Pennsylvania has a long, terrible history of water contamination from drilling and fracking. Many families have had their lives turned upside down, no longer able to drink their water, shower, or even wash dishes. Across the Pennsylvania countryside, water buffalos – large tubs filled each week or so by water delivery trucks – are now a common sight.
In their six-year study released in December, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed many instances of water contamination in Pennsylvania. The EPA identified that water can be contaminated by many ways including spills, well integrity failures, well cementing failures below ground, leaks, and complications with waste disposal. Notably, EPA research found there were on order of 15 spills every day somewhere in the United States.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has confirmed more than 300 cases of water contamination.
Investigative reporting by the Scranton Times-Tribune the Public Herald, and an investigation by the Pennsylvania Auditor General indicate the real number may be much higher. An investigation by Public Herald uncovered over 4,100 drinking water complaints since fracking took off in Pennsylvania, with evidence that the state did not properly investigate and respond to citizen complaints.
One of the most infamous cases is Dimock, Pennsylvania, which was featured in the documentary Gasland and was the subject of an EPA investigation. Drilling caused substantial water contamination in Dimock, leading to a still-ongoing struggle between residents and the state and the gas industry. Many residents still cannot drink their water and must use bottled water and water buffalos, many of which rely on charitable water deliveries. In May, 2016, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a report on water contamination in Dimock, looking at 64 water wells and concluded, “Chemicals in the private water wells in Dimock are at levels high enough to affect health in 27 private water wells, and pose a physical hazard at 17 private water wells.”
Many scientific studies have confirmed water contamination in Pennsylvania and the many ways by which it occurs. Physicians for Social Responsibility provides a comprehensive summary of the studies in the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking. Findings of some of the studies addressing water contamination in Pennsylvania include:
- A 2015 Pennsylvania State University study found fracking-related chemicals in drinking water in Pennsylvania homes. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/05/science/earth/fracking-chemicals-detected-in-pennsylvania-drinking-water.html
- A 2015 Duquesne University study found increased levels of chemical concentrations in private water wells in an intensely drilled area of Pennsylvania after drilling. In some cases, concentrations exceeded health-based maximum contaminant levels. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25734827
- A 2015 study by an international research team found multiple organic chemical contaminants in private drinking wells in northeastern Pennsylvania near fracking sites. The study identified surface releases – leaks and spills – as the likely mechanism of the water contamination. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/43/13184.abstract
- A 2014 Cornell University study found that 40 percent of shale gas wells in Northeastern Pennsylvania will leak methane into groundwater or the atmosphere over time. The study found high levels of casing and cement impairments inside and outside of wells; the leak rate for fracking wells drilled after 2009 was six percent and rises with time. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/06/25/1323422111.abstract
- A 2011 Duke University study focusing on Pennsylvania found “systemic evidence for methane contamination of drinking water associated with shale gas extraction,” with methane levels 17 times higher in water wells near drilling sites. http://www.pnas.org/content/108/20/8172.abstract
Find many more studies about drilling and fracking and water contamination here.
In addition to the risks and harms from drilling and fracking, buildout of associated infrastructure including pipelines and compressor stations poses serious impacts. Across Pennsylvania and the United States, many pipelines have leaked and exploded, harming people and the environment. Compressor stations emit dangerous pollutants, often in high concentrations, endangering those who live nearby.