DEP: Water Wells Were Contaminated by Drilling 243 Times

gas-drillingPennsylvania’s environmental groups have been pushing for a long time to have the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) release the number of drilling incidents that have resulted in water contamination. Yesterday, they finally got their wish.

According to the Associated Press, there have been 243 cases of water wells being contaminated as a result of oil and natural gas drilling since 2008.

In addition to the environmental groups, the AP and various other new agencies also filed several open-record requests and even lawsuits in order to view the documents.

According to the documents, the problems included methane gas contaminating the wells as well as wastewater spilling into the supply. In some instances, the water wells just went completely dry.

The AP found that problems occurred in twenty-two counties throughout the state with most of them occurring in the Northeast.

“I guess this is a step in the right direction,” Thomas Au of the Pennsylvania Sierra Club chapter said of the public release of documents on drinking well problems. “But this is something that should have been made public a long time ago.”

Meanwhile, the Marcellus Shale Coalition blamed the state’s geology for the issues.

“[Pennsylvania] has longstanding water well-related challenges, a function of our region’s unique geology — where stray methane gas is frequently present in and around shallow aquifers,” MSC President Dave Spigelmyer responded in a statement. “Our industry works closely and tirelessly with regulators and others to ensure that we protect our environment, striving for zero incidents.”

24 Responses

  1. I have no quarrel with what Mr. Kirsch said except that we should tax successful private property owners ‘for the benefit of the state.’ I think all successful families with the last name Kirsch should pay double taxes for the benefit of the state too if that happens.

  2. What is most dangerous at this time is the failure of the Fracking industry to post the chemicals they use! The guise that this is protected information doesn’t obviate the duty of the state to protect the citizen’s of our commonwealth. As many corporations do fracking the argument that these chemicals are proprietary seems to be an obfuscation that any sane citizen would consider and insult common standards of intelligent self-defense of our environment.
    We might also demand that our legislators enact suitable rules for protecting the underground aquifers based on an open scientific debate showing the present methods versus methods such as could be mandated/suggested by a panel of independent scientific experts hired from funds the taxing from State Government on this industry for this purpose. The independent studies from industry have proven to be faulty too many times for us to just trust their methods.
    We must tax this industry to accomplish the goal of a safe and protected method of extraction (if this is at all possible) that the inhabitants of this state can trust!
    Additionally, we will need real and dedicated taxing on this industry to provide not only a benefit to the state in terms of taxes but also adequate and continuing mandated funding for the enforcement provisions that are arrived at by an impartial panel. Ongoing oversight and a permanent method of review must be established.
    And agency fines are no substitute for actual court actions when the rules are not followed.
    Then, perhaps we can assure that the people of this state are protected in an open and objective way.
    Under our constitutional form the first duty of State Government is the policing power of our state.
    Policing power is used to insure the health, safety and welfare of our residents.

  3. I don’t think you understand how water wells work either. Ever dug a hole at the beach? It is funny how you will continue driving off course. It’s like the EPA is kryptonite to you or something. Is it a pride thing?

    Like I said, the misinformation is dangerous.

  4. Clowns-
    I was debunking Unsanctioned R’s claim of low water levels. PA has been having good rainfall the past few years, though other states where fracking occurs have been suffering with less. But, the good water levels don’t change the fact that the water has been contaminated by fracking.

    As you admit/acknowledge: “but fracking can exacerbate it”

    It’s done a lot more than “exacerbate” to all the people without potable water anymore.

  5. No David, water wells deteriorate over time. People with well water understand this. Gas near the surface has always leaked into many Pennsylvania water wells, but fracking can exacerbate it if the water comes from the local aquifer. This is not new science, and it is not outdated science. It’s like gravity.

    Your water charts at least debunk your peers critique that fracking uses too much of our fresh water resources. So, there’s at least a silver lining there.

  6. Clowns-

    If you got a contract with the gas companies that they are actually following, then you are in a rare position. There are plenty of landowners who have been lied to, defrauded, polluted and poisoned. That doesn’t even include nearby neighbors who do not have drilling, but suffer from the contamination of their water supply, as well as gas/toxins in the air making them sick.

    So, now you are blaming the water wells as “substandard” instead of the leaking fracking wells as substandard. Are the water wells only “substandard” in a fracking environment? (because people were doing okay before the fracking, with those same wells). This seems like blaming the victim when you poison his water, because his well wasn’t good enough to stop your higher concentrations.

