NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Faulty Wells, Not Fracking, Blamed for Groundwater Pollution

March 14, 2012

The process of fracking, whereby natural gas producers blast sand, water and active chemicals into shale rock deep underground, has come under attack from a number of critics since its wide adoption.  Opponents charge that the process, which releases natural gas from the rock, allows much of that gas to seep into the ground and contaminate the water supply, says the Wall Street Journal.

However, the fracking industry has responded that the problem of contamination is not inherent in the fracking process, but is caused only by poor cement use in the construction of fracking wells.

  • Mark Boling, executive vice president and general counsel of Southwestern Energy Co., stated that upon examining several incidents in Colorado and Pennsylvania where water was contaminated, the integrity of the well's concrete was almost always at fault.
  • A. Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser with the Environmental Defense Fund, estimates that cement in about one in 10 wells fails to work properly and requires remedial work.
  • These findings have caused New York and Pennsylvania to adopt more stringent standards for the construction of wells, with Ohio expected to issue new rules this week.

The findings of faulty cement come only two years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill, which some federal investigators attributed to faulty cement.  While some opponents claim that the problems cannot be due entirely to poor construction (citing fracking as a whole as the problem), others seem content with industry efforts to improve construction quality.

  • Among the most common reforms that will likely be included in future standards is the requirement that companies use three interlocking pipes instead of two, thereby further limiting the ability of gases to escape the well.
  • Chesapeake Energy Corp., the nation's second largest natural-gas company, estimates that the changes would increase costs per well by up to $500,000, or about 10 percent.
  • The company was also forced to pay $900,000 in fines and payments to the state of Pennsylvania for its own contamination problems.

Source: Russell Gold, "Faulty Wells, Not Fracking, Blamed for Groundwater Pollution," Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2012.

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