Could fracking harm drinking water?

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

An advocacy organization is launching a research effort to determine whether the practice of fracking could harm drinking water.

Environment America wants answers it claims the fracking industry has failed to provide, specifically whether the controversial drilling technique will seep toxic chemicals into drinking water supplies.

From the start, the fracking boom has been based on denying the public’s right to know about the health risks — starting with the Halliburton Loophole enacted during the Bush administration exempting fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act,” Margie Alt, of Environment America, said in an e-mail.

A study published last week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences may challenge Alt’s claim that frackers are withholding information.

According to the study, conducted by professors from Dartmouth, Duke and Stanford, water contamination near fracking sites is more likely caused by faulty, leaky wells, not fracking.

The study also shows that fracking occurs almost 2 miles below aquifers, meaning drinking water seepage would be a rare, if not non-existent, problem. However, that hasn’t stopped 24 states from banning fracking altogether, leaving municipalities left out as the practice revolutionizes the United States energy industry.

As of 2014, fracking has created close to 2 million jobs and has all but eliminated unemployment in states like North Dakota that have embraced it. This summer, North Dakota had the lowest jobless rate in the country, at 2.8 percent, reported Casey Given, of Young Voices.

That’s not a safe trade, Alt says.

The oil and gas industry doesn’t want us to know the truth because if communities knew the truth about fracking, they wouldn’t allow it,” Alt said. “But, with fracking spreading all over the country, we have a right to know. Several years ago, the oil and gas industry claimed they’d stopped using diesel. But in 2011, a congressional inquiry revealed that they’d used at least 32 million gallons of fracking fluid containing diesel fuel in 19 states from 2005 to 2009. Are they still using diesel now? We have no idea.”

Those interested in donating to the organization’s drinking water research project can find information at the Environment America website,

From the Sept. 24-30, 2014, issue

3 thoughts on “Could fracking harm drinking water?

  • October 7, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    John, anyone that wants to know about water contamination and fracking just needs to type it in the computer. An AP report in August 2014 cited that Pennsylvania’s Dept of Environmental Protections agency FINALLY had to admit that they have received contaminated water reports in 22 counties where fracking is going on. Ask the people in Susquehanna, Tioga, Lycoming and Bradfor counties about fracking and water contamination. Their water is undrinkable due to the CHEMICALS used in fracking. Same in West Virginia from a 2013 report. At least 421 contaminated water sources have been reported in New Mexico. Don’t tell me that ALL these reports are just coincidental to the fracking being done in each one of these states. There have NEVER been this many contaminated water sources BEFORE fracking. You are kidding yourself if you think fracking is HARMLESS!

  • October 9, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    For Immediate Release, October 6, 2014

    Contact: Hollin Kretzmann, (415) 436-9683 x 333 or

    Documents Reveal Billions of Gallons of Oil Industry Wastewater Illegally Injected
    Into Central California Aquifers

    Tests Find Elevated Arsenic, Thallium Levels in Nearby Water Wells

    SAN FRANCISCO— Almost 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater have been illegally dumped into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation, according to state documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity. The wastewater entered the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells used by the oil industry to dispose of waste contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants.

    The documents also reveal that Central Valley Water Board testing found high levels of arsenic, thallium and nitrates — contaminants sometimes found in oil industry wastewater — in water-supply wells near these waste-disposal operations.

    “Clean water is one of California’s most crucial resources, and these documents make it clear that state regulators have utterly failed to protect our water from oil industry pollution,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a Center attorney. “Much more testing is needed to gauge the full extent of water pollution and the threat to public health. But Governor Brown should move quickly to halt fracking to ward off a surge in oil industry wastewater that California simply isn’t prepared to dispose of safely.”

    The state’s Water Board confirmed beyond doubt that at least nine wastewater disposal wells have been injecting waste into aquifers that contain high-quality water that is supposed to be protected under federal and state law.

    Thallium is an extremely toxic chemical commonly used in rat poison. Arsenic is a toxic chemical that can cause cancer. Some studies show that even low-level exposure to arsenic in drinking water can compromise the immune system’s ability to fight illness.
    “Arsenic and thallium are extremely dangerous chemicals,” said Timothy Krantz, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands. “The fact that high concentrations are showing up in multiple water wells close to wastewater injection sites raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents.”

    The Center obtained a letter from the State Water Resources Control Board to the Environmental Protection Agency. The letter says that the Central Valley Regional Water Board has confirmed that injection wells have been dumping oil industry waste into aquifers that are legally protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The state Water Board also concedes that another 19 wells may also have contaminated protected aquifers, and dozens more have been injecting waste into aquifers of unknown quality.

    The Central Valley Water Board tested eight water-supply wells out of more than 100 in the vicinity of these injection wells. Arsenic, nitrate and thallium exceeded the maximum contaminant level in half the water samples.

    While the current extent of contamination is cause for grave concern, the long-term threat posed by the unlawful wastewater disposal may be even more devastating. Benzene, toluene and other harmful chemicals used in fracking fluid are routinely found in flowback water coming out of oil wells in California, often at levels hundreds of times higher than what is considered safe, and this flowback fluid is sent to wastewater disposal wells. Underground migration of chemicals like benzene can take years.

    In July the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources shut down 11 Kern County oil field injection wells and began scrutinizing almost 100 others that were potentially contaminating protected groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency, which has ultimate legal authority over underground injection, ordered state officials to provide an assessment of the water-contamination risk within 60 days, and the letter from the state Water Board confirms that illegal contamination has occurred at multiple sites.

    California’s oil and gas fields produce billions of gallons of contaminated wastewater each year, and much of this contaminated fluid is injected underground. California has an estimated 2,583 wastewater injections wells, of which 1,552 are currently active. Wastewater injection wells are located throughout the state, from the Chico area in Northern California to Los Angeles in the south, and even include offshore wells near Santa Barbara.

    The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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