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Fracking has been surfacing in the news in recent years due to the environmental risks this new method of extracting energy poses to the public. Fracking is the pumping of water, chemicals, and sand into the earth at high pressure to shatter layers of shale rock. This process causes the shale to release natural gas and oil. It also causes contaminants, some of which are radioactive, to be pushed out of the shale. As energy companies reap huge profits, there has been little research on the distance drilling should be done from sources of drinking water to ensure the public’s safety. A new study has found that the wastewater produced by fracking can contaminate groundwater with radioactive material and hormone-affecting chemicals.
For nearly ten years, many Pennsylvania residents have been complaining that energy prospectors have contaminated their water supply, turning it brown or making it flammable. In 2016, an agency within the United States Department of Health and Human Services found heavy metals in high quantities to endanger the public health. Shortly thereafter, the EPA confirmed the connection between fracking and groundwater contamination.
In this most recent study, researchers Elaine Hill and Lala Ma examined whether there was a systematic connection between the development of the shale gas industry and Pennsylvania’s water quality. They examined public drinking water and matched it with locations of new gas wells, marking the distance between the two and compiling it in a single database.
The researchers controlled for factors such as temperature and rainfall, the time of day that the sample was taken, the water intake location, and more.
They describe all new wells located within an acre of one another as “well pads.” Drillers typically open numerous wells at the same time. Hill and Ma examined 54,809 water samples over a five-year period, all taken surrounding one well pad.
Hill and Ma confirmed what many Pennsylvania residents have known for years. Adding a well pad within .5 kilometers of a water intake location means a 2.7 increase in contamination of the water supply. As the distance of the water supply increases from the well pad, the number of fracking-related contaminants decreases. For every kilometer, contaminants decrease by 1.5 percent.
Wells that have been placed uphill from a water source are even more dangerous, releasing a disproportionately high number of contaminants into the water supply. Downstream sediments in Blacklick Creek were found to contain about 200 times as much radium from samples taken upstream.
Although only 14 percent of Pennsylvanians are served by groundwater systems, the potential health impact for these individuals is large. Researchers found high levels of chloride, barium, strontium, radium, and other organic compounds in the water.
The samples collected did not quite reach levels needed to require them to be treated as radioactive waste, falling just 14 percent below that level, as designated in some states, at the highest concentrations.
If you suspect that your water supply has been contaminated, contact a dedicated Pennsylvania environmental lawyer at Williams Cedar today. We will fight tirelessly to get you the answers you are looking for, and the compensation you deserve. To learn more about how we can help, call us at 215-557-0099 or contact us online.