The Environmental Protection Agency may have soothed the panic over fracking’s contamination of drinking water by concluding that the problem wasn’t as widespread as feared, but it doesn’t mean the problem is over. A recent study checked the water quality at 550 wells across 13 Texas counties along the Barnett Shale. It’s one of the largest independent surveys on water near fracking sites ever conducted in the US, and the conclusions are alarming.
One of the paper’s four lead authors, Zacariah Hildenbrand of the University of Texas at Arlington, speaks with the Texas Standard.
The Barnett Shale is a gas reservoir located near the Dallas-Forth Worth area that spans at least 17 counties. It’s believed to have more usable natural gas than any onshore oil field in the United States. However, the shale in the area has a reputation for being naturally hard to drill into, so it was largely untapped — until hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, came along.
Though fracking may be great for extracting natural gas and creating jobs, the method is potentially contaminating potable water with the chemicals used in the process, Hildebrand says. The Barnett Shale study found that “where there is more drilling, there are more abnormalities,” he says. By abnormalities, he means chemicals, some of which are harmful.
In the counties where drilling is more prevalent, the drinking water is at risk. In the study, it was found that of the wells tested about 20 percent of them contain water that would be deemed unsafe to drink by EPA standards.
There are some areas where you wouldn’t even be able to bathe. Hildenbrand says, if the water contains chemical compounds that can be absorbed through the skin, it could accumulate in your body over time and could have long term health effects, like leukemia or anemia.
If you’re living in the Barnett Shale area, it’s best to check your well for abnormalities, Hildebrand says. There are various treatment options to purify water, such as carbon filters or reverse osmosis filters. These filters can protect against harmful chemicals that seep into wells during the fracking process.
Some advice from Hildenbrand? Get your water checked ASAP