  7. The anti-frackers are a waste of time, but they do real damage with the ignorant misinformation they spread. As a landowner w/ wells on my family’s property, I feel like I need to be responsible for how it’s used. So I joined a land owners group and got the facts. I read the EPA studies that describe how water table changes around near the fracksite can let gas near a substandard water well leak in. It’s at a scale Mr. Diano is not aware of (maybe he hasn’t done the research, or maybe he has, but there’s no excuse either way). We signed a good contract and I hold the company to it. I also am diligent about keeping them to following the law to minimize risk to my land.

  8. Unsanctioned R-

    This is a CURRENT map of PA ground water levels throughout the state. It clearly shows that water table levels are normal or above normal nearly everywhere.

    So, your claims of low water tables are simply false, as I stated.

  9. You are such a waste of time. I’m not even going to debate the minutiae with someone who unsurprisingly has no idea how fracking works and is too lazy to read the EPA’s research. Your ignorance on this topic even exceeds that of climate change as evidenced by your #2. Thanks for that, because before I read it, I thought you might be serious. But, now clearly you haven’t a clue about fracking. There’s a forest, but to self affirm or to deliberately mislead, you choose to get lost in the trees. I’m done here.

  10. Unsanctioned R-

    1) The climate models have been solid. Models are constantly improved as more data comes in. No data has come in yet which shows that the warming is not taking place.

    2) “your understanding” doesn’t match the facts. The water tables are suddenly dropping after decades at coincidentally the same places were fracking is occurring. The water table level from “local use” is stable in these regions and there has been plenty of rainfall in recent years (no droughts). So, your claim of low water tables fails on all counts.

    3) The earthquakes and vibrations can cause cracks in the layers above well pipes, that wouldn’t reach the well pipes. This type of migration is an acceleration of natural migration.

    4) The path along the outsides of the well pipes themselves are a path for gas migration. Here is a research paper explaining the process (it even has pictures to illustrate propagation along the wellbore)

    5) Many of the wells are simply faulty. Poor design. Poor implementation. The paper discusses the failure rate.

  11. 1st, the climate models failed. They keep tweeking them to match the failed predictions since their last prediction, then they fail again.

    2nd I summarized our understanding of localized gas contamination in my first comment. You should have known that basic background. Your side always wants to ignore it, hype the extraordinary and scare monger.

    And finally, the reason you don’t see migration through the bedrock is that pressure pushes gas and fluid back through the path of least resistance, which is up the well. You can make a $100 donation to or

  12. Unsanctioned R-

    First of all, the climate change computer models are quite good.

    Secondly, the are several independent computer models that have reached the same conclusion. The oil companies use computer models to figure out where to drill and to predict amounts of gas extraction. Their models aren’t focused on migration outside the wells, they just assume they are drilling deep enough to be “safe”. This is why independent researchers (not industry shills) need to do testing.

    The EPA and the PA DEP have fallen short of their duties to protect the public. Both agencies suffer from influence of big money lobbyists and industry insiders putting profit and politics ahead of public safety. Corbett’s not getting tons of money from the fracking industry because he’s pushing the PA DEP to do more testing for contamination, fraud, dumping, etc.

    A few months back, I did read an article about some scientist who had actually confirmed the migration happening to an aquifer in Oklahoma, but I’ve been unable to locate the article. I think he may have found contaminants that could not have come from the surface. This makes a lot sense in Oklahoma where fracking has been determined as the cause of the increased earthquake activity. This earthquake activity could easily create new channels/fissures for gas/toxins to migrate at an accelerated pace.

    If I run across the article again, I’ll post it.

    I’m still waiting for YOUR explanation of all the newly contaminated local water supplies around fracking sites. If the contamination is not due to migration from below, then it’s due to leaking wells, spills, illegal dumping, etc. on the ground. Plenty of reason to stop fracking.

  13. Ms. Feridun is the one wasting our time. Her problem is with Bush’s EPA, oh wait, that’s OBAMA’s EPA she disagrees with.

    David’s got a computer model…how’r those Climate Change computer models working out for ya? Bottom line with David is he won’t take the bet.

  14. Republicrat-
    It’s my understanding that 5% of the wells fail/leak almost immediately, and 50% fail within 30 years.

    There are some recent studies that indicate that the impermeable layers of rock that the frackers claim will prevent migration of gases, contaminated water, chemicals, etc, are not so impermeable as claimed. There are two main reasons for this:
    1) The additional pressure from the pumped in water/etc. causes more pressure that increases the natural migration of gasses a 100 times.

