In 2010, the CEO of Exxon Mobil declared to Congress that, in the history of the natural gas “fracking” industry, “there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one.” NY Times, 8/4111. History has proved the industry to have overstated its safety record. In recent years, hundreds of wells have been contaminated with methane and other hazardous substances as a result of natural gas drilling activities. Many of the incidents have occurred in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a region overlying the gigantic Marcellus shale deposit. The U.S. EPA is nearing completion of its analysis of several possible mechanisms that, contrary to the energy companies’ claims, would permit migration of fluids and gases into drinking water supplies. These include improper gas well construction, inadvertent fracturing of barriers that would otherwise contain the materials, interception of pre-existing fractures beneath the surface, or activation of natural “faults,” creating new pathways for contaminants to reach drinking water. EPA’s final report should go a long way toward defining the real risks to the environment posed by the industry. In the meantime, people living near gas wells, and “fracking” activities should be sure to take steps to safeguard their property, by
– having their water wells tested before a nearby gas well begins operation, in order to establish a “baseline” for the quality of the water;
– being sure that any mineral rights or lease agreement with an energy company includes a water well protection clause, making the company responsible for any damages they cause;
– reporting any changes in water quality to environmental regulators [in Pennsylvania, to the Department of Environmental Resources].
A property owner whose water well has been contaminated should consult an experienced environmental attorney as soon as possible.