As I read the EWG/NYT report yesterday about events at a well drilled and fractured in 1982 in Jackson county West Virginia, one thing I knew for sure from my years of experience as a lawyer, Public Utility Commissioner adjudicating cases, and as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was not to jump to conclusions. See the June 9th posting entitled the Regulatory Hot Seat for more on this fundamental point. I knew that there would be at least 2 versions of events. That was especially so, because the event about which we are now learning took place 29 years ago.
As I read the NYT piece that was obviously written in close coordination with EWG, another thing that I knew was the NYT gas reporter--the twice censured NYT gas reporter and censured by the NYT's own Public Editor--would not provide a full accounting of the events about which he wrote. He would leave out key information. He would slant other information. He would not accurately or fully describe key characters.
Energy In Depth does an excellent job in insuring that facts important to the gas industry are part of the public record. Yesterday it issued a must read response to the EWG/NYT Report. Go to http://www.energyindepth.org/ and follow the links. We have 2 sides to the story, and I am waiting for still more to emerge.
EID has correspondence from the West Virginia State Agency at the time of this 1982 event. Reading that state agency information is important to trying to recreate what happened.
The information developed by EID seems to suggest that fracturing may have been done in the Pittsburg sandstone, a shallow formation, prior to subsequent mapping by the West Virginia authorities to remove it from areas where fracturing was permitted, because it was learned that the Pittsburg sandstone contained potable water supplies. The EID information seems to suggest that fracturing at depth, thousands of feet below the water table did not cause the water contamination at the water well in Jackson County.
Jumping to conclusions one way or another about what happened in 1982 in Jackson County West Virginia this morning would be as silly as yesterday. Indeed the passage of time may well mean that figuring this out definitively may not be possible.
A few things, howerver, are certain this morning. As opposed to a rush to judgment, a full, fair discussion of this case is a good thing and not a bad thing, though again we must all be cautious in our expectations of what can be determined nearly 30 years later.
This case does remind us all that fracking has been going on for decades, a very long time, in many places around the country. If fracking is a major threat to water, as things like run-off, mining discharges, oil spills are, it is quite amazing that few or any cases have been confirmed of fracking fluids returning from depth to cause water contamination after decades and decades. Frack fluids would be as obvious in water supplies as a fireworks display in the sky.
I can say definitively that in Pennsylvania fracking has been done for decades, and high volume hydraulic fracturing at great depths for shale gas has been done in Pennsylvania in significant numbers since 2007. I can say that I personally ordered testing of water wells to determine if fracking was polluting water wells in Pennsylvania. All results came back negative. Duke University has also tested a significant number of water wells in Pennsylvania, and Duke University has found no contamination from fracking fluids or chemicals returning from depth.
I can also say that the on-going EPA study of fracking is a good thing and that I am pleased that 3 of the EPA case studies will be in Pennsylvania.
The 1982 events in Jackson County, West Virginia are legitimate grist for investigation but, whatever really happened then, those now inevitably murky events are less probative than the large body of much more recent experience with fracking.
Finally when will similar focus be placed on pollution that we know is causing massive damage to water resources--acid mine run-off that has destroyed 5,000 miles of streams in Pennsylvania, run-off of nitrogen and phosphorus that has sickened the Chesapeake Bay, leaking oil and other chemicals into ground water from industrial activities? No need to do a year long investigation of events back in 1982 on any of these actual water pollution events happening this morning to know that they are a major problem. We are in danger of losing track of what are the most real and most serious water quality issues that must be addressed.