Blog

Mar
01
Problems With Hydrofracking You Didn't Know

There were more than 493,000 active natural-gas wells in the United States in 2009, almost double the number in 1990. Around 90 percent have used hydrofracking to get more gas flowing, according to the drilling industry.

Gas has seeped into underground drinking-water supplies in at least five states, including Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia, and residents blamed natural-gas drilling.

Air pollution caused by natural-gas drilling is a growing threat, too. Wyoming, for example, failed in 2009 to meet federal standards for air quality for the first time in its history partly because of the fumes containing benzene and toluene from roughly 27,000 wells, the vast majority drilled in the past five years.

In a sparsely populated Sublette County in Wyoming, which has some of the highest concentrations of wells, vapors reacting to sunlight have contributed to levels of ozone higher than those recorded in Houston and Los Angeles.

Industry officials say any dangerous waste from the wells is handled in compliance with state and federal laws, adding that drilling companies are recycling more wastewater now. They also say that hydrofracking is well regulated by the states and that it has been used safely for decades.

But hydrofracking technology has become more powerful and more widely used in recent years, producing far more wastewater. Some of the problems with this drilling, including its environmental impact and the challenge of disposing of waste, have been documented by ProPublica, The Associated Press and other news organizations, especially out West.

And recent incidents underscore the dangers. In late 2008, drilling and coal-mine waste released during a drought so overwhelmed the Monongahela that local officials advised people in the Pittsburgh area to drink bottled water. E.P.A. officials described the incident in an internal memorandum as “one of the largest failures in U.S. history to supply clean drinking water to the public.”