A 1987 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finding, which the agency has ignored for years, concluded that hydraulic fracturing of a deep natural gas well in Jackson County, W.Va., contaminated groundwater and private wells.
Although the gas drilling industry has repeatedly claimed that such "fracking" operations in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale natural gas fields pose no threat to rural underground aquifers, groundwater and drinking water wells, EPA investigators concluded a gas well drilled and fracked by the Kaiser Gas Co. in 1982 did contaminate groundwater.
The EPA finding was unearthed by Environmental Working Group, which conducted a year-long investigation of the incident and released a report on the finding, "Cracks in the Facade," today.
According to the 35-page report by EWG, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that does health and environmental research, several abandoned natural gas wells near the more than 4,000 foot deep Kaiser gas well could have been conduits that allowed fracking gel to migrate into a water well. The gel is a common chemical additive in fracking fluid, which is pumped deep underground under high pressure to crack the shale formation and release the gas it contains.
"When you add up the gel in the water, the presence of abandoned wells and the documented ability of drilling fluids to migrate through these wells into underground water supplies, there is a lot of evidence that the EPA got it right and that this was indeed a case of hydraulic fracturing contamination of groundwater," said Dusty Horwitt, EWG's senior oil and gas analyst and author of the organization's report.
"Now it's up to the EPA to pick up where it left off 25 years ago and determine the true risks of fracking so that our drinking water can be protected," he said.
The EWG report recommends that local, state and federal governments implement a moratorium on fracking near drinking water supplies until a comprehensive risk evaluation is performed. The drilling industry has hydraulically fractured hundreds of thousands of wells since the EPA made its determination, and in 2002 combined fracking with horizontal drilling in the Barnett Shale formation in Texas. The industry has used horizontal drilling and fracking at hundreds of Marcellus Shale deep gas wells in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland, and in other shale formations in the South and West.
In 2005 hydraulic fracturing was exempted from regulation and enforcement under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act based on a 2004 EPA study of fracked methane wells in coal beds that found minimal risk to well water supplies.
The EPA, as ordered by Congress, last year launched a $1.9 million study of fracking's impacts. The study is scheduled to end in January.