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West Virginia Study Finds Toxic Benzene Levels In Air At Fracking Well Site

Jul 1, 2013

A study conducted by environmental experts in West Virginia has found toxic levels of benzene and other pollutants at hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites around one portion of the state.

According to an Associated Press report, the West Virginia University Public School of Health study focused on emissions and pollutants at seven natural gas fracking sites in three counties in the state. Another study will be conducted soon on the other areas of West Virginia. The study was ordered by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Based on our previous accounts, West Virginia is one state in the Mid-Atlantic region that has opened its borders to fracking drilling, allowing drillers to lease private land and open fracking wells in the search for natural gas hidden in underground shale beds. Fracking activity is also being conducted in massive volumes in Pennsylvania and Ohio and is being considered in New York.

Fracking drilling is conducted by ushering a drill combined with hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, and a mix of chemicals through an underground horizontal well until it reaches a shale bed about two miles below the surface. The drilling mix blasts apart the rock, releasing natural gas, which is all sent back to the surface for collection and processing. Our reports show that errors in well construction, unanswered questions on the fracking process itself, and problems in the processes at the surface have led to widespread and localized problems with fracking drilling.

This West Virginia study highlights just one of those drawbacks to fracking drilling: air pollution. AP reports that one of the seven well sites included in the study tested for toxic levels of benzene but the pollutant was found at all seven sites. The site with the toxic levels of benzene and other pollutants is located in Wetzel County and known as the Maury pad. Wells in Wetzel, Brooke, and Marion counties were included in the first part of this study. The study is also examining the impact of air and light emissions, dust, noise, and radiation levels in the air, according to AP’s report.

Based on our previous accounts, fracking drilling poses several threats to the environment and the people surrounding active well sites. Previous studies have linked fracking drilling to methane gas contamination of private drinking water wells, especially within a mile of an active well. In other areas, neighbors of fracking wells say that active sites increase air and water pollution and put a strain on natural resources and local infrastructure.

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