    2) The fracking process (which causes mini-earthquakes) causes cracks/fissures in impermeable layers, creating new paths/channels for gas to enter distant aquifers.

    There have been several independent studies done using computer simulations of the geology/hydrology that demonstrate this effect. The industry-backed pro-fracking scientists just claim the studies are “flawed” (same playbook used by tobacco and climate change deniers) and just want to carry on business as usual.

    The fracking industry has been claiming that no water supplies have ever been contaminated by fracking at all, but the 243 cases in the report show that’s a giant lie. The reports are the tip of the iceberg as many cases occur but are never reported, or the homeowners settle out of court under a gag order. Many spills are not reported, and many companies illegally dump waste, where it migrates into the water supply.

    The migration from below, through the not-so-impermeable layer, does depend on depth of the drilling and the aquifers. So, the industry shills will quote some deeper drilling depths, while ignoring more shallow depths, and try to whitewash the whole thing with noise and misdirection.

    The bottom line is that people and animals near these fracking sites are getting sick and their drinking water, which was potable, is no longer is safe to drink. There are also cancer clusters springing up around these sites.

  15. Arguments for Fracking are as ludicrous as arguments against climate change. All the evidence is in and we’ve seen case after case where regulators have failed us. In the end, though, the more than 100 studies cited in the Compendium out of NYS show that, even with regulators who aren’t incompetent or compromised, fracking’s still unsafe in the long run. Methane is not the methadone to help us end our fossil fuel addiction. Fracking deniers have no credibility because they have no science to back up their claims and they’re only out to waste our valuable time.

  16. The often omitted important fact in this conversation is that PA is the only state besides sparsely populated Alaska that does not have any water well construction standards. The list also shows that many of the cases of contamination occurred before PA improved casing and cementing regulations. From my quick glance at the list it looks like the orders issued more recently were made under the Act 13 “rebuttable presumption” provisions.

    David Diano- care to enlighten us on the source for the “recently discovered” research you cite? Every credible study I can find (University of Michigan, University of Texas, etc ) have shown that fracking can be done safely.

  17. Absolutely. Spills/Accidents happen, but it’s not gas contamination though. I meant to write “shallow” instead of “surface,” but I was sitting at a light. There is ZERO gas contamination at the surface, that would be silly.

    Because I understand physics, I don’t need to read the report to know it’s misleading to insinuate that any of the gas contamination comes from agitating deep shale.

    Knock yourself out. Though I know you’ll choke before sending $100 to my charity.

  18. Unsanctioned R-

    Are you claiming/acknowledging/admitting that there is contamination from the surface, as a result of the drilling?

  19. I bet you $100 to your favorite charity that the gas contamination is from the surface via the EPA identified mechanism and NOT as you suggest from MSHALE.

  20. Unsanctioned R-

    Read the headline: “Water Wells Were Contaminated by Drilling”.

    The industry line is the same as when tobacco companies say that non-smokers can die of cancer in order to divert attention from reports of people dying of cancer from smoking as the primary cause.

    As for Climate Change, I use current reports with the latest science, measurements and trend analysis.

  21. Diano is just one of those hucksters dealing in half truths. He hasn’t even read the report and is telling you that the contamination is from shale gas.

    “Old out of date information?”
    You mean like everything you say about climate change? LOL

    FYI, too much clean water is “poisonous” too.


  22. Unsanctioned R-

    The Marcellus Shale Coalition is quoting out of context and attributing the contamination to normal/intrinsic gas, rather than contamination that is a direct or indirect result of their drilling (and waste dumping, spills, etc).

    Also, they will quote old, out-of-date information or earlier studies that are contradicted by new studies and new measurements of pollution/contamination.

    Recently, it’s been discovered that the fracturing process creates NEW fissures/cracks/paths for the gas to travel outside the wells, and up into the aquifers. so, even a well that doesn’t leak, can still contaminate the water supply.

    Let’s not forget, the drinking water has changed from potable to poisoned in these fracking areas.

  23. For all you science lovers, the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s quote mirrors the conclusions of the EPA.

    Local water use drops the water table, requiring a new/deeper water well. Poor or deteriorated water wells, which are gas permeable, allow localized (near-surface) methane to migrate in.

    Ironically, very similar laws of physics are the reason why chemicals almost a mile down will come back up the gas well and not migrate into the water table.

    Those who disagree are just not science literate or are trying to capitalize on our science illiteracy (as recently described by the founder of Greenpeace).

  • Who Will Be Speaker of the PA House on February 28?

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