Report: EPA concluded in 1987 fracking was unsafe


According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article published today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 1987 that hydraulic fracturing can contaminate groundwater and private wells.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” has become a controversial method to release trapped oil or natural gas. Critics say the process can contaminate groundwater and nearby water wells and can cause air pollution.

The oil and gas industry has contended for years that the process is safe.

However, the Environmental Working Group unearthed an EPA finding that concludes that a gas well drilled and fracked by the Kaiser Gas Co. in 1982 did contaminate groundwater.

“During the fracturing process,” EPA investigators wrote in the 1987 report, “fractures can be produced, allowing migration of native brine, fracturing fluid and hydrocarbons from the oil or gas well to a nearby water well. When this happens, the water well can be permanently damaged and a new well must be drilled or an alternative source of drinking water found.”

The group called on the EPA to step up their efforts to study fracking.

“Now it’s up to the EPA to pick up where it left off 25 years ago and determine the true risks of fracking so that our drinking water can be protected,” said Dusty Horwitt, EWG’s senior oil and gas analyst and author of the organization’s 35-page report report.

The graphic below is from the Environmental Working Group’s report about fracking. The group says the graphic details how fracking can contaminate wells and groundwater. The New York Times obtained the documents from EWG. To read the EPA report, click here.

To read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s story, click here.

(Graphic: Environmental Working Group)

45 Responses

  1. Dwayne says:

    trail trash, you brought up another point. It takes over a million gallons of fresh water to frac a well in my area. The land man told me they could use all of if they needed it. Should they be able to use all of it and leave me nothing?

  2. Dwayne says:

    trail trash, you are very uninformed. You believe anything the oil company will tell you. If the benzene did not come from flow back, where in the process did it come from. Benzene in pit on my land is almost 1200ppb. The maximum tceq allowable is 26ppb. Do you want to drink this? AS far as the bentonite sealing the pit, that is not true. I have a pond that I sealed with bentonite and it leaks. I used a ton of bentonite in a very small pond. If the frac fluid is so benign, why are they fighting to not have to release the formula? Is there anything the oil company could do that you would not agree with or in your opinion, should they be able to do anything they want?

  3. Trail Trash says:

    Yes Dwayne, we use to flow frac fluids back into open pits, but the drilling mud made the pits impermeable, so anything in them would not leak downward. I’ve buried pits and have seen where the soil underneath them is bone dry. Now days, the open pits are even lined with mylar. Also your statement that the flow back contains chemicals in large concentrations is not correct. Frac fluid is 95% water and another 4.5% of gel and maybe some sand. The gel is made from guar beans, a common food additive. You get a higher dose of benzene from second hand smoke at the local cafe than from being around a frac’d well.

  4. Dwayne says:

    Hunter, you are wrong, our energy future is at risk because some companies are taking short cuts and will be caught sooner or later. I am for the industry, I just will not excuse bad behavior. We need to apply a little heat on them to do a better job at protecting our environment. I live in the desert and if my wells get contaminated, I cannot live here anymore. Jus wait until you are affected.

  5. Dwayne says:

    Trail Trash, maybe that is how it is supposed to work, but I saw the flowback giong into my earth pits. I have the evidence to prove it. The flowback at the well on me went into my ground.

  6. Trail Trash says:

    Actually Dwayne, now days they flow back into frac tanks, not open pits. The frac fluids are recycled and reused.

  7. hunter says:

    The headline of this report does not match the information presented in it.
    The environmental industry is after any source of energy and lacking evidence to base the opposition is not a problem.
    The EPA report is about old bad wells, not frakking. Leaks are only possible if there are badly abandoned wells in the area.
    Yet our future energy,and the industry to extract that energy, is at risk due to old reports being misinterpreted, and phony movies setting water on fire in special effects stunts.

  8. Dwayne says:

    People are missing the point. Even if the actual fracking does not break into the ground water, the flowback contains these chemicals in huge concentrations. Where does the flowback go? It goes into the pit. From there, it gets deep buried in a pit approx. 20 feet wide and 150 feet long. This pit is about 20 feet deep. In my situation, this is only a few feet from my water table. So even if all you oil diehards are right, and the actual fracking does not cause the contamination, the flowback will cause it. Do not tell me that the state regulatory agencies will keep this from happening. In my case this would be the Texas rrc. The rrc is powerless to do anything because the oil companies are exempt from the rules. They can dump anything they want in the pit and it is exempt. Don’t believe me,research it yourself. It will not matter to anyone until it happens to them and all they have to drink is oil or water loaded with benzene.

