EPA Connects 'Fracking' To Water Contamination For the first time, a government study has tied contamination in drinking water to an advanced drilling technique commonly known as "fracking." EPA scientists found high levels of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing in the ground water of a small Wyoming town.

EPA Connects 'Fracking' To Water Contamination

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/143386908/143386893" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Lynn Neary.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency reinforced what many residents of Pavilion, Wyoming have long suspected. Chemicals from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, seem to be leaching into their groundwater. Fracking is a method used to extract natural gas and it's very common in the area around Pavilion. For years now, the residents have complained that their water smells bad and that pollutants in the water are harming their health.

Previous test by the EPA have found chemicals in the water, but the draft report released today is the first to establish an official link between the contamination and fracking. The gas industry has long denied any responsibility.

And for more on this story, I'm joined now by NPR's Elizabeth Shogren. And first, tell us more about what the report found.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: Well, for three years the EPA has been studying this area, which is a town in the Wind River Indian Reservation. And it drilled its own wells into the aquifer to see what was going on down there. They found lots of chemicals that shouldn't be there; things like benzene and glycols and alcohol.

SIEGEL: How did they establish a link between the chemicals and fracking, specifically?

SHOGREN: Well, some of these chemicals like the glycol and the alcohols don't occur there naturally. But they are found in the cocktail of chemicals that the industry injected underground to crack open this formation and help the gas be produced more quickly. So that's one of the ways they found out.

SIEGEL: Now, the EPA is careful to say that these findings are preliminary. Can they be applied to other places where fracking occurs?

SHOGREN: Well, what the scientists tell me is that this geological formation is very special, that the companies drill closer to the surface than they do in lots of other areas. And also, the drinking water there is closer to that area where they drill than it is in lots of other places. There are other parts of the country where there are shallow formations where they do use hydraulic fracturing. So it could apply elsewhere but it doesn't mean that this kind of problem is occurring everywhere.

In fact, what the experts tell me is that they don't have any cases before this where there was a contamination that was tied specifically to hydraulic fracturing.

SIEGEL: Did the natural gas industry respond to this draft report from the EPA today?

SHOGREN: Yes, the company that did this hydraulic fracturing was very upset with the report. They say that in fact it's just speculation and that EPA hasn't proven anything. They say that a lot of the chemicals could have been there by nature, or maybe EPA had introduced them its own drilling of the wells.

SIEGEL: So what happens? This is a draft report. What stands between it and becoming a final report?

SHOGREN: Well, the EPA will now put it out for review both by scientists and the public. If you have something to say, you can tell them what you think. And then after that we'll get a final report. And the EPA also is doing a much broader report of the impact of hydraulic fracturing and other gas development on drinking water across the country.

SIEGEL: Just to put this in context, fracking is a high priority for the natural gas industry. This is something very important to them.

SHOGREN: Well, it's not just a high priority to the natural gas industry. It's a high priority to President Obama. There is a gas boom going on across the country and gas prices are coming down. And in lots of ways, natural gas is a lot cleaner than the other sources of electricity that we use now, like coal. And so, there is a lot of tension in this and there's also a lot of interest in what's happening here.

SIEGEL: Okay. Well, thanks for talking with us about it.

That's NPR environmental correspondent Elizabeth Shogren.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.