Environmentalists and academics alike welcomed the latest report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which confirms a link between hydraulic fracturing for natural gas —or fracking— to groundwater contamination.
In the process of hydrolic fracturing, chemically treated water is forced underground to break rock, which lets gas flow.
The Dec. 8 draft report says there is a proven presence of chemicals consistent with those used in fracking in groundwater samples taken from the Pavillion natural gas field of Wyoming, about 370 kilometres northeast of Salt Lake City.
The EPA’s study comes at a time when the industry is trying to fight fracking's poor reputation. However, experts such as Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University engineering professor, have repeatedly stated that fracking is a threat to drinking-water supplies.
The EPA’s three-year study followed complaints from residents about the smell and taste of their water. Samples taken from an aquifer through deep monitoring wells, near where Canadian natural gas firm Encana Corp. (ECA) has drilled, revealed “compounds likely associated with gas-production practices, including hydraulic fracturing,” according to the draft report.
Encana says that the study does not lead to “a definitive conclusion” and that chemicals such the ones that showed up in the samples are just as possibly “the result of contamination from their own sampling.”
“This precipitous action runs counter to the cooperative approach that Encana and other state, federal and local participants in the Pavillion Working Group took in working alongside the EPA in its investigation for more than three years,” the company said in a statement.
EPA says that the synthetic chemicals associated with fracking as well as high methane levels and benzene concentrations are “well above” Safe Drinking Water Act standards.
The study, the first of its kind to blame fracking for polluting water, also says that Wyoming is much more vulnerable than other areas to water contamination from fracking chemicals because drilling there often takes place much closer to the surface than in other states.
EPA’s draft report on groundwater contamination is available for a 45 day public comment period and a 30 day peer-review process led by a panel of independent scientists. It can be found here.