  9. Lucy says:

    just wait till it’s on your land by your house! took core samples of the pit which they deep buried in the middle of the night and sent off to lab for testing. Hmm found over 40 times the allowable limit of benzene just a few feet away from our water table. On top of that it take over 1 million gals. of water to produce the oil. We live in a desert and are on severe water restrictions. We are running out of water!!! The oil co. wants us to sign a surface agreement and endemnifying them of all responsibily should something happen and we all get sick or die. Ya see they can’t get a release or rather “clear” title to pass the buck on to some other co. and are giving us grief! Hold on to those ruby slippers Dorthy, the wicked witch(oil co.) must want your signature awfully bad to pressure you so much! I’ll say! Well, I am not giving up so fast. stay tuned. Lucy

  10. Lonnie says:

    “shot” refers to using nitro glycerin not frac’ing. Back in the day people would use that to stimulate wells – very poor comparison to fracturing. Think about this a fraction job ranges in cost from $70k to multiple millions $, most oil and gas reservoirs are a few hundred feet thick at best so why would a operator want to get 2000′ fraction height growth, it’s like leaving ur house completely open and letting the air run on 60 degrees in Houston it doesn’t make sense. From my training as a petroleum engineer and many geology courses taken I don’t know of any place that the overburden stress would allow that type of growth. Its not even worth trying to help the public they think oil companies would lie to them, but those companies need water as well so no reason to contaminate it just to make some $.

  11. xane says:

    no question. in the area around kennedy and karnes city, the fracking has in fact ruinedwells and drinking water. the high pressure fluid injection breaks the strata and while it does free up oil deposits, it also breaks into aquifer zones and causes the water to deplete rapidly from the aquifer zone or injects the aquifer with contaminates. not in all cases but in many.

    we would be wiser to invest in alternative fuels. oil and the chemical by products of this industry are toxic and difficult to clean up. look at the MTBE oxygenator additive that contaiminated groundwater out west. the ground water was ruined and not able to be cleaned of the chemical.

  12. Robert F. says:

    If gas drillers cannot stand the heat they need to stay out of the kitchen. If its as safe as they say they should welcome an in depth investigation to clear their names. Simply repeating the same thing and expecting people to trust them is ludicrous.

    Whats amazing to me is that to most of the commenters here believe that hundreds of tax paying Americans, all in shale areas across the country just one day imagined their water was bad despite many years of having great water. The one constant appears to be that hydraulic fracturing was occurring hundreds of feet from their USDW. Yet the majority of commenters so far believe that there is NO WAY it could be related to having millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand being injected into the ground under extremely high pressure.

  13. Mark from Louisiana says:

    How did the movie gasland get shown at the Sundance Film Festival?

    Gasland was shown at the Sundance Film Festival — that was the first step in its journey to make the bigtime (including the HBO screenings). Gasland got a major boost in prominence when it landed a coveted spot at Sundance.

    This was quite an accomplishment since most entries are rejected. Yet Gasland survived the winnowing process.

    Did it have friends in powerful places who helped?

    The Sundance Institute receives funding from George Soros; furthermore, the Sundance Documentary Film Fund was formerly known as the Soros Documentary Fund. Soros and his Open Society Institute have given many millions of dollars to the Sundance Institute. The officials who run Sundance know their donors and their special interests.

    According to the Capital Research Institute, Sundance founder Robert Redford “genuflected” before Soros when Open Society gave the Institute 5 million dollars in its latest “gift”: …

    Why is George Soros against fracking in America? He funds 90% of the anti-fracking groups. He is also trying to block exports of American natural gas from the terminal in Sabine Pass. Could it be he doesn’t want American natural gas to compete in the market with the new fields in New Guinea where he has invested over One BILLION dollars?

    You connect the dots…..

  14. James says:

    The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.
    Ronald Reagan

  15. David says:

    The fracking didn’t cause the problem, the old wells deteriotion did. without the deterioted wells the fracking fluids would not have gotten up to the water table. So any type of drilling, all of which involves the pumping of drilling fluid could have led to contamination if it was done close enough to the old wells. So are we going to ban all drilling now? The greenies/pinkos are looking for any excuse to shut down America’s development of it’s own natural resources.

  16. gww says:

    Nice try Chronicle!

  17. Cowgirl says:

    The headlines tell the reader that drill drill drill is bad. Unfortunately, most readers only read the headline and not article or worse yet, the comments to debunk media lies.

  18. CGTX says:

    It is never good to piss in your water supply.

  19. Trail Trash says:

    Scroll down to page 783. That is where they talk about the real risk to water aquifers.

  20. Trail Trash says:

    From the report: “the E.P.A. identifies the type of contamination found in the Parsons wate well as having been fracturing fluid or gel. However, some analysts have suggested that the material may have been Aquagel, which is typically a mixture of bentonite clay and water. This mixture is often used during drilling and before the well is fracked.”

  21. Clay says:

    Isn’t this kind of like saying that my 2010 volvo is unsafe because in 1977 a study proved that the Ford Pinto’s gas tank explodes.

  22. Trail Trash says:

    If you go out to the document, it’s interesting to note that two subsequent test of the water well found no contamination and the first basically only found frac gel. The same material used to thicken ice cream.

  23. eiioi says:

    With wells that were properly P&A’d, this wouldn’t be a problem. These claims (or interpretation of these claims) were obviously made by somebody with A. very limited knowledge of the industry and B. a grudge against fracing; the wrong person is blamed (the new driller) and the one really at fault (the owner of the old well) is let off the hook.

    I think it’s also important to note that the study was done in the 1980s and is referring to 1940s wells as having bad casing or not being P&A’d. The equivalent old well for today would be from 1970. By this time, there were more stringent well permitting requirements from the TRRC and other similar agencies. So any active “old” wells (1970) should be properly isolated. Any abandoned wells from the 1940s and earlier should have long ago been P&A’d.

  24. sprocket1962 says:

    SaltWaterCroc, kindly post about things you have, at least, a modicum of intelligence about. Please – you’ll do all of the rest of us a profound favor.

  25. Peter says:

    I just wish the EPA would go to tboyinhouston’s home and see that he’s continuing to pump out CO2 every time he breaths. Since the EPA has listed CO2 as a dangerous pollutant, they need to get a court order to shut down tboy’s realease of toxic gas until it can be studied.

  26. Bill says:

    1982 and reported in a newspaper in 1987….hahaha. That’s all they have?! What a stretch.

  27. tboyinhouston says:

    That danburnit EPA who cleaned up our air and water is at it again trying to ensure that the drillers who were exempted by the Bush admin in 2005 from the clean water act (anyone dare to ask why) are allowed to continue to poison us.

  28. luckyone says:

    Stop all energy production in this country. We only need jet fuel for the President.

  29. Peter says:

    I think we all know that any type of petroleum and gas drilling, transport and refining has the possiblity of a significant environment problem. Now if the government wants to prove to us it’s too dangerous, let them stop using it first.
    Let’s get rid of Airforce One and replace it with Bicycle One. Let’s stop using natural gas, oil and coal to power government buildings (I would say they could use solar and wind turbines, but they require petroleum to produce). Since computers can’t be built without petroleum products, I guess it’s back to the wooden abacus for accounting and paper and pencils for word processing.
    Government, show us how it’s done. You give up your dependency, and once you’ve done it successfully for 10 years, I’ll give up mine.

  30. SaltWaterCroc says:

    This is why Republicans want a smaller government. Trust us. Would industry harm the very environment it’s workers live in? Would they subject workers to unsafe conditions? Oil companies and everyone else has our best interests at heart. All they are asking for is a little trust. Sure, there will be mistakes, but if you don’t know about them, you won’t worry. It’s best for all concerned. Just trust us.

  31. bg says:

    Why are these groups dredging up a 1987 report. It is absolutely meaningless as are the claims that shale completion fracturing threatens shallow drinking water aquifers. I was a petroelum geologist for over 8 years and have been a groundwater environmental consultant for the last 24 years and I have never seen a documented case of deep hydraulic fractures propagating to create pathways to near surface aquifers–it is a fantasy. There are plenty of cases where old production well casing has failed and allowed produced brine to enter aquifers. There was also storage of brine and oil in unlined pits in many early oil fields. This unscientific garbage that is being put forth by these groups is strictly a scare tactic to obstruct current development. Do these groups want us to continue buying from OPEC and running all time high trade defecits? last time I looked the public has not stopped buying oil and natural gas.

  32. theallknowingone says:

    Gonna to be both sad and hilarious when this is shown to be unsafe to drinking water. Sad to those whose water is ruined and hilarious to the oil and gas industry kool aid drinkers.

  33. Charles says:

    … and this is news to who? You’ve got tremors in places that have never had them before, destabilizing the earth’s crustwith God knows what. Glad you included a picture, that’s about the only way these farmers will understand the potential danger involved with this process.

  34. EatRunDive says:

    Why do you suppose it’s called fracturing?

    Maybe because it’s supposed to break up strata?

  35. Joe says:

    The EPA is out of control under the Obama admin…even spilled milk is terrible for the environment.

  36. JimH says:

    The Obama war on energy continues, unabated.

  37. Chris says:

    This “contamination theory” relies on the assumption that there are old wells (deep enough to reach the target shale formation) in close proximity (1700 feet) to the new well. This is not always the case, so even if this “contamination theory” is correct (which I am not so sure seeing it is over 20 years old), it does not mean that all fracturing will always contaminate shallow water sources.

  38. NoWhining says:

    Yep, junk science then and junk science now. North Dakota directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing development have done just fine. EPA is continuing to develop its environmentalist extremism.

  39. bizag83 says:

    I’m sure a government study conducted in the 1800’s would have found flying unsafe as well.

  40. Trail Trash says:

    Which illustrates what I’ve said all along, the greater risk to water aquifers is improperly plugged wells. Improperly plugged wells can contaminate aquifers with saltwater, even if there is no fracing going on in the area.

  41. Juan Carlos says:

    If you’re fracking in the same strata layers where drinking water exists then certainly there could be a risk.

    But, if you look at any groundwater contamination from fracking in the last decade the only failures have come from casing integrity propblems. SO, basically the EPA was wrong.

  42. BOB says:

    I am sure nothing has change in 34 years. Lets let the government tell us what is best they know everything.

  43. Indianpaintbrush says:

    Yeah, I suppose it “COULD” if all the circumstances were just right.