MYTH #7: “Fracking has never contaminated drinking water.”

A glass of water taken from a residential well after the start of natural gas drilling in Dimock, Pennsylvania, March 7, 2009. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

FACT: There are hundreds of cases of people having their private drinking water supplies contaminated by the fracking industry, particularly those who have their own boreholes. This can be caused by leaking wells, chemical spills, blowouts, flood damage, waste water disposal and underground migration of methane and other toxic chemicals.

A 30-month investigation by investigative news reporters at Public Herald found that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Pennsylvania has been routinely covering up hundreds of complaints about contamination of drinking water, by cooking the complaints and shredding documents.

Another Public Herald investigation shows that two public drinking water systems have been impacted and at least seven private drinking water supplies contaminated due to ongoing pollution being caused by a natural gas fracking operation of JKLM Energy in Potter County, Pennsylvania.

An open letter from the Physicians for Social Responsibility to Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania in October 2015 states: “Fracking threatens drinking water. Cases of drinking water contaminated by drilling activities, as well as waste disposal, are now proven. These include research studies conducted in Pennsylvania addressing the pathways of contamination and hundreds of documented drinking water contamination cases.” You can also read the full PSR report, which is an excellent compendium of the increasing amount of research into the health and environmental effects of fracking (and we challenge anyone to read this report in its entirety and conclude that there’s nothing to be concerned about in this country). This letter to President Obama is an excellent summary if you’re not keen on long reports.

So how come supporters of shale gas can keep claiming that there have been no incidents of fracking contaminating water supplies? Well, this defence often relies on a very narrow definition of fracking – in this case, the part of the whole unconventional gas extraction process that involves pumping the frack fluid down the well and fracturing the rock deep underground. If the water contamination is caused by a leaking frack well, or spills of frack fluid or chemicals, or flood damage, or any other part of the process that doesn’t involve breaking rock thousands of feet below the surface, they can claim that, ‘Well, that’s not fracking.” However, if you have lost your water supply and have to rely on the gas company providing you with tankers of water for the rest of your days (and were asked to sign a gagging order preventing you from talking to the media about what had happened), it probably doesn’t matter much which part of the gas extraction process has put you in such an invidious position.

There are, however, other reasons why environmentalists are urged to embrace fracking, such as Myth #8 …

MYTH #8: “FRACKING IS A BRIDGE FUEL TO A LOW-CARBON ECONOMY.”

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