Fracking is a controversial process to which gas companies are increasingly turning, in order to free up previously inaccessible supplies of natural gas. A soup of sand, water and various chemicals are injected under high pressure deep into sandstone formations, in an effort to break up the sandstone. Fracturing the sandstone in this way creates fissures through which the gas can escape, and allows for capture.
However, it has been alleged that the gas and other chemicals are seeping into groundwater supplies. The Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland focused on toxic and flammable tap water encountered by residents in Weld and Garfield Counties in Colorado.
Gas companies have denied any wrongdoing, but in some cases have been trucking in potable water for affected residents in some areas.
There's an even more damning problem. Gas companies that participate in fracking have so far been reluctant to identify just what the chemicals they use are. They view such information as proprietary, and thus refuse to release it.
For this reason, residents whose tap water has been impacted by fracking have no idea what's actually in the water.
It was in 2009 that lawmakers first attempted to pass the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, in an effort to shed light on the actual chemicals used in the soup that is forced into the ground during fracking operations. The bill did not succeed two years ago, but there is a renewed call for its passage.
Original sponsors of the bill, Colorado lawmakers Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, have since asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate the purveyors of fracking to determine if violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act have been committed by the use of more than 32 million gallons of diesel fuel during fracking operations.
The Colorado Independent reported on February 28 that diesel fuel, or various fluids containing diesel fuel, were used in fracking operations in 19 states between 2005 and 2009, according to an investigation conducted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In testimony to the Committee, the companies in question admitted to using diesel fuel.
While fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the exemption did not cover fracking operations that used diesel fuel.
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As a result, sewage treatment plants in at least three states were found to be releasing inadequately treated water containing these unknown chemicals into streams, rivers and lakes.
It was also determined that nearly 200 fracking wells were found to be producing wastewater containing hundreds or even a thousand times the acceptable amount of radioactive material based an accepted water safety standards.