Supporters of fracking repeatedly insist that deadly chemicals and flammable gases are carefully isolated and drinking water is in no danger. But a new study from Duke University and a group of German biogeochemists proves that a staggering 82% of homes near fracking sites have drinking water contaminated with exponentially elevated levels of methane gas and other deadly biproducts of the controversial drilling procedure.
The report was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to little or no press coverage and was originally submitted for publication and peer review back in December 2012. In their effort, scientists from Duke University and Germany’s prestigious Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry travelled throughout what they termed, ‘the Appalachian Plateaus physiographic province of northeastern Pennsylvania’.
The shocking results
Contrary to assurances by government officials and energy company spokespeople that America’s drinking water is never tainted or contaminated as a result of drilling for natural gas using the controversial method known as fracking, the scientists in this particular study found the exact opposite to be true.
According to their report published in PNAS, the US and German researchers tested drinking water from 141 different wells scattered throughout Pennsylvania. Based on the opening sentence of their published research paper, the study’s authors are aware that the results they found would probably be disputed by those entities with a large financial interest in natural gas fracking. They state, ‘Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are transforming energy production, but their potential environmental effects remain controversial.’
Contaminated drinking water, by the numbers
Setting the stage for their bombshell announcement, the scientists first explained how they tested 141 water wells, ‘examining natural gas concentrations and isotopic signatures with proximity to shale gas wells.’
The following sentence declares their jaw-dropping results, ‘Methane was detected in 82% of drinking water samples, with average concentrations six times higher for homes <1 km from natural gas wells (P = 0.0006). Ethane was 23 times higher in homes <1 km from gas wells (P = 0.0013); propane was detected in 10 water wells, all within approximately 1 km distance (P = 0.01).’
In other words, scientists tested 141 different drinking water sources, many located 1 kilometer or less from a fracking site. They proved that even water sources more than 1 km away from the drilling were tainted, but the closer a home or water well is to the fracturing and drilling, the higher the concentration of escaped deadly gasses in the drinking water.
Their results showed that within 1 km of any fracking site, the water showed a level of methane gas six-times higher than drinking water more than 1 km away from the same site. Even more horrifying, the flammable methane gas was found in 82% of those drinking water sources.
Blurring the issue
To guarantee there is no confusion and to insure their findings aren’t perverted by energy industry PR agencies and corporate-owned news outlets, the US and German scientists concluded their report with one blunt, unmistakable conclusion, ‘Overall, our data suggest that some homeowners living <1 km from gas wells have drinking water contaminated with stray gases.’
That didn’t stop the US Department of Energy from releasing its own findings only a couple weeks later. The US government’s conclusion was the exact opposite. Their widely reported results were, ‘Fracking is safe, not one confirmed instance of contaminated drinking water.’ But a closer look shows government officials only tested one site in the US, and only tested it for the toxic chemicals injected into rock formations to fracture the shale and release the valuable natural gas. They didn’t test the drinking water for the presence of the deadly and flammable natural gases being extracted.
Not many news outlets called federal authorities out on their obviously contradictory findings. But a small handful of independent news organizations did. As reported by RT America, ‘The study was the first time that a drilling company allowed federal researchers to inject tracers into the fracking fluid to see if it spreads. Drilling advocates are likely to hail the study as proof of the procedure’s safety, but it contradicts numerous other studies that have demonstrated the opposite.’
RT even went one step further, citing the US-German study just published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and detailed in the beginning of this article. In it, they quote one of the Duke University scientists who participated in the study showing 82% of nearby drinking water tainted with methane. Duke’s Rob Jackson reminded readers that the government study only tested for injected chemicals and only from one fracking site. He also warned that the testing was done on a hand-picked well and the drilling company probably went to extraordinary lengths to insure government regulators would not find anything on their one and only pre-announced audit.
Independent media outlets weren’t the only ones to announce the study’s seemingly blacked-out findings. The grassroots consumer advocates at Food & Water Watch also chimed in with their ongoing opposition to fracking.
‘The industry enjoys exemptions from key federal legislation protecting our air and water, thanks to aggressive lobbying and cozy relationships with our federal decision-makers (the exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act is often referred to as the Cheney or Halliburton Loophole, because it was negotiated by then-Vice President Dick Cheney with Congress in 2005),’ the food safety activists warn, ‘Plus, the industry is aggressively clamping down on local and state efforts to regulate fracking by buying influence and even bringing lawsuits to stop them from being implemented.’
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Read the final report from the Duke University scientists at PNAS.org.
For more information on fracking, visit FoodAndWaterWatch.org.
Find out if your neighbourhood is going to be fracked, and protest, by emailing your local council here.