EWG News and Analysis
The latest from EWG’s staff of experts >>
Report Confirms Oil and Gas Drilling Has Contaminated Well Water
State regulators have confirmed more than 100 cases of well water contamination caused by oil and gas drilling over the past five years, an Associated Press investigation found.
The AP report by Kevin Begos is based on information provided by state regulators in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas, four states that have experienced a boom in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in recent years. Data provided by the states showed that there have been hundreds of complaints of water contamination linked to oil and gas drilling – and that many have been confirmed.
According to the news service, in 2012 and 2013 alone, Pennsylvania received 897 complaints alleging that drilling activity had contaminated well water, and at least 106 cases have been confirmed since 2005. Ohio has recorded 190 complaints since 2010, with six cases confirmed and 14 still under investigation. West Virginia has received 122 complaints over the past four years, and drillers have taken steps to remedy water contamination in four cases. Texas regulators counted 62 recent complaints but said the state has not confirmed any cases in the last ten years.
Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia provided only limited information about the complaints, leaving the public in the dark as to the type and extent of the confirmed contamination in those states. The news service also noted that it is unclear how many of the confirmed cases can be linked to fracking, given that not all oil and gas wells use the technology. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources told the AP that the six confirmed contamination cases there were not related to fracking; regulators in Pennsylvania and West Virginia did not provide similar information.
Drilling companies frequently claim that there has never been a confirmed case of water contamination caused by fracking, but their assurances have been repeatedly challenged. Rob Jackson, a professor at Duke University quoted in the AP story, published a study last year that linked fracking to elevated levels of methane in private water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania. The AP report provides more evidence that activities associated with natural gas development can and do contaminate groundwater, and the public isn’t getting the comprehensive information it needs to understand and evaluate the risks.