Fracking and water pollution: What's the connection?

Complaints in key venues of the US oil and gas boom continue to suggest that drinking water is being contaminated by fracking for oil and gas, Peixe writes. The pollution complaints against fracking have been confirmed in a number of cases, but not across the board.

Les Stone/Reuters/File
A natural gas well is drilled near Canton, in Bradford County, Pa.

Last year saw hundreds of complaints mounted against well-water contamination from oil or gas drilling in US, but the jury is still out as to whether hydraulic fracturing is to blame, news agencies report.

Complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas—key venues of the US oil and gas boom—continue to suggest that drinking water is being contaminated by oil and gas operations, which has been confirmed in a number of cases, but not across the board.

According to complaint data examined by the Associated Press, there were 2,000 complaints registered last year, with 62 of those alleging possibly well-water contamination from oil and gas activity. (Related article: 10 Things to Consider about the Marcellus Shale

For the same time period, Pennsylvania received 398 complaints alleging that oil or natural gas drilling polluted or otherwise affected private water wells. 

More than 80,000 wells have been drilled or permitted in 17 US states since 2005, with oil and gas companies using between 2 million and 9 million gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to frack a single well.

According to some reports, the drilling industry has used 250 billion gallons of fresh water since 2005. Much of that returns to the surface along with naturally occurring radium and bromides, and concerns are growing about the effects this is having on the environment.

Dr. Sheila Bushkin, MD, MPH of the Institute for Health and the Environment at University at Albany told reporters that that the perspective of the gas industry fails to show adequate concern for the long-term health and quality of life of people. (Related article: UK to Launch Fracking Bonanza)

“When you listen to the personal experiences of actual residents of Pennsylvania and other states where fracking has gone forward, you will hear stories of dead cows, pets, sick children, poisoned water and other serious health and environmental problems. These stories confirm our need for much greater research and evidence-based scientific facts,” she said.

Last week, University of Missouri researchers found that chemicals used in fracking could severely disrupt the human body’s hormone production, potentially leading to increased risk of cancer and low fertility. The study also found that children would be particularly susceptible to risk.

Investigating complaints of water-well contamination is challenged by the fact that some regions also have natural methane gas pollution or other problems unrelated to drilling.

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