Friday, June 24, 2011

Is hydraulic fracking dangerous for ground water? - from David in Dubuque, Iowa

Here is David's full question:
"As I understand it, hydraulic "fracking" to extract natural gas is a process of drilling a mile or so deep and pumping in a special toxic fluid and shattering rock thereby releasing natural gas.  My question is, Is it reasonable to assume that the drill passes through an aquifer and if so, the casing will someday corrode or somehow the toxic fluid will find its way upward to the aquifer eventually.  Might we be making whole aquifers unfit for any use?  Naturally the gas companies say it's safe despite the famous flaming tap water video.  I hope you know some geology."

Great question!  Unfortunately the SL is not a super geology expert. However, the SL has a friend who happens to be a geophysicist. What luck! 
Here is the expert friend's opinion:
"It is unknown what the public health risks of hydraulic fracking used in natural gas extraction are. To the best of my knowledge, there hasn't been a scientific study with definitive results. The EPA is doing a study that should be out in a few years.

High concentrations of the hydraulic fracking fluid used in natural gas extraction is something I would definitely stay away from. To some extent, it gets diluted once it is pumped into the ground (usually several thousand feet deep). There is no definitive study that shows if/how this fluid gets into drinking water.

The fracking fluid is pumped in early in the well's life cycle. Once the cracks are made, sand or some other porous solid is put in place to keep the cracks open.  By the time a well casing starts to corrode, the fracking fluid stage will have been longer past. It is very possible that the well casing may crack or blow out though."

So hydraulic fracking sounds risky, and dangerous for drinking water! We cannot "assume" that any drilling will go through an aquifer though. Aquifers are not everywhere. We hope that drilling companies do some geological surveys first, and drill around the ground water. I would think a major aquifer would really screw up a drilling operation.  This is a great example of why we REALLY need the EPA, and why Congress' budget proposal to de-fund and strip the EPA of authority is a BAD idea. Big companies do not have our health as high on the priority list. Write your congressman! 

Better to be safe than sorry.  I recommend filtering your drinking water (not bottled water!). See my other blog post about clean drinking water here:

I cannot comment specifically on the video with flaming tap water.  You'd have to sent me the specific link.  Spills and leaks due to fracking are widespread, though, and the regulations are weak at best.  Right now it is up to the states to regulate fracking, and most of them are behind Big Oil in scrambling to keep up with what industry is doing. 

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