In the culmination of a court case running for seven years, a jury in Pennsylvania found that Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation had been negligent and had contaminated the drinking water of two families near Dimock, Pennsylvania. $4.24 million was awarded to the two families. Cabot began drilling and fracking the Marcellus shale formation near Dimock in 2008.
As I have blogged about, a series of ProPublica reports identified instances where it was claimed that ground water had been contaminated in drilling areas across the United States. The film Gasland showed examples of combustible tap water (methane in tap water) and other effects in drinking water attributed to fracking.
The serious concerns about hydraulic fracturing’s potential impact on drinking water, human health and the environment had become serious enough that Congress appropriated funding for the EPA to undertake a major study of hydraulic fracturing and its impact on drinking water.Needless to say there is a lot of money and jobs involved. Hence, the study was very controversial and the oil/gas companies did not cooperate. Based on the limited evidence the EPA was able to collect, the study's draft executive summary said that it had not found evidence of "systemic, widespread effects on drinking water". But even the study's Science Advisory Board (SAB) disagreed with the conclusion, saying the evidence did suggest a wider problem.
A recent study by academics from Stanford in a peer-reviewed journal (Environ. Sci. Technol.,March 29, 2016, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b04970) has confirmed that fracking did pollute an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyoming. The authors state "that they have, for the first time, demonstrated impact to Underground Sources of Drinking Water (USDWs) as a result of hydraulic fracturing."
The U.S. is predicted to become the biggest oil producer in the world, ahead of Saudi. This is largely because of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and other well stimulation techniques, both for natural gas and oil. There are over half a million natural gas wells in the U.S. "Unconventional oil and gas" as fracking is often referred to has become a significant part of the U.S. economy employing millions.
But the environmental cost of fracking remains uncertain. In 2005 Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was an omnibus energy bill (that among many other things changed daylight savings time in the US). Among the provisions of the bill was one (the so-called "Halliburton loophole") that exempted hydraulic fracturing from protections under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act, which means that fracking has never been regulated at the federal level (EPA).
The 2005 bill, which was passed during the GW Bush administration, prevented the EPA from doing any assessment of the environmental impact of "wild west" drilling and fracking. However, in the last few years so many reports and two documentary films including Gasland have been circulating about water contamination from fracking that Congress authorized the EPA to do the study of the impact of fracking on drinking water quality.
Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. has asked the courts to set aside a jury’s recent verdict.