Environment

A Fracking Contamination Case is Revealed--From 1984

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyAug 4, 2011 10:26 AM

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The New York Times is reporting on the first documented case of fracking directly--rather than indirectly--leading to groundwater contamination.

The report is not recent — it was published in 1987, and the contamination was discovered in 1984. Drilling technology and safeguards in well design have improved significantly since then. Nevertheless, the report does contradict what has emerged as a kind of mantra in the industry and in the government. The report concluded that hydraulic fracturing fluids or gel used by the Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company contaminated a well roughly 600 feet away on the property of James Parsons in Jackson County, W.Va., referring to it as “Mr. Parson’s water well.” “When fracturing the Kaiser gas well on Mr. James Parson’s property, fractures were created allowing migration of fracture fluid from the gas well to Mr. Parson’s water well,” according to the agency’s summary of the case. “This fracture fluid, along with natural gas was present in Mr. Parson’s water, rendering it unusable.” Asked about the cause of the incident, Mr. Wohlschlegel emphasized that the important factor was that the driller and the regulator had not known about the nearby aquifer. But in comments submitted to the E.P.A. at the time about the report, the petroleum institute acknowledged that this was indeed a case of drinking water contamination from fracking. “The damage here,” the institute wrote, referring to Mr. Parsons’ contaminated water well, “results from an accident or malfunction of the fracturing process.”

Later on the Times suggests that the mechanism by which contamination occurred may have involved fracture communication with an abandoned well shaft in the area--allowing fluids to travel upwards into drinking water. How big a deal is this? Well, it is an older case, with older technology, which may limit its relevance. Still, industry is not going to be able to say any longer that fracking has never led to groundwater contamination--a very favorite talking point.

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