The Burden of Proof that Hydraulic Fracturing Pollutes Water Supplies is with Those Who Oppose Drilling

Those who oppose drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale most often use the argument that harmful chemicals are pumped into the ground and therefore will find their way into surface water supplies. In meeting after meeting concerns about water are voiced most often. Those of us who support safe drilling have to patiently, methodically point out that of all the tens of thousands of gas wells that have been drilled in this country using hydraulic fracturing, there are no reported cases of chemicals finding their way from the well into ground water supplies. (Please! If you know of such a case, post the details in the comments.)

Hydraulic fracturing and the small amount of chemicals used in it do not pollute water supplies. Less than one percent of fracking fluid is chemicals. More than 99 percent is water and sand. These are the facts.

At a recent meeting in Frazer, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh), residents met and questioned representatives from Range Resources, a driller planning a new well in the area. Here’s part of an exchange on the subject of water:

Residents such as Jim Russell, who lives along Yutes Run Road and has well water, worry the chemicals used in fracking could poison the water supply.

“What chemicals do you use and why does that have to be?” Russell asked.

Chuck Moyer, geology manager with Range Resources, responded that chemicals make up less than 1 percent of the solution. He said that, in general terms, the solution contains a “soapy” material and a bactericide similar to what homeowners put on their lawns.

Jim Cannon, a spokesman for Range Resources, said the chemicals do a good job of fracturing the shale.

“We take great pains to protect the water table,” he said.

The officials said the water table in the township is about 300 feet underground. When crews dig a well, they surround it with a casing made of steel and concrete. That casing is thickest near the water table.*

Pennsylvania requires drillers to test wells located within 1,000 feet of a well. Range voluntarily tests out to 2,500 feet.

The point? The burden of proof is not on the drilling industry to somehow “prove” drilling will not pollute water supplies. That proof already exists in the form of thousands of successfully drilled gas wells where there has been no contamination. The burden is on those who say drilling is unsafe for water supplies. Show the proof, and make your case. And if you can’t, allow drilling to go forward.

*Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (July 7) – Water tops Frazer fears about gas drilling

  • “Chuck Moyer, geology manager with Range Resources, responded that chemicals make up less than 1 percent of the solution.”

    That’s a ratio of about 1:200. The federal exposure limit for benzene, a carcinogenic component, is 1:10,000,000. To call this toxic mix a “soapy bactericide” is laughable. The PA DEP calls it “nasty stuff”.

    “Show the proof, and make your case. And if you can’t, allow drilling to go forward.”

    If you’re so convinced it’s completely safe, then why not let the EPA complete its study to confirm your claim? And then let the drilling go forward.

    The gas has been there for more than 370 million years. But you can’t wait another 18 months.

  • rfscala

    metroart, I cannot count how many times I have heard your response (the last sentence).
    But the fact is that the EPA already did study hydraulic fracturing and came to the conclusion that it was not a problem.
    No one has come forward with evidence to the contrary that has proven to be REAL. And we already know the EPA does not have funding to complete the study, therefore it will be more like forever instead of 18 months.
    Case closed.

  • Here’s a RECENT quote from the EPA:

    “There are compelling reasons to believe that hydraulic fracturing may impact ground water and surface water quality in ways that threaten human health and the environment, which demands further study.”

    Does that sound like they “came to the conclusion that it was not a problem.”???

    You can’t even lie straight.

  • Regarding gas well drilling; please research the
    video produced by Mr. Fox of Eastern PA called
    Gasland which won a Sundance Documentary Award.
    Contamination of the water supply is a definite
    likelihood, its results not only cause harm to
    people, but to the environment along with wildlife. Don’t believe that it is safe regardless of the testing done; also the water
    removed from the well site after drilling is done
    is contaminated and taken out with tankers. Ask
    yourself, where are these dumped?? Furthermore,
    the company that drills is by law permitted to
    go back in later in time and drill again. Research former Vice Pres Chaney and the company
    Halliburton and the sanctions that were lifted
    during the Bush Administration protecting our
    National Parks. There are NO restrictions on gas
    well drilling; yet here in Allegheny County we
    have emissions testing for our vehicles. None
    of this makes sense. Stand up for your rights.
    If we even can at this point.

  • cbyce

    Why do those who oppose drilling think that it is “their right” to stop drilling? There are no proven cases of hydraulic fracturing contaminating water. What about the landowners, royalty owners, gas company employees, and the employees of all the companies that are benefiting from drilling? I believe they also have “rights.”
    And, I don’t understand why you think it is a problem that a company is allowed to go back in and re-drill a well?

  • whatmeworry

    You are joking, right? The Consent Agreeement in 2009 and Amendment to Consent Agreement in 2010 for Dimock and Springville show well enough that there are serious problems. How dare you push for something that, if it fails, contaminates the water it hits, including the possibility of entire aquifers, virtually forever?

  • I got news for ya. The first EPA study had already been debunked. That’s right. They lied by ommitting the negative results of frac drilling.
    Google Weston Wilson, EPA Employee, Denver,CO.
    He’s a thirty-six year veteran of EPA and a whistleblower who did the right thing.
    Here’s a quote from Weston,” While EPA’s report concludes this practice poses little or no threat to underground sources of drinking water, based on the available science and literature, EPA’s conclusions are unsupportable. EPA has conducted limited research reaching the unsupported conclusion that this industry practice needs no further study at this time. EPA decisions were supported by a Peer Review Panel; however five of the seven members of this panel appear to have conflicts-of-interest and may benefit from EPA’s decision not to conduct further investigation or impose regulatory conditions.” End quote.

    The “Burden” will be a state that nobody wants to live in. Pennsylvania will be like a spent crack whore in three years. Used and discarded.

    Oh and incidentally, this new EPA study is deliberately timed and designed to allow the gas companies to destroy the water and soil while EPA puts on a public show for 30 months. A distraction.

  • If you would like some real testimonial. Here’s a resource for you. HBO Documentary Gasland. Watch it. Sheep unite…

  • jamestj69

    have you ever watched the film called gasland? is this a propaganda film? or do we need to pay attention to the big corparations that are gonna come in and ruin our drinking water…and our way of life that we enjoy…blm,well water, your homes!! by the time that people realize that this is a serious problem,it will be too late

  • Neilius

    – Why is it bad that people might want to slow down or stop the drilling?
    – Why is it bad that people want to investigate it more?
    – Why is it bad that landowners might not want to lease their land to drilling companies?

    The answer is, of course, because you stand to make more money if those things don’t happen.

    Here are some facts to counter yours:

    – Marcellus Shale wells use anywhere from 3 million to 12 million gallons of water, depending on the depth. If 1% of that is harmful chemicals, then you’re talking about anywhere from 30,000 to 120,000 gallons of those chemicals PER WELL.
    – Just because bactericides are common doesn’t mean they should be in anyone’s drinking water.
    – The DEP doesn’t actually require operators to list the amounts of each chemical that they use, only their names. The actual solution is not regulated, because it’s considered a trade secret. But, a frack pond in Washington County caught on fire this year. If it catches on fire, it’s not drinkable.
    – The solution can definitely get into groundwater, in several ways. First, given that shale is a porous material that is, in this case, being fractured, there may be pathways for it to migrate underground. Second, although the well shaft is supposed to be cased with cement to a certain depth, the cement that’s being used isn’t the same grade as what’s used in other states. The third and biggest danger is what happens above ground. Frack ponds can spill, trucks can overturn, lines can break, and wells can blow out.
    – This stuff has definitely happened. Google the Clearfield County incident, the Dunkard Creek incident, or the several incidents in Washington County.
    – Where the fracking solution is stored is not tightly regulated. Some operators dump it into used wells and plug them up. No one knows what happens to it underground.

    The most important point about this whole debate is that you have to think in geologic time. In 50 years, in 500 years, where is this stuff going to go? Sure, most wells will be safe for the foreseeable future. But, those who aren’t making money off this industry are concerned about that kind of time scale. That’s why it’s not a bad idea for people to study more, test more, and learn more about an industry whose regulations haven’t really changed since the 1870’s.

  • Steve

    There is however an alternative solution people need to be educated about. I did a bunch of research as a student at Westminster College on the issue and in doing so learned of a very interesting company out of Stuart Florida named Ecosphere Technologies. They have proven to be able to do the hydraulic fracturing process chemically free using their very own patented ozonix technology. Visit their website, it is very interesting and educational to everyone. I would highly recommend watching the raindrop video on the right hand side of their page to better understand their going green process.

  • rebtris

    I drove a water truck delivering water to Marcellus sites for nearly a year and I can tell you that there is a BIG possibility for ground water to get contaminated. We used to dump the flowback and sometimes even the drilling mud into the some of the frac pits and I reported to my boss one morning that one of the huge pits that had really nasty stuff in it seemed to be going down in water level even though no one was using it and the weather had not been hot enough to evaporate that much. I was brushed off with a shrug and a look that said just keep your mouth shut. I’ve seen one beautiful stream polluted terribly by us pulling water out and some of the drivers were careless when they had been hauling mud or brine and would let some of it into the creek.. you can’t tell me that water contamination doesn’t happen. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

  • When your children or grandchildren are born with 3 legs, one eye, mental retardation, and leukemia, at least you’ll have your billions of dollars, so it won’t bother you. Don’t spend it all in one place, now!