Research reveals effects of fracking on drinking water sources

Research reveals effects of fracking on drinking water sources

By Rob Jordan / Translation: Nancy Viviana Piñeiro

There is only one industry that is allowed to inject toxic chemicals into underground sources of drinking water: the fracking industry. The activity has been a cause of concern for the American political class and for communities across the country, but perhaps for none has it been as much as for Pavillion, Wyoming, a small town of 231 inhabitants.

A new study by Stanford scientists and published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology concludes for the first time that hydraulic fracturing operations carried out near Pavillion have had a clear effect on underground sources of drinking water. The research describes a landscape of unsafe practices, including the discharge of drilling and production fluids containing diesel, high chemical concentrations in open-air pools, and a lack of adequate cementing to protect groundwater.

The exploitation area has been in the hands of different companies since 1960, but it was the fracking operators who have used acid and chemical treatments for hydraulic fracturing at shallow depth, at the same level as the water wells in the area. .

"This is a wake-up call," said lead study author Dominic DiGiulio, visiting professor at Stanford University's School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences. He added: "It is totally legal to inject stimulation fluids into underground drinking water sources, which could have a wide impact on the water."

“Decades of industrial activities at Pavillion put people at risk. This is not what good practice indicates for most drilling companies, ”said research co-author Rob Jackson, a professor at the same school.

As part of the water that is injected underground, companies use undisclosed compounds that can contain dangerous chemicals such as benzene and xylene. When wastewater returns to the surface, it often contains these chemicals along with a number of other potentially dangerous natural substances.

"There are no rules that prohibit companies from doing the same thing anywhere," said Jackson, who is also a researcher emeritus at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy.

The study, which uses public domain records and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), is part of Jackson's research on shallow fracking and its effects on waters. underground. He and his colleagues have been leading several studies across the country and at the Pavillion Field, an area in the Wind River basin, drilled by more than 180 oil and gas wells, some plugged and abandoned.

In 2008, Pavillion residents complained about the bad smell and taste of their drinking water and suggested that this could be related to physical ailments. In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a preliminary report that placed the small town at the epicenter of an ever-widening debate about fracking.

The aforementioned report, which linked shallow fracking to toxic compounds found in aquifers, was heavily criticized by the drilling industry and oil and gas regulators. Three years later, without completing the investigation, the EPA left the report in the hands of the state of Wyoming. It released a series of reports without firm conclusions and announced last month that it has no concrete plans to continue the study. Meanwhile, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry advised locals to avoid using tap water for bathing, cooking or drinking.

Now, the new Stanford study goes one step further than the 2011 EPA report, documenting not only the presence of fracking chemicals in underground drinking water sources but also why they make the water unsafe for human consumption. .

The domino effect goes way beyond Pavillion

“The geological and groundwater conditions at Pavillion are not unique to the Rocky Mountain region,” DiGiulio said, “this indicates that the effect on groundwater sources as a consequence of unconventional oil and gas extraction could be more generalized ”.

To prevent what happened at Pavillion, Jackson and DiGiulio advise further investigation and regulations that limit shallow fracking while demanding better casing. The state of Wyoming does not require cementing of surface casing, and only two states, Colorado and Texas, have special provisions for shallow hydraulic fracturing. However, precautions are of little use if they are not enforced, something the EPA has done halfway, according to Jackson.

He added: "The EPA has repeatedly dissociated itself from investigations that indicated possible harm to people and the environment" as a result of the effects of fracking on groundwater.

Dominic DiGiulio, Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences: (580) 279-9283, ddigiuli @
Rob Jackson, School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences: (650) 497-5841, [email protected]
Rob Jordan, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment: (650) 721-1881, [email protected]
Stanford Report (Originally Posted 03/29/2016)


Video: News Wrap: EPA finds fracking can contaminate underground water (September 2021).