Next week is National Ground Water Awareness Week, and the timing couldn’t be better, as the national conversation about the effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking--the process of pumping toxic chemicals and water underground to release natural gas—heats up. (If you haven’t yet seen the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, it’s worth an evening.) The natural gas industry claims that fracking is safe, but many people who live in the areas where it’s taking place don’t think so.
On Sunday, the New York Times ran a frightening article on the Environmental Protection Agency’s lax regulating of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania. In a Grist article, EPA Lets Natural Gas Industry Brazenly Pollute My State’s Drinking Water, Tom Laskawy says that he was “utterly gobsmacked by this crack piece of reporting.” According to the Times, wastewater from fracking is full of salt, benzene, diesel fuel, and other toxic chemicals–and is far more dangerous (and radioactive) than the EPA or state environmental agencies admit. The toxic, radioactive wastewater is often sent to local sewage treatment plants that, in some cases, discharge it back into rivers. “The EPA has decided the best way to ensure no one panics about radioactive drinking water is by not testing for it,” Laskway reports.
Grist’s Christopher Mims reports that Pittsburgh’s drinking water is radioactive, thanks to fracking. “Residents of Pittsburgh—as well as potentially tens of millions of other everyday citizens in the Northeast corridor who rely on their taps to deliver safe water--are consuming unknown and potentially dangerous amounts of radium in every glass of water,” Mims writes. John Hanger, secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection until June 2010, confirmed this on his own blog. Mims predicts that New York state is next--and the drilling could threaten New York City’s drinking water.
In its announcement about Ground Water Awareness Week, the EPA reports that more than 90 percent of all public drinking water systems rely on ground water, and millions of Americans rely on ground water from aquifers to supply their private wells. The EPA's "Citizen's Guide to Ground Water Protection" encourages citizens to take an active and positive role in protecting their community's ground water supplies. Tell the agency--and every other official who will listen--that the serious issues around fracking and ground water matter to you.
The documentary "Gasland" exposes the deeply disturbing--even terrifying--effects of natural gas drilling on ground water.