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Even in technical discussions, including those related to the environment, interested parties will “spin” the meaning of words to suit their own positions. A case in point was provided in 2015 when the U.S. EPA released its initial findings regarding the potential hazards of hydraulic fracturing, a/k/a “fracking”, the method of extracting natural gas from “beds” deep below the surface and underlying shale. Although the EPA’s study, following five years of research, identified several pathways by which fracking can lead to the contamination of drinking water supplies, it also contained a seemingly throwaway sentence, suggesting that fracking had not “led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.” Although the EPA had not defined what it meant by “systemic” or “widespread”, the oil and gas industry seized on the sentence as support for its argument that fracking posed no significant threat to groundwater.
A year later, in December 2016, the EPA admitted that the infamous sentence ̶ which, it turned out, had been added to the draft at the last minute ̶ “could not be quantitatively supported.” It removed the sentence from its final report.
It’s little wonder that EPA took the action, as the factual findings in its own report documented dozens of cases where fracking had led to water contamination. Indeed, EPA found that fracking operations had contaminated drinking water through problems with each phase of the technique, from improper drilling, defective well casings, the creation of pathways for the release of natural pollutants, and the negligent management of wastewater and fracking-related chemicals. Consistent with those findings, a recent study in Pennsylvania, where the local Marcellus Shale has been extensively “fracked”, found a powerful statistical correlation between the fracking operations and incidents of water contamination.
As fracking has expanded, knowledge of its hazards has also grown, even reaching the attention of state legislatures and regulators who previously gave the industry a virtual blank check. In Pennsylvania, for example, the Department of Environmental Protection has intensified its scrutiny of fracking and its investigation of water-related complaints. Frackers are also bound by a statutory presumption that they are responsible for any pollution occurring within 2500 feet of a fracking well or other operation.
These and other improvements in regulation will help landowners whose property has been damaged by fracking to obtain a legal remedy. Difficult obstacles remain in the way of proper compensation, including determined defenses mounted by oil and gas companies, arbitration clauses limiting the ability of mineral rights lessors to sue the companies, and, sometimes, the industry’s political influence.
Clean drinking water is perhaps the most important feature of any home, and freedom from its contamination is an essential property right. When that right is violated, the victim should seek advice from an experienced attorney like the members of Williams Cedar’s environmental litigation team. If you believe that you, your property or your water supply have been damaged by fracking, please feel free to call Williams Cedar at 215-557-0099, or contact us confidentially online.
Authored By: Gerald J.Williams