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Energy Industry Threatens Water Quality, Sways Congress with Misleading Data

The industry is misleading the public into a false choice between the economy and the environment.

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"The tone is that in general states do an adequate job of protecting water," said Michael Nickolaus, the report's author, special projects director for the GWPC and former director of Indiana's state Oil and Gas Division. "There are certain gaps in certain states ... it’s not a hundred percent world."

The GWPC report does not name the states that lack more stringent regulations, a detail that is important because one or two states can account for a large proportion of the drilling in the United States. To extract that information from the report would require analyzing all the state regulations included in the appendices (PDF) and repeating much of the GWPC's original research. Nickolaus also declined to name the states in an interview with ProPublica, saying that the GWPC was obliged to protect its members.

Nickolaus says well construction -- especially the cementing process that keeps drilling fluids and gas from seeping into groundwater -- is more important than the fracturing issue. But according to the report, state regulations about cementing are sometimes vague and often don't specify standards that makes the protection fool-proof.

While most states have regulations that protect drinking water near the surface, a third don’t require that the cement casing extends far enough to completely isolate wells from geologic layers and the deepest aquifers, according to the report. Twenty-two percent don't require the cement to harden before the well is used for fracturing, and don’t test cement quality and consistency -- one of the surest ways to protect against contamination.

Abrahm Lustgarten is a former staff writer and contributor for Fortune, and has written for Salon, Esquire, the Washington Post and the New York Times since receiving his master's in journalism from Columbia University in 2003.

 
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