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The AP today reports that a “landmark” study of one fracked well shows that, over a year’s time, it did not contaminate groundwater.

We’re very glad this is the case, especially for the neighboring community.

The meaning of testing one well

The fact that one well didn’t contaminate groundwater doesn’t prove that fracking is safe.  No one has ever claimed that every instance of fracking pollutes groundwater.  As any statistician worth their salt will tell you, a sample size of one does not a valid study make.

And the unnamed company that participated in the experiment knew its well was under scrutiny. I know that when my performance is being monitored, I am more likely to be at my best.

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that this was the Rolls Royce of gas wells – and likely unrepresentative of the types of wells for which regulations should be crafted. Especially since industry’s own data show that, 5% of the time, well casings fail immediately, and 50% fail within 15 years.

And the type of company willing to cooperate in this type of study (kudos to this unnamed company for participating) is probably a company less likely to have problems. 

So, it really isn’t surprising that, in this one instance, fracking didn’t pollute groundwater.

What is surprising:

“The study done by the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh marked the first time that a drilling company let government scientists inject special tracers into the fracking fluid and then continue regular monitoring to see whether it spread toward drinking water sources.”

Industry to public: “Trust us, despite the lack of science”

Industry and states have told us for years that the public shouldn’t worry about fracking, that it’s safe. 

On what basis have they made these guarantees?  If this is the first fracked well tested in this manner, apparently those guarantees are based on nothing but assumptions.

To emphasize: 70 years after fracking was invented, and about a decade after horizontal hydraulic fracturing kicked off the shale boom, this is the first time that a well was independently monitored before drilling/fracking and after to determine if groundwater pollution occurred.

What about the hundreds of thousands of other wells?

The sad state of regulatory affairs around fracking leaves citizens on their own.  If a drilling-impacted family wants baseline (pre-drilling) water quality tests, they have to pay for it.  If they want ongoing monitoring, they have to pay for it.  And these tests are expensive – running into the many thousands of dollars.  There are groups like ShaleTest who try to help out impacted citizens with testing, but frankly, this should be government’s role.

There are hundreds of thousands of other fracked wells around the country. And tens of thousands more will be fracked in the coming year.  It’s grand that this one well didn’t pollute groundwater.  But what about the rest?

It is no wonder communities around the country are banning fracking.  No matter if one well was proven “safe”. When it’s your drinking water and health at stake, the track record of the oil and gas industry, and current public oversight of fracking, simply cannot be trusted.