Critics of fracking often raise alarms about groundwater pollution, air pollution, and cancer risks, and there are still many uncertainties. But some of the claims have little — or nothing— to back them.
For example, reports that breast cancer rates rose in a region with heavy gas drilling are false, researchers told The Associated Press.
Fears that natural radioactivity in drilling waste could contaminate drinking water aren’t being confirmed by monitoring, either.
And concerns about air pollution from the industry often don’t acknowledge that natural gas is a far cleaner burning fuel than coal.
David Risser, an epidemiologist with the Texas Cancer Registry, said in an email that researchers checked state health data and found no evidence of an increase in the counties where the spike supposedly occurred.
And Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a major cancer advocacy group based in Dallas, said it sees no evidence of a spike, either.
Concerns about the potential problem also led to regulatory changes. An analysis by The Associated Press of data from Pennsylvania found that of the 10.1 million barrels of shale wastewater generated in the last half of 2011, about 97 percent was either recycled, sent to deep-injection wells, or sent to a treatment plant that doesn’t discharge into waterways. Link
So what problems does fracking create? The most dramatic and popularly reported problem is that of burning tap water: hold a match next to a running tap and the methane contained in the water (methane is the main component of natural gas) will burst into flames. Gasland and many other sources have asserted that this is due to fracking. The burning water is a fact; whether it has anything to do with fracking is another matter altogether. Like much in science, the facts are more complicated.
The first thing to understand is that water wells are shallow. The deepest private residential wells go perhaps a couple hundred meters, though most are much shallower. Fracking takes place kilometers deeper underground; and in most places, the fracked shale beds are separated from the surface watersheds by multiple rock formations of different types. There’s little or no transference of anything — gas or liquid — between fracked layers and surface layers; they’re simply too far apart and separated by too much rock.
When the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission investigated the burning water of the well owner most prominently featured in Gasland, whose tap water was gray and actually effervesced, they found that his methane was naturally occurring and had nothing to do with any natural gas drilling. His water well had been drilled directly into a shallow natural gas deposit. Nevertheless, Gasland portrayed this as a consequence of fracking, which is wrong at two levels.