Well, friends, it’s the study that was a long time coming: on Friday, EPA released a draft of their analysis of the effects of hydraulic fracturing – a technique used in drilling for natural gas – on groundwater in Wyoming. The findings shouldn’t surprise anyone who has seen the documentary Gasland; nor should they come as a shock to anyone who has come to regard claims of the oil and gas industry’s “safety standards” with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Major news sources around the country blew up with the results, with The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Boston Herald, and CNN Money all reporting the findings of EPA’s study. The three year analysis resulted in findings that both hydrofracking fluids and hydrocarbons were present in drinking water; residents in the area studied have been advised not to drink their own tap water. Yup – it’s almost like we’re in Mexico, or Southeast Asia.
Many who support continued expansion of domestic natural gas drilling as a source of US-based energy argue that natural gas is a cheap, readily available, and useable form of energy that will reduce our dependence on foreign sources. Industry officials see EPA as a threat to this, meddling in an issue that could create jobs immediately while providing a source of cheap fuel. What’s notable about this study, though, is that it wasn’t EPA’s idea. In fact, that study was performed at the request of the residents of Pavillion, Wyoming after the town’s residents began to notice strange odors and a taste to their tap water. Like residents in areas of Colorado and Pennsylvania, many find that their tap water has actually become flammable since natural gas drilling started in their area. Kind of like this:
Totally normal, right? I mean….it looks fun. Hilarious. A cool trick for parties.
Until you get thirsty.
Industry officials are arguing that EPA’s findings are the results of contaminated instruments (!!), and refute the claim that hydraulic fracturing poses any threat to groundwater. Personally, I wish someone would force these people to live in Pavillion, Wyoming for a couple of months – or anywhere else with flammable tap water, really – just to see how they like it. But that’s mean. What I don’t understand, however, is the following: let’s say for a moment that we’re not 100% sure that natural gas is the cause of the contamination. Let’s just pretend that we’re only 50% sure.
But we all depend on water to live. We depend on clean, uncontaminated water, which in some areas of the country is a truly precious resource. Even if we’re only 50% sure, aren’t those odds too high? Why would anyone in their right mind put a resources as precious and fundamental as our water source in jeopardy?
So I’ll stick to the same comment that I make when people discuss the risks of coal mining or offshore drilling: the next time someone dies in a wind farm, or there is a giant leak or spill at a solar facility, you let me know. Until then, I’ll be throwing my support behind renewable energy.
EPA’s study is currently in draft after three years of research. The final study will be released in 2012. Meanwhile, we, here at Spinach In Our Teeth, will be releasing a short “crunchie” on fracking and natural gas this week, for those of you who aren’t 100% on the basics of what the debate is about.