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Thursday, January 17, 2019

by Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica

A recently published study by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington found elevated levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in groundwater near natural gas fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale.

While the findings are far from conclusive, the study provides further evidence tying fracking to arsenic contamination. An internal Environmental Protection Agency PowerPoint presentation recently obtained by the Los Angeles Times warned that wells near Dimock, Pa., showed elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater. The EPA also found arsenic in groundwater near fracking sites in Pavillion, Wyo., in 2009 — a study the agency later abandoned.

ProPublica talked with Brian Fontenot, the paper’s lead author, about how his team carried out the study and why it matters. (Fontenot and another author, Laura Hunt, work for the EPA in Dallas, but they conducted the study on their own time in collaboration with several UT Arlington researchers.) Here’s an edited version of our interview:

What led you guys to do the study?

We were sort of talking around lunch one day, and came up with the idea of actually going out and testing water in the Barnett Shale. We’d heard all the things that you see in the media, all the sort of really left-wing stuff and right-wing stuff, but there weren’t a whole lot of answers out there in terms of an actual scientific study of water in the Barnett Shale. Our main intent was to bring an unbiased viewpoint here — to just look at the water, see if we could find anything, and report what we found.

What kind of previous studies had been done in this vein?

The closest analog that I could find to our type of study are the things that have been done in the Marcellus Shale, with Rob Jackson’s group out at Duke University. Ours is set up very similarly to theirs in that we went out to private landowners’ wells and sampled their water wells and assayed them for various things. We decided to go with a list of chemicals thought to be included in hydraulic fracturing that was actually released in a congressional report. Our plan was to sample everyone’s water that we could, and then go through that list of these potential chemical compounds within the congressional list.

How did you do it?

We were able to get a press release put out from UT Arlington that went into the local newspapers that essentially called for volunteers to be participants in the study. For being a participant, you would get free water testing, and we would tell them our results. We were upfront with everyone about, you know, we don’t have a bias, we’re not anti-industry, we’re not pro-industry. We’re just here to finally get some scientific data on this subject. And we had a pretty overwhelming response.

From there we chose folks that we would be able to get to. We had to work on nights and weekends, because we had an agreement with EPA to work on this study outside of work hours. So we spent quite a few weekend days going out to folks who had responded to our call and sampling their water. But that wasn’t quite enough. We also had to get samples from within the Barnett Shale in areas where fracking was not going on, and samples from outside the Barnett Shale where there’s no fracking going on, because we wanted to have those for reference samples. For those samples we went door-to-door and explained to folks what our study was about.

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12 responses to “New Study Finds High Levels Of Arsenic In Groundwater Near Fracking Sites”

  1. Dominick Vila says:

    I suspect that findings like this is like drinking Kool Aid in tropical lands for Tea Party supporters.

  2. Michael Kollmorgen says:

    Arsenic and Old Lace anyone?

  3. Jim Myers says:

    And, of course, we can soon expect some of the Pro-Fracking crowd to condemn the study as biased and totally fabricated.

    And, besides that, scientific studies about heavy metals are simply old wives’ tales.

  4. 788eddie says:

    Maybe we could convince people that arsenic is really good for them.

    • RobertCHastings says:

      Naturally occurring arsenic is not bad for you. The hoopla a few months ago about arsenic in orange juice erupted into a confrontation between Dr. Oz and the former head of the CDC, who is now ABC’s medical correspondent. Oz was accused of creating an unnecessary scare over the levels of arsenic. Well just about two weeks ago, the EPA said the arsenic levels were too high. So, who do you believe? The best thing to do is NOT believe the guy who is paid by the industry but can at least claim some degree of impartiality. Theodoric Meyer in this article has done everything he could to clearly state what his findings were without coming out and stating that the arsenic levels will cause health issues.

      • Eleanore Whitaker says:

        Arsenic only occurs naturally in trace amounts. Not the ppm it does in fracking. If the EPA regs for compliance state its too high, you can check what the ppm levels should be for arsenic in water. You should believe the EPA for one reason. Some of the compliance levels for arsenic are not new. Arsenic in amounts above natural trace levels causes a host of illnesses. All you have to do if you want to know what the EPA compliance regulations for arsenic state is to make the comparison to what is compliant and what isn’t.

  5. Eleanore Whitaker says:

    Check the engineering facts on fracking. The drilling is done at unusually deep levels into the earth’s bedrock. The fracking process requires 21 chemicals used as a separator. One of which is benzene. Benzene is a known carcinogen. The same men drilling in the fracking process wouldn’t drink a glass of water within 200 miles of their drilling sites and they know it. It’s all about money.

    The equation for the Big Money Boys in Big Energy is Energy=Money. This is why no what the end results or consequences may be, they will continue to savage the earth with their money honey drilling and fracking.

    The reality is that the days of the ends justifying the billions in means is over. There are enough substitutes for fossil fuels to put an end to fracking. You can bet your boodles that these frackers won’t ever sign on the dotted line that their drilling into bedrock won’t sooner or later cause an underground earthquake fault line from opening wider and causing mass destruction. If those 21 chemicals don’t kill you first, that is.

    • rkief says:

      I wonder what would happen to the frequency of new frackings if the owner/operators (but not workers) were required to live in the immediate site area.

      • Eleanore Whitaker says:

        Good question. Most of the crews are temps who work on the projects until they are completed and then they are gone. The real problems take time to show up in air, water and soil when leaching begins after rain and snow events.

  6. Sand_Cat says:

    I’m sure the industry and its lackeys will produce lots of their pet scientists to say fracking has nothing to do with it, just as they do for all such problems. And “correlation does not mean causation,” but somehow there always seems to be correlation after correlation of bad things with industrial processes.

  7. Allan Richardson says:

    Element 33 should be in computer chips (and it is), not in potato chips, or water.

  8. JSquercia says:

    There’s a REASON the contents of the FRACKING mixture e kept SECRET as proprietary

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