Gas Drilling Report Details 100+ Contamination Incidents

An environmental group has compiled a report detailing more than 100 instances of environmental contamination linked to the gas drilling operations around the country. The group, Riverkeeper, is urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to examine these incidents as it studies the gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The report, Fractured Communities, highlights case studies where federal and state regulators identified gas drilling operations, including those that utilize hydraulic fracturing, as the known or suspected cause of groundwater, drinking water, and surface water contamination.”

“Despite industry rhetoric to the contrary, the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing are real,” Craig Michaels, Watershed Program Director for Riverkeeper and an author of the report, said in a statement. “The case studies highlighted here represent just a sample of problems that regulators, landowners, municipalities, and communities across the country continue to uncover. We trust that EPA will assist state agencies in monitoring and investigating these problems as the agency continues its scientific study of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing.

Specifically, the report documents:

• More than 20 cases of drinking water contamination in Pennsylvania;

• More than 30 cases of groundwater and drinking water contamination in Colorado and Wyoming;

• More than 10 cases of surface water spills of drilling fluid in the Marcellus Shale region;

• More than 30 investigations of stray gas migration from new and abandoned wells in Pennsylvania;

• Dozens of illegal operations and permit violations by gas drilling companies;

• Five explosions that occurred between 2006 and 2010 that contaminated groundwater and/or surface water.

According to Riverkeeper, state regulators have assessed over $3.6 million in penalties against gas companies as a result of these violations.

Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect the ecological integrity of New York State’s Hudson River and its tributaries, and to safeguard the drinking water supply of New York City and the lower Hudson Valley. Gas drillers have been eyeing massive deposits in New York’s Marcellus shale region, which includes the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. People there are worried that drilling could pollute the watershed. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation has had gas drilling permit approvals on hold since 2008 while it conducts an environmental review of fracking.

The EPA announced its fracking study in March, following an order from the US Congress. The agency had issued a report on hydraulic fracturing in 2004, but it was criticized as flawed due to heavy industry influence on the panel that reviewed that study. The 2004 study ostensibly found that fracking posed no threat to water quality, but an EPA whistleblower claimed findings that showed benzene and other toxic chemicals in fracking fluid could migrate into ground water had been suppressed in the final report.

It was that report that convinced Congress to exempt fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, regulation of the industry is left up to the states, and drillers are not required to disclose the chemicals they use in their fracking fluids.

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