NEW MARTINSVILLE - Amid concerns about drinking water wells being contaminated with methane, federal regulators may use information from Wetzel County to study the environmental impacts of fracking.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday released its final research plan to evaluate the effects of fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, on drinking water supplies.
At the request of Congress, the EPA is working to better understand potential impacts of fracking on drinking water resources. The initial research results should be released to the public in 2012, while the final report should be delivered in 2014.
File Photo by Casey Junkins
The process of natural gas fracking will now be scrutinized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to see if it impacts drinking water.
The final study plan looks at the full cycle of water in fracking, from the acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals into the water, to the post-fracking stage. Officials will evaluate the management of flowback and produced or used water, in addition to the ultimate treatment or disposal of that water.
Wetzel County, combined with neighboring Greene and Washington counties in Pennsylvania to constitute a single study area, is one of 41 areas throughout the United States from which the EPA may use information to complete the study. Natural gas drillers have been working in the county for several years, and their operations are moving north and west.
"The EPA has been out here quite a few times to take samples. One of their inspectors was out here a lot this summer," said Rose Baker, a member of the Wetzel County Action Group, whose members have been keeping tabs on drilling activity throughout the county for the past few years.
"My neighbor's well went bad when they started drilling and fracking," she added.
Jeremiah Magers, who lives in southern Marshall County near Cameron, also complained of his water well being contaminated with methane shortly after gas drillers began operating near his home along Fish Creek. Magers could not be reached for comment for this report.
The EPA report also lists alleged stray gas, spills and changes in water quality throughout Wetzel County as possibly being included in the study. Baker said her spring water went bad as the drilling activity increased, noting she has not used it in more than a year.
"No one out here knew to test our water before they started drilling," she said. "This makes it hard to prove that the gas company caused (the contamination), but we think it did."
In addition to the Marcellus Shale, the EPA is also considering drinking water tests around North Dakota's Bakken Shale, Texas' Barnett Shale, Arkansas' Fayetteville Shale and Louisiana's Haynesville Shale.
Though the study will not be complete until 2014, Thursday's EPA report listed numerous chemicals and substances found in fracking fluid, flowback or wastewater from the fracking process, as well as naturally occurring materials that fracking can mobilize.
Fracking calls for drillers to pump millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth at pressures as high as 10,000 pounds per square inch.
Among the substances fracking activates, according to the EPA, are arsenic, barium, lead, radium and uranium. Some of the compounds the EPA notes are identified in flowback water are various forms of benzene, cyanide and toluene.