Hydraulic fracking is a natural gas extraction technique that uses millions of gallons of pressurized water and chemicals to force gas out of tight crevices in deeply-buried shale rock. This controversial technique poses dangers to drinking water wells and aquifers, according to new reports.
Independent hydrologist Tom Meyers, Ph.D., of Reno, Nevada has recently published two reports about the effects of fracking on groundwater. The first report, published April 30, 2012, is an inquiry into the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) statement that groundwater in the area of Pavillion, Wyoming had most likely become contaminated by fracking. The second report, published in the April-May edition of the journal Ground Water, was done at the request of the National Ground Water Association.
Meyers’ report on the EPA study confirmed water contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming. The EPA correctly identified several factors that make that area vulnerable to contamination from fracking. Aquifers are close to the surface, gas wells are designed and constructed improperly, and the regional geology allows hazardous chemicals to migrate upwards into drinking water sources.
The report in Ground Water refutes conclusions by some scientists that layers of underground rock prevent chemicals from migrating into groundwater. In reality, natural faults and fractures could allow this to happen. The Marcellus Shale formation underneath large parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia is full of these natural cracks. Meyers estimates that, if these cracks are intersected by the artificial cracks produced by fracking, contaminants could surface in ten years or less.
Both of these recent studies have been criticized by proponents of fracking, who question the motivations of the groups funding the studies. Nevertheless, Meyers’ reports are being submitted to the EPA as technical comments. Opponents of fracking point out that similar information has been concealed from the public by industry groups, through millions of dollars in nondisclosure agreements.