Natural Gas Fracking Poisons Pennsylvania Water Supplies
According to a new report, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has determined that natural gas wells drilled using fracturing technology (natural gas fracking) by Chesapeake Energy are leaking methane gas into drinking water wells in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s Environmental Protection agency has issued fines to Chesapeake Energy for poisoning the well water of 16 households. The fines were the largest in the state’s history, totaling $900,000.
National Public Radio today reported that rural families near Leroy Township found their well waters polluted with methane gas. Some wells went dry, and then sputtered out liquid described as “black as coal.”
Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection determined that nearby hydraulic fracturing projects run by the Chesapeake Energy company were leaking methane gas and poisoning the wells.
Fracking is a process of drilling for natural gas by cracking and puncturing through deep shale rock. While energy companies have announced that fracking does not endanger drinking water wells, Pennsylvania’s regulators have found otherwise. They stated that, “there is a physical danger of fire or explosion due to the migration of natural gas water wells.”
Natural gas fracking operation used explosives
To open up the shale, explosives are set beneath the ground and pipes are laid. Then millions of pounds of water and chemicals are shot through the well to push the gas out. Apparently, this can also force methane gas and even some fluids into neighboring drinking water wells.
Penn State University Hydrologist David Yoxtheimer has been investigating the problem – labeled methane migration.
“Gas wants to migrate up,” he told NPR. “It’s lighter. It’s less dense. It finds itself trapped in these shallower, more porous formations. And during the drilling process, you can go down through these shallow formations, and as you’re drilling through, suddenly you’ve created a conduit for those gases to escape.”
This contradicts gas industry experts that believe that leaking could only be caused by cracking in the cement casings that are used in the drilling process. While some gas executives have stated prior to the Pennsylvania case that no water drinking wells have been contaminated in the history of natural gas drilling, EPA reports have shown damage to water wells by fracking as early as 1987 in Jackson County West Virginia. In this case, EPA documents show that fracture fluid had migrated into James Parson’s family well water.
Gas drilling uses steel pipes surrounded or encased by cement. Natural gas advocates state that the casings are typically adequate and will not leak. But as we saw from the BP Gulf oil spill from 2010, cement casings have proved to be less than foolproof.
Detrow S. Methane Making an Appearance in Pa. Water Supplies. NPR. 2012. Aug 28.
Urbina I. A Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May be More. New York Times. 2011. Aug 3.