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Is the government protecting our drinking water from fracking?

Is the government keeping our water safe from fracking? Not so much.
Is the government keeping our water safe from fracking? Not so much.David Zalubowski/AP Photo

Life cannot survive without water. Animals, plants and humans must have clean drinking water to live. In arid areas where an insufficient amount of water comes from the sky, farmers require water to irrigate their crops. Given how vital clean water is, one would think that federal, state, and local governments would regard protection of our water as top priority. But do they?

Last week, eight House Democrats asked the EPA to investigate the connection between fracking and water contamination, particularly water contamination incidents in Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and Texas that have been connected to fracking. At the same time, Republican Congressmen were attacking the EPA for over-regulating the gas industry.

The Democratic Congresspersons asked the EPA to investigate incidents it has already stopped investigating. Two of these cases were referred to the states to deal with. The third case was closed, but the investigator said more research was needed to determine whether there was wrongdoing.

“While we appreciate that states act as the major source of regulation for unconventional drilling operations,” the Democrats wrote, “we believe the Environmental Protection Agency has a key role to play in oil and gas development.”

The states do not have a great track record in regulating water contamination from mining in general, and fracking in particular. Our rivers and ground water are continually poisoned by illegal dumping of pollutants from chemical plants, coal mining operators and the fracking industry. Just this year, rivers in North Carolina and West Virginia have been fouled by chemicals and by coal slurry either through spills or deliberate dumping.

Recent floods in Colorado resulted in tens of thousands of gallons of fracked oil being dumped into the Platte River. There have been numerous reports across the country of drinking water being contaminated by methane from gas drilling, and in some cases, the water has become flammable.

States are not particularly motivated to crack down on polluters. First of all, the budgets of the agencies that are charged with pollution enforcement have been cut. Secondly, states are reluctant to get too tough on the gas industry because the explosion of fracking has pumped needed tax revenue into government coffers, and a boost to recession-ravaged economies.

The EPA, under pressure from Republican members of Congress, seems to be bending over backwards to achieve “balance” when it comes to fracking. As they lean towards balance, they may be inadvertently allowing polluters too much of a free reign to poison us.

Much of the potential for water contamination comes from the disposal of the poison, polluted water used in fracking. Most of this waste is disposed of by dumping it un-treated into deep holes in the earth. The industry says that the poison is below the water table, and therefore it is safe. Perhaps that is true the majority of time, but clearly, it is not safe 100 percent of the time. There are incidents of contaminated and even flammable water near fracking sites every month. The question is, should drinking water be safe for all Americans all the time, or should government tolerate a certain amount of drinking water contamination in the interest of economic development?

If states simply required frackers to clean, re-cycle, and re-use the waste water they generate, it would do two significant things. First, it would stop the dumping of poison water into the earth. Secondly, it would reduce the amount of water taken from our streams and aquifers by fracking, leaving more water for humans, animals, and farmers. Since much of the fracking is taking place in semi-arid or arid areas, this is important.

States, however, seem to be loathe to demand these or other serious protections for drinking water. The gas industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars in lobbying, TV ads and campaign contributions to insure that policy makers keep their noses out of the industry’s business. The average citizen who wants their children to drink safe water can not compete with the gas and oil industry. To rub salt into the wounds, taxpayers subsidize the gas and oil industry over $4 billion a year while demanding little in return.

The bottom line is this. We need fracking to provide us a degree of energy independence. We need the economic development fracking provides. But fracking must be done properly to protect our water. Are citizens prepared to demand that when they vote in November?

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