A new study shows that people who live closest to natural gas fracking sites are indeed more likely to have contaminated water as many have suspected for a long time.
Incredibly, in Pennsylvania, where drilling is up 69% this year, water tested in wells about a half-mile (0.62 miles or about 1000 yards) from a drilling site showed 6 times the levels of methane than those farther away. 82% of water samples contained methane.
Although scientists examined topography and distance to geologic features, "Distance to gas wells was, by far, the most significant factor influencing gases in the drinking water we sampled," says Rob Jackson, lead author of the Duke University study. This "suggests that drilling has affected some homeowners' water."
At these levels, methane can be explosive as it escapes from the water, and some were higher than state and federal standards allow. Maybe this is the behind the explosion people experience when they light a match to their water (famously showed in Gasland).
Researchers took 141 drinking water samples from private water wells across northeastern Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale, one of the heaviest regions in the country for fracking.
While methane concentrations are 6 times higher, ethane is 23 times higher and propane has been detected in 10 samples.
High ethane and propane are "particularly interesting," he notes, "since there is no biological source of ethane and propane in the region and Marcellus gas is high in both."
"Ethane and propane are signatures of fracking," notes Jackson.
Two previous Duke studies came to the same conclusion, although one conducted by US Geological Survey scientists in Arkansas did not. None of these studies found contamination caused by chemicals used in fracking.
An EPA study in Wyoming, however, did find water contamination from chemicals. Unfortunately, that was a draft study and the EPA recently caved to industry and punted the followup to the state of Wyoming.
Duke's conclusion is that it's not the chemicals, but the integrity of gas wells that's the problem. Jackson says faulty drilling procedures could allow gas to escape from wells and into the aquifer.
"Our studies demonstrate that the integrity of gas wells, as well as variations in local and regional geology, play major roles in determining the possible risk of groundwater impacts from shale gas development. As such, they must be taken into consideration before drilling begins," says Avner Vengosh from Duke.
Homeowners who live on the Marcellus Shale have been complaining about sick children, dead livestock and flammable tap water for years now.
Although a majority of Americans (65%) want fracking to be better regulated, the Department of Interior's plan, released in May is even weaker than its first version, since it's based on ALEC's model bill - which was written by ExxonMobil!
Illinois recently came out with the most stringent regulations in the country, that among other requirements, mandates water testing and chemicals disclosure before and after drilling.
In only six years, 450,000 fracking wells have been drilled in 31
states and that's only the beginning. The industry has plans for tens of thousands more wells where billions of gallons of water mixed with industrial poisons will be pumped underground.
Believe it or not, under current law, the industry doesn't have to prove fracking is safe - citizens and government have to prove it's NOT safe.
Here's the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, "Increased Stray Gas Abundance in a Subset of Drinking Water Wells Near Marcellus Shale Gas Extraction":