State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

New York Times Raises Concerns about Hydrofracking

Hydrofracking makes natural gas more attainable but at the same time puts a strain on our drinking water. Source: NYTimes

Recently, the New York Times published an investigative article where the writer explored the dangers posed to our water supplies by the hydrofracking process and claimed that the effects to both health and the environment are much more severe that was previously assumed.  High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, is a new way of drilling for natural gas that breaks apart rock formations in order to release the gas by inserting sand and chemicals mixed with water at high pressure into the rocks.  The New York Times acknowledges that there is support for natural gas from environmentalists and lawmakers alike as they say, respectively, that it is less damaging to the environment than coal and oil and that it will help to create jobs.  However they also point out its damaging consequences due to the millions of gallons of water that are filled with “highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene, radioactive elements like radium… [and] other carcinogenic materials [that] can be added to the waste water by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself”.

According to documents linked to and described in the article, the waste water resulting from this process is not always dealt with properly and often released into rivers with levels of radioactivity that exceed federal regulations.  This is the result of the fact that the water was originally sent to facilities inadequately equipped to properly treat it.  One state particularly at risk according to this investigation is Pennsylvania which has seen a recent rise in drilling with the amount of gas wells almost doubling since 2000.  According to this article, unsafe waste water is often released into rivers near drinking-water plants as sewage treatment plant operators admit that they are often unable to remove the necessary amount of radioactive material.

These ideas have sparked governmental discussions with Massachusetts Representative Edward J. Markey requesting a “full investigation into exactly how fracking is done and what it does to our drinking water and environment” while noting that “Americans should not have to consume radioactive materials from their drinking water as a byproduct of natural gas production.” Although this problem is not limited to Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator Bob Casey has been particularly active sending letters both to the Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator requesting increased monitoring of the contamination in Pennsylvania’s water and noting that in the past several years, during the time when there was increased drilling, there had not been inspections of drinking water intake sights.  Senator Casey also pointed out that the necessary officials had not always been notified of studies that had taken place and called for increased disclosure to the public in the future.

These organizations have responded in various ways, but have agreed to look into the problems raised and that testing is necessary.  Katherine Gresh of DEP noted that they are “evaluating assertions made not just in the article but the additional comments and recommendations [they] have received.”  DEP’s Acting Secretary Judge Michael Krancer stated that while they “think it is safe” and that “there are drinking water standards” he would pursue the requested testing in the situation that he is confirmed as DEP secretary.  There are also those, such as the former DEP Secretary John Hanger, who claim that there is nothing to worry about since experts in the related fields have done the necessary research to make sure that there is not a problem and since the majority of waste water is recycled on site.  And so, while there are some disagreements over the severity of the problem, the majority of people believe that increased testing would be beneficial and would ensure that citizens are not exposed to dangerous levels of radioactive material and harmful chemicals in their drinking-water supply as a result of hydrofracking.

Columbia Water Center demonstrates research-based solutions to global freshwater scarcity.  Follow Columbia Water Center on Facebook and Twitter

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
12 years ago

The hydrofracking industry is signing up pseudo-scientists to help them push this devastating process in NY. Here in the Hudson Valley, the pseudo-scientists like George Baum, chair of the Kent NY Conservation Advisory Committee (yes, the town actually appointed a pro-polluter to their conservation commission!) stands to personally profit from this disgraceful, polluting practice. As we’ve come to learn, you just need to “follow the money” to see why they support fracking. Shame on the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who have sold out for the almighty dollar!

12 years ago

It’ll be too late when we’re able to light our tap water on fire. Freakin’ corporate shills.

Robert Weaver
12 years ago

So The_Truth … I think it is absolutely dumb that they hired a pro pollution person..isn’t another helping hand in a hurting matter the last thing we need i mean hes getting paid just to set his two cents on the table..