From the NY Times: For decades, oil and gas industry executives as well as regulators have maintained that a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that is used for most natural gas wells has never contaminated underground drinking water.
The claim is based in part on a simple fact: fracking, in which water and toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the ground to break up rocks and release the gas trapped there, occurs thousands of feet below drinking-water aquifers. Because of that distance, the drilling chemicals pose no risk, industry officials have argued.
“There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one,” Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, said last year at a Congressional hearing on drilling.
It is a refrain that not only drilling proponents, but also state and federal lawmakers, even past and present Environmental Protection Agency directors, have repeated often.
But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.
Current and former E.P.A. officials say this practice continues to prevent them from fully assessing the risks of certain types of gas drilling.
“I still don’t understand why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake,” said Carla Greathouse, the author of the E.P.A. report that documents a case of drinking water contamination from fracking. “If it’s so safe, let the public review all the cases.”
Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, dismissed the assertion that sealed settlements have hidden problems with gas drilling, and he added that countless academic, federal and state investigators conducted extensive research on groundwater contamination issues, and have found that drinking water contamination from fracking is highly improbable.
“Settlements are sealed for a variety of reasons, are common in litigation, and are done at the request of both landowners and operators,” Mr. Wohlschlegel said.
Still, the documented E.P.A. case, which has gone largely unnoticed for decades, includes evidence that many industry representatives were aware of it and also fought the agency’s attempts to include other cases in the final study.
Read the rest: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/us/04natgas.html?src=recg