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Does an Old EPA Fracking Study Provide Proof of Contamination?

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by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica   Aug 5, 2011      Thewashingtoncurrent.com  

This post has been updated with the industry’s response.

For years the drilling industry has steadfastly insisted that there has never been a proven case in which fracking has led to contamination of drinking water.

Now Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization engaged in the debate over the safety of fracking, has unearthed a 24-year-old case study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that unequivocally says such contamination has occurred. The New York Times reported on EWG’s year-long research effort and the EPA’s paper Wednesday.

The 1987 EPA report, which describes a dark, mysterious gel found in a water well in Jackson County, W.Va., states that gels were also used to hydraulically fracture a nearby natural gas well and that “the residual fracturing fluid migrated into (the resident’s) water well.”

The circumstances of this particular well are not unique. There are several other cases across the country where evidence suggests similar contamination has occurred and many more where the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing have contaminated water supplies on the surface. ProPublica has written about many of them in the course of a three-year investigation into the safety of drilling for natural gas.

But the language found in the EPA report made public Wednesday is the strongest articulation yet by federal officials that there is a direct causal connection between man-made fissures thousands of feet underground and contaminants found in well water gone bad. The explanation, presented in the EPA’s own words , stands in stark contrast to recent statements made by EPA officials that they could not document a proven case of contamination and a 2004 EPA report that concluded that fracturing was safe.

“This is our leading regulatory agency coming to the conclusion that hydraulic fracturing can and did contaminate underground sources of drinking water, which contradicts what industry has been saying for years,” said Dusty Horwitt, EWG’s senior counsel and the lead researcher on the report.

A spokesperson for the EPA would not directly address the apparent contradiction but said in an email that the agency is now reviewing the 1987 report and that “the agency has identified several circumstances where contamination of wells is alleged to have occurred and is reviewing those cases in depth.”

The contamination debate has intensified as tens of thousands more wells are being drilled in newly discovered shale gas deposits across the country. The EPA and some scientists have long warned that when rock is hydraulically fractured, there is an increased risk of contaminants traveling through underground cracks until they reach drinking water. Many geologists have countered, however, that migration over thousands of feet is virtually impossible.

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France Becomes First Nation To Ban Fracking

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by Gina-Marie Cheeseman  July 6, 2011           Care2 

France became the first nation to ban the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking in drilling for natural gas and oil on June 30 when French senators voted to ban the practice. Oil and gas companies operating in France with fracking permits will have them revoked according to the legislation passed by a 176 to 151 vote. The bill passed the National Assembly on June 21.

“We are at the end of a legislative marathon that stirred emotion from lawmakers and the public,” French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said late yesterday before the vote. Hydraulic fracturing will be illegal and parliament would have to vote for a new law to allow research using the technique, she said.

France’s fracking ban comes at the same time that the New Jersey State Senate voted to ban the practice, which contaminates drinking water.  For a bit of more good news, North Carolina’s Governor Bev Perdue vetoed a state senate bill that would have allowed fracking in the state.

Jane Preyer, North Carolina’s director of the Environmental Defense Fund praised the veto in North Carolina. “The veto sends a clear signal to legislators that rolling back regulations that protect the state’s environment is not a viable business plan for economic recovery or the well being of North Carolina’s families,” she said.  “The veto sends the strong message that North Carolina puts out the welcome map to industries that both create good jobs and respect our natural resources. Hats off to Governor Perdue for the veto.”

Unfortunately, it looks like New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is poised to lift the ban on fracking, the International Business Times (IBT) reports. The state issued new guidelines for fracking that will prohibit fracking in state parks and in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds.

New York State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, an opponent of fracking, said, “If hydrofracking is not safe in the New York City watershed it’s not safe in any watershed,” Lifton said. “There’s a tacit admission on the part of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that it is not safe and yet it is being allowed.”

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