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Internal Debate at EPA on Fracking, Methane Contamination Link

Jul 30, 2013

A recently discovered PowerPoint presentation illuminates an internal debate going on among environmental health officials concerning the environmental and health impacts of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling.

The Los Angeles Times recently acquired a multimedia presentation in which at least one researcher working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had found that methane gas was damaging Dimock, Pa.’s water quality.

The small town of Dimock in northeastern Pennsylvania is where much of the fracking debate began, based on our previous reports. This was especially true following the release of the widely viewed documentary “Gasland,” which attempted to show the real dangers and effects of fracking drilling on local communities. Many Dimock residents said that fracking drilling was responsible for, among other things, a dangerous rise in methane gas levels in their drinking water wells. Some residents claimed they could even light their tap water on fire, it contained such high levels of the gas.

The PowerPoint presentation allegedly shows that at least five wells the EPA tested in the Dimock area had a “chemical match” to the methane gas found at nearby gas fracking wells in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Marcellus shale formation. The EPA has shied away from outright confirming that fracking drilling is responsible for the rise in methane gas levels for many residents living close to fracking wells. This presentation, an EPA spokesperson told the L.A. Times, was “preliminary” and needed to be further researched.

Fracking drilling is the search for natural gas among underground shale formations. Based on our previous reports, many people living closest to active wells have blamed them for causing numerous problems, both to their local environment and their health. Fracking drilling has been blamed for elevated levels of methane gas and other toxins used in the process. Many believe that this is a result of both untested technologies and poor well construction, which together allow fracking’s dangerous elements to escape the well shaft.

In a report this week, we noted a recent study which found levels of strontium, selenium, and arsenic in water wells close to active fracking sites. This is one of many studies that has attempted to draw attention to the potential setbacks caused by widespread fracking drilling.

Fracking drilling is conducted by sending a drill through an underground well shaft. That drill is accompanied by hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, and a mix of several hundred chemicals, dozens of which are known toxins, until they reach an underground shale formation. The rock is blasted apart and natural gas is released. The entire contents are supposed to be rushed back to the surface where it can be collected and stored for future processing.

Along the way, critics of the process have blamed cracks and poor well construction, as well as the fracking process itself for allowing these chemicals to seep into groundwater supplies and eventually to contaminate private water wells nearby.

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