Fracking Impacts: Water Quality

Water concerns associated with general natural gas and shale gas extraction, including hydraulic fracturing, are already well known.

These can include:

  • Stress on surface water and ground water supplies from the withdrawal of large volumes of water used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Each time a well is fractured ("fracked") it requires massive amounts of water. It is estimated that the average well will use 5.6 million gallons per frack. If you figure an average family of 4 in Ohio uses about 300 gallons of water per day, the water used in one fracture would supply one household with water for 51 years.
  • Contamination of underground sources of drinking water and surface waters resulting from spills, faulty well construction, or by other means. To learn about the case of drinking water contamination in Dimock, PA, visit the U.S. EPA’s website.
  • Adverse impacts from discharges into surface waters or from disposal into underground injection wells.

Some highlights from the literature review include:

  • A recent Cornell University study connected the death of more than 100 cattle to exposure to fracking fluids.
  • A Duke University study found methane concentrations 17 times higher in drinking water wells within 1 km of fracking and shale gas extraction.
  • The Akron Beacon Journal conducted an investigation which found 1 million pounds of chemicals used at a single well site. Industry claims that this is not a problem because chemicals are only 1%  of the solution. But how much is 1% of 5-7 million gallons?  It is 50,000 – 70,000 gallons of chemicals. Moreover, drillers are not currently required to reveal all of the chemicals contained in those products.

Potential risks to surface and underground sources of drinking water might occur at various points in the hydraulic fracturing process. The likelihood of those risks causing drinking water contamination was evaluated during the EPA hydraulic fracturing study.

Contaminants of concern to drinking water include fracturing fluid chemicals and degradation products and naturally occurring materials in the geologic formation (e.g. metals, radionuclides) that are mobilized and brought to the surface during the hydraulic fracturing process.

The Ohio Environmental Council is working to strengthen oversight of this industry at Ohio’s state agencies.

We have asked the Ohio EPA to notify local authorities, especially flood plain managers when permits for wetland impacts are requested.

The OEC recommends ensuring that drillers don’t use streams or wetlands as their water source and that they work with Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to monitor impacts to streams and wetlands.

We have also pressed for the Ohio EPA to recommend to industry to avoid and minimize any impacts to wetlands before proposing mitigation (or replacement of naturally occurring wetlands with human-made wetlands).

Mitigation should be the least preferred alternative when it comes to wetlands.

The OEC has also made extensive recommendations to Ohio Department of Natural Resources. We’ve asked ODNR to require companies to foot the bill for baseline water quality and quantity testing, and to protect our drinking water by keeping drilling operations away from public water sources.

The OEC has also strongly recommended increased bonding and financial assurance in the case of accidents associated with shale gas drilling activities.