In hydraulic fracturing – a method used in drilling for natural gas -fluids are shot underground in an attempt to break up rock and free the natural gas for harvesting. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracing, has long been a source of concern for regulators, worried that the method may contaminate the ground water near the drilling site. To investigate these concerns, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a study to examine the effects of hydraulic fracturing on sources of drinking water.
Concerns over hydraulic fracturing are heightened by the fact that drilling companies have been reluctant to reveal the nature of the chemicals used in the process. While the EPA’s investigation did not reveal any drinking water contamination in Texas, recent testing of private wells in Louisiana, uncovered at least 10 contaminated wells linked to the Barnett Shale exploration, according to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Energy.
What the EPA study did show, however, was that residents near hydraulic fracturing operations may be exposed to airborne toxic particles. Environmental regulators in Texas have confirmed that the air near some wells contains elevated levels of benzene, an industrial solvent that has been shown to cause cancer in both animals and humans.
Gas producing companies are rightfully nervous about these developments. Aside from the groundwater contamination issue, if evidence shows that hydraulic fracturing is causing the release of toxic gases, legal problems may be on the horizon. Any persons near the drilling site who were affected by the gases would have a potential legal claim, and, if enough people suffered health problems, a class action may loom. Additionally, the gas companies make use of hydraulic fracturing because it is effective and profitable. If the procedure is regulated or banned by the federal government, the companies will have to find a new method of drilling.