Frack attacks are clearly off target
As modern drilling techniques have moved eastward, to states like Pennsylvania and New York, more and more people and environmental groups have raised concerns about the practice of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking.
But, in fact, there is increasing evidence — and growing consensus — that fracking isn’t the culprit in contaminated groundwater near natural gas wells. Poor well construction is.
That’s a gusher of a difference.
If poorly cemented wells are the reason that chemicals sometimes leach into groundwater aquifers, that’s a correctable issue. Strictly enforced standards on well construction and better oversight are the answer.
It doesn’t suggest, as some fracking critics contend, that the process itself is flawed and a threat to water supplies.
Fracking involves forcing a combination of water, sand and selected chemicals — under pressure — into drill holes to fracture rocks and release gas and, increasingly, oil.
The process has been used for decades, but has become more and more important — along with directional drilling — in allowing the recovery of deposits of gas and oil that previously weren’t productive. The oil in North Dakota’s massive Bakken Formation is being recovered using fracking techniques.
Fracking has been a widely used practice in the Piceance Basin of western Colorado for 15 years or more, with few problems. Only lately has it been adopted to shale formations in other parts of the country. And that has led to new complaints that fracking is a threat to water supplies.
But, as an article in The Wall Street Journal Tuesday noted, a growing group of experts and some environmental leaders are coming to view well construction, not fracking, as the problem.
“The groundwater pollution incidents that have come to light to date have all been caused by well construction problems,” A. Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser with the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Journal.
Also, the most famous report that purported to find a link between fracking and water pollution is being re-examined.
Late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report on aquifer pollution in a Wyoming natural gas field. It concluded chemicals associated with fracking had reached the aquifer, probably as a direct result of fracking.
But industry officials and the state of Wyoming quickly took issue with the EPA report, questioning both its methodology and its conclusions. Last week, the EPA announced it will work with Wyoming and two American Indian tribes to retest the aquifer and “clarify” questions about previous tests. It will also work with other agencies to improve its testing methods.
Those who rushed to the judgment that fracking is the problem need to re-examine their conclusions. Meanwhile, industry officials and state oversight agencies nationwide must work to ensure wells are properly constructed and cemented. And they must make it known that companies which take shortcuts and put water supplies at risk will be punished severely.