Government report in the middle on fracking drilling risks, benefits

Hydraulic Fracturing affects groundwaterA new report from the Government Accountability Office presents both positives and negatives to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling.

According to an Associated Press report, the GAO released a report this week after reviewing previous studies on the impact of drilling in several states and after meeting with environmental and health regulators in several states where fracking drilling is being conducted or considered. Like many other reports from the federal government on fracking drilling, it fails to take a firm stance either way on the issue, seemingly letting it to states to decide which way is best.

The report says there has been no evidence among the research it reviewed that showed fracking drilling for natural gas in underground shale was the cause of groundwater contamination. At the same time, the GAO also noted that at least one incident involving a faulty drilling well led to contamination of private water wells in Ohio several years ago.

The GAO noted that faulty wells were most often to blame for problems with fracking drilling. Fracking employs the use of an underground horizontal well that extends for a couple miles, typically, until it reaches underground shale beds. Using thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, and a supposedly toxic mix of chemicals, a drill is guided through the underground well shaft until it reaches the shale bed, blasting it apart and releasing pockets of natural gas.

If well construction is faulty and leaking, the possibility of groundwater contamination increases. GAO suggests in this and another report released simultaneously that stronger regulations on fracking well construction could reduce the risk posed by drilling, especially on groundwater contamination. Overall, GAO believes that fracking drilling is safe when it’s done properly but many environmental groups and concerned citizens believe that conclusion is being reached without ample evidence to support it.

In the last few years, the natural gas, oil, and drilling industries have lobbied extensively to push the idea that fracking is safe and poses no threats to the environment or public health. While most government reports have backed that notion, growing evidence and real world results suggests otherwise in many instances.

A recent study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency found that exploratory wells dug near fracking activity in Wyoming showed evidence that gases and chemicals used in the process  were able to migrate from wells and contaminated well water and groundwater.

For its report, the GAO consulted numerous previous studies on fracking drilling as well as discussing potential dangers with regulators from Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas, and meeting with environmental safety and public health advocates.

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