James Inhofe Makes Questionable Claims On Fracking, Water Contamination

The following post first appeared on FactCheck.org.

Sen. James Inhofe says there has never been “an instance of ground water contamination” caused by hydraulic fracturing — fracking — for oil and natural gas. Inhofe’s office told us he is referring only to “the physical act of cracking rocks through hydraulic fracturing.” But drilling operations that involve fracking include other actions that have caused contamination.

A peer-reviewed study published in 2014 found that drinking water wells near fracking sites in Pennsylvania and Texas were contaminated with methane that had the chemical signature of gas normally found only deep underground.

Rob Jackson, a Stanford University professor of earth system science who coauthored the 2014 study, told us that drilling that uses hydraulic fracturing has “contaminated ground waters through chemical and wastewater spills, poor well integrity, and other pathways.”

The Fracking Boom

Fracking involves injection of a large volume of water, sand and a cocktail of chemicals (known as fracking fluid) deep underground to fracture the rock and allow gas to seep out. It is also used for oil extraction. (See EPA diagram at bottom.)

In common usage, the term “fracking” is sometimes used to describe the entire process of drilling for natural gas, but that isn’t accurate. After a well is drilled, cemented and prepared in other ways, only then is the well “fracked” — the actual stimulation of rock far beneath the earth’s surface to allow extraction of the gas.

Although hydraulic fracturing has been in use since the late 1940s, better technology and changing economics have led to a recent boom in natural gas extraction, in particular from shale formations. U.S. production of shale gas rose by almost 500 percent between 2007 and 2013, according to the Energy Information Administration.

With this boom, however, have come questions regarding water contamination —> Read More