Perfectly safe? Apparently not

Perfectly safe? Apparently not by Times Union, August 5, 2011
To hear natural gas industry executives and boosters tell it, it was almost an article of faith: Hydraulic fracturing had never, ever, polluted a single supply of groundwater. Not one. Except, that is, for the one it did. And perhaps hundreds more. We don’t know, because the industry may have covered its tracks through confidentiality agreements that shield the details from public view. This is not a foundation for trust between the gas industry and the citizens of New York. State officials — who have long accepted the industry’s claim as valid — should take a step back and consider what this revelation means for the environmental review and regulations that they have been developing under an assumption that now turns out was false. It was already apparent that gas drilling is hardly a clean industry from accidents in Pennsylvania, a state that jumped far too quickly at the gas industry’s promises of jobs and money in allowing a rush on the gas-rich Marcellus Shale.

Gas drilling had been known to result in the pollution of some surface water and shallow wells, but industry officials and regulators have stressed the problems stemmed from sloppy handling of the fracking fluid or poor well casing construction. They’ve maintained fracking itself never caused fluid or gas to pollute a deeper aquifer, and that even the prospect was highly improbable. Yet as The New York Times has discovered, such an accident did occur in 1984 in West Virginia, and was documented by the Environmental Protection Agency. Hydrofracking created fractures that allowed fluid to reach a well 600 feet away. What’s more, a lead official on the EPA’s 1987 report said there were hundreds of other cases of drinking water contamination that appeared to have been caused by hydrofracking. Yet nothing more could be learned about them because settlements of lawsuits between homeowners and the industry were sealed. Whatever the reasons for sealing those cases then, it clearly is not in the public interest to keep this information secret today, not when the gas industry is looking to drill thousands of wells in New York and other states. This comes as New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation is finalizing an environmental study on drilling and new regulations. Just this week, DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens assured us that the agency didn’t expect any surprises that would slow down or lengthen the review process. Well, here’s a surprise, New York. And who knows how many more. [Emphasis added]

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