Fracking trouble: almost conceivable



  • Linh Do

By the year's end, Colorado should have regulations in place that require energy companies to reveal the ingredients of solutions they blast into the shale formations beneath our water aquifers. This was the message delivered by Gov. John Hickenlooper last Tuesday at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association annual conference.

From the Denver Business Journal:

The industry also will cooperate with two state agencies — Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — to collect samples of groundwater in active areas before and after drilling occurs to track any changes to the water, Hickenlooper said ...

Hickenlooper went on to assure the gathered energy execs that while these regulations will help restore the public's faith in the energy industry's intentions, “Everyone in this room understands that hydraulic fracturing doesn’t connect to groundwater, that it’s almost inconceivable that groundwater will be contaminated." [Emphasis ours.]

Hickenlooper, as the article points out, "worked as a petroleum geologist in Colorado in the 1980s."

The next day, the New York Times published a story detailing a known incident of well water contamination due to fracking materials.

For decades, oil and gas industry executives as well as regulators have maintained that a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that is used for most natural gas wells has never contaminated underground drinking water.

The claim is based in part on a simple fact: fracking, in which water and toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the ground to break up rocks and release the gas trapped there, occurs thousands of feet below drinking-water aquifers. Because of that distance, the drilling chemicals pose no risk, industry officials have argued.


But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.

This particular incident of contamination occurred in Jackson County, W.Va., in 1984. The Environmental Protection Agency produced a report on the contamination in 1987. You can read it here.

We contacted the governor's press office to see if this changed his mind that the contamination of drinking water by fracking solutions was "almost inconceivable."

His spokesman, Eric Brown, responded:

The governor was talking this week about no frack fluid into groundwater in Colorado and the West. Fracking in the eastern part of the country is done at much shallower levels.

From the Times:

The depth of the completed gas well was 4,572 feet. This target formation is significant because it shows that the 1982 well was in a shale formation, similar but not identical to the rock strata that is increasingly a target today. The depth of the gas well, roughly 7/8ths of a mile, is also significant. The Parsons water well was drilled roughly 400 feet deep, so the gas well extended roughly 4,000 feet deeper. Many in the shale gas industry say that fracturing shale wells cannot directly contaminate groundwater supplies because they are drilled far below the water table, and therefore nothing injected during hydrofracking can migrate the great distances through numerous layers of rock up to the groundwater level.

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