Researchers: Frackers are operating a lot closer to drinking water sources than they admit

New findings challenge a prevailing industry myth

Topics: fracking, Big Oil, water safety, Drinking Water, Oil and Gas, ,

Another day, another reason to suspect that fracking isn’t nearly as “safe” as the oil and gas industry insists — at least, not as it’s being practiced. New research from Stanford University scientists, covered by the L.A. Times, reveals that oil companies are fracking at much shallower depths than commonly believed, and sometimes directly into sources of drinking water.

The researchers, Dominic DiGiulio and Robert Jackson, investigated drilling activity at two sites in Wyoming’s Pavillion gas field. They didn’t document any actual water pollution, but their findings (which have yet to be peer-reviewed) challenge a favorite industry myth: that fracking occurs thousands of feet below aquifers, and so the toxic chemicals being injected down there poses no risk to the drinking water above. There’s reason to believe that the chemicals can, in fact, migrate upwards into aquifers, but the Stanford study concerns chemicals being injected just 700 to 750 feet deep, “directly into geological formations that contain groundwater.” That would appear to pose a much more pressing risk.

The aquifers in question are classified under the Clean Water Act as “underground sources of drinking water,” which means they’re suppose to be protected from harmful contamination. “If the water isn’t being used now, it doesn’t mean it can’t be used in the future,” DiGiulio pointed out; for example, in times of drought, to which Wyoming is particularly prone.



Believe it or not, this sort of thing isn’t even illegal. But a 2012 report from the International Energy Agency, which analyzed ways that the industry could make fracking safer, specifically pointed to instances where the technique is employed too close to drinking water sources for comfort, and recommended that the practice be banned. According to the researchers, it at least needs to be more closely regulated. But, as is so often the case, “the extent and consequences of these activities are poorly documented,” wrote DiGiulio, ”hindering assessments of potential resource damage and human exposure.”

“You can’t test the consequences of an activity if you don’t know how common it is,” added Jackson. “We think that any fracking within a thousand feet of the surface should be more clearly documented and face greater scrutiny.”

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...