A “wildcat” approach to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling across the U.S. is likely to result in mounting legal action against natural gas and oil drillers.
According to an update from Bloomberg, as fracking activity increases across the country in the absence of strict environmental regulations, people living closest to active drilling wells are more likely to suffer the consequences as they have in northeastern and western Pennsylvania and other regions where fracking has boomed.
For hundreds, if not thousands, of people living within a half-mile of an active fracking well, that boom has been a toxic, costly and life-altering bust. Chief among the complaints of people living closest to active fracking wells is the threat of methane gas and other harmful contamination. People living in Dimock, Pa., are among the first in the country to attempt to hold a fracking company accountable for its toxic drilling.
Families have filed lawsuits against Cabot Oil & Gas, blaming the company’s fracking wells that dot the Pennsylvania landscape for contaminating their water wells with methane gas and other toxic chemicals used during the fracking process. An attorney representing other families impacted by the negative side of fracking believes the number of people who make this claim will grow, especially as drilling expands to new areas and moves closer to more densely populated areas. In fact, the increase in drilling activity is only likely to raise the threat of fracking-related contamination.
Proving that fracking drilling is responsible for water well and other contamination has been the tipping point in these cases. The natural gas and oil industry maintain fracking drilling is safe and not responsible for the contamination noted among residents living closest to the wells. They say methane gas is naturally occurring underground, specifically true in Pennsylvania where Cabot and other drillers like Chesapeake Energy Corp. face the most legal action. For the most part, the industry has gotten away with this claim as it has not been proven by federal regulators that fracking leads to this type of contamination.
It has only been very recently that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has blamed any water contamination on fracking drilling. The EPA said late last year that fracking was likely the source of contamination near a small Colorado town and that it would monitor wells in the area. The agency also took a similar stance in Pennsylvania, agreeing to supply four families with fresh water they say was spoiled by fracking drilling.
In some cases, specifically in Pennsylvania, methane gas so contaminates private water wells, the pressure has exploded concrete caps to wells and even gives people the ability to light their tap water on fire due to the build-up of gas.
The EPA has been drafting regulations concerning fracking drilling for about two years but has continually stalled in approving those rules. That delay has mostly been blamed on industry pressure on the agency to not require fracking drillers to disclose all the materials used in the controversial process. Local and state attempts to curb fracking drilling have largely failed, too, allowing more wanton drilling usually at the expense of the environment and those relying on it for natural resources like clean water and air.