Published on May 8, 2015
A new study has shown that a chemical used in fracking was found in the drinking water of 3 homes near Chesapeake Energy Corporation’s fracking operations in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. The fracking chemical 2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE) is used as a foaming agent in fracking fluid; the affected homeowners sued the fracking company after water from their wells foamed white and smelled of gas. While Chesapeake Energy never admitted responsibility, it settled the lawsuit and bought