viewed as positive news for the fracking industry as it struggles to fight against local bans on the activity – specifically in New York state – and growing public skepticism with the industry and process.
The head of Environmental Defense Fund, interviewed for the report by a WSJ.com reporter, said that one in every 10 active fracking wells likely had problems with its well construction requiring a fix to be operational and safer.
That does not mean “safe” however, and despite a seemingly solid consensus that poor fracking well construction is a leading cause of pollution caused by the drilling, there will still be plenty of local backlash to any proposed expansions of the activity. It’s at the most extreme on local levels where fracking is causing the most problems and whether poor well construction or an overall unsafe process is to blame is not a debate most people adversely impacted by fracking are willing to conduct.
People who’ve been impacted by the negative side of fracking drilling say the process is responsible for dangerous levels of methane gas, benzene, and other harmful toxins to accumulate in their wells. In many cases, water has been rendered undrinkable and even unsafe to use for common practices like filling the toilet, bathing, or washing dishes. In one Pennsylvania community, residents there have been forced to find alternative sources of fresh water because, they say, fracking has caused them to cap their wells.
To combat the trend of poorly constructed wells, two hotbeds of fracking activity, New York and Pennsylvania, have recently passed laws increasing the standards of exploration wells. Ohio is expected to pass a similar measure, according to the report.
The public perception on fracking has soured quickly since it was re-introduced to a mass audience several years ago as the way the U.S. was going to drastically reduce its need for foreign oil sources. This led to a boom in activity, particularly in the densely-populated Mid Atlantic region. Until then, fracking had really only been conducted in unpopulated areas of the country.
In the Mid Atlantic, drillers are in search of what was thought to be up to $3 trillion in natural gas reserves. The companies had the blessing of the federal and some state governments to aggressively pursue this resource and opened the door wide to it by relaxing many environmental regulations.
Almost immediately, residents living closest to these fracking wells began experiencing problems, mostly from methane gas and other toxic build-up in their water. Skepticism continued to swell in the last two or three years and most recently, the federal government drastically reduced its expectations from the Mid Atlantic’s supply of drill-able shale, the Marcellus shale formation, and the Environmental Protection Agency also released findings which blamed fracking drilling on water contamination in Wyoming, a first-of-its-kind admission for the federal government.