Fox News pundits have repeatedly claimed that fracking poses no risk to water supplies, even though there are several documented cases where extraction of shale gas and activities related to fracking have contaminated water. Watch how their blanket denials of risk contrast with real news reports on the damage natural gas extraction has done to water supplies:
Oil and gas companies are currently extracting natural gas at a record levels by drilling horizontally and then using a process called hydraulic fracturing (often called fracking), which involves injecting large amounts of water along with sand and chemicals at a high pressure in order to crack open shale rock and release the gas.
Many experts say the part of the process that has most often contaminated water is the first: drilling. A peer-reviewed study by Duke University researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found methane levels were 17 times higher in water wells close to areas in Pennsylvania and New York where shale gas was being extracted, and linked the type of methane to shale-gas extraction. The researchers said that the contamination "likely was due to its escape from faulty drill casings," according to the Christian Science Monitor. Industry officials have admitted that poor drilling practices have contaminated water, and the Environmental Defense Fund's Scott Anderson estimated that one in ten wells have cement failures. Yet drilling is often under-regulated. In December 2009, ProPublica reported that "One in five states don't require that the concrete casing used to contain wells be tested before hydraulic fracturing," and a ProPublica investigation found that states experiencing booms in oil and gas production have not hired enough regulators to keep up.
After, drilling, fracking occurs. Conservative media and industry officials often claim that fracking per se will not contaminate water because it typically occurs far below aquifers. The distinction between drilling and fracking may be important to some industry experts, but conservative media have used these weasel words to confuse the public and dismiss real concerns about the lack of regulation of the industry. Statements that the fracking process has never been found to have contaminated water supplies are also misleading: a December 2011 EPA study found that fracking itself likely contaminated groundwater in Wyoming, where a company had fracked close to water wells and at a shallower level than is typical. Dick Cheney, a former Haliburton executive, helped get fracking exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
After fracking, a large amount of wastewater comes to the surface; the problem of what to do with this huge amount of wastewater is unique to fracking. This wastewater is sometimes stored in open pits before being injected deep into the ground, sent to treatment plants, or recycled for use in more fracking. Rather than storing the wastewater in open pits, a closed loop system would prevent surface spills, but wastewater is exempt from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act when it is on the site or being transported, and industry has fought against any efforts to require a closed loop system. In December 2009, ProPublica reported that most states allow these pits to "intersect with the water table."
Wastewater is sometimes then sent to sewage treatment plants and discharged into surface water. A review by InsideClimateNews found that many states do not require companies to disclose the chemical concentrations or chemical names of fracking fluid components to regulators or the public. The New York Times reported that these loopholes were included in model legislation sponsored by ExxonMobil within ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), a conservative organization that writes model legislation adopted by states across the country. This lack of disclosure has led to sewage treatment plants taking in wastewater that is more radioactive than the plants can safely handle and whose ingredients the plants do not know. For instance, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an industry group admitted that it contaminated drinking water by sending its wastewater to these plants.
While Fox News will deny it, drilling and fracking for shale gas puts water at risk at every step.
For more, see Myths And Facts About Natural Gas.
Jill Fitzsimmons created the video accompanying this post.