From Colorado to New York, natural gas drilling is putting drinking water at risk.
By Jeff Deasy
The ordinary tap water available to 12 million residents in the New York Metropolitan area has been reliably clean and flavorful since 1842, when an aqueduct was built to bring pristine water from upstate to the city. For years the prideful city’s water is a consistent winner in blind taste tests. Easy to take for granted, it comes as a shock to learn it is now endangered by natural gas drilling.
For a couple of years there have been media reports from Pennsylvania to Texas of drinking water so tainted that folks are able to light the water from their kitchen tap on fire. There have been more than 300 instances of contaminated water in Colorado since 2003, and more than 700 instances in New Mexico, according to Bruce Baizel, senior staff attorney with Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project. In West Virginia a once lushly forested area has been transformed into a dead zone.
Fracking in Gasland
Josh Fox made the Sundance award-winning documentary “Gasland” after he was asked to lease his land for gas drilling. That led him to embark on a cross-country odyssey. As the website for the show “Now” on PBS explains, his journey led to a film that “alleges chronic illness, animal-killing toxic waste, disastrous explosions, and regulatory missteps.” It will be broadcast on HBO through 2012. The DVD goes on sale in December of 2010.
“Gasland” shows tap water being set ablaze and explores the drilling process known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a technology developed by Halliburton. Millions of gallons water, chemicals and sand are injected into the ground under high pressure, cracking shale and tight rocks to allow gas to flow more freely from the well. It is a toxic mixture and believed to be the prime culprit in the pollution of groundwater in areas surrounding drilling sites. Even drinking water hundreds of miles from a well can be contaminated.
Hundreds of Thousands of New Wells Coming
It is hard to believe that risking the health of millions in order to extract natural gas would even be considered, but the N.Y.S. Department of Environmental Conservation is close to issuing a final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing near a major watershed in upstate New York. The SGEIS is expected to facilitate the process for fracking near a vital watershed. Concerned citizens are asking for a delay until DEC can study and integrate the conclusions of a full report on gas drilling from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Residents of New York are not alone in facing a future threat to the safety of their drinking water. According to an article published by ProPublica in December of 2009:
In the next 10 years, the United States will use the fracturing technology to drill hundreds of thousands of new wells astride cities, rivers and watersheds. Cash-strapped state governments are pining for the revenue and the much-needed jobs that drilling is expected to bring to poor, rural areas.
Keep Drinking Water Safe
Incredibly, a loophole exempts natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Drilling companies don’t even have to disclose the almost 600 chemicals that might be used in fracking and find their way into drinking water. Fortunately, our friends at Food & Water Watch have provided a way for concerned citizens to make their voices heard by contacting elected representatives. Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. The organization challenges abuse of food and water resources by empowering people to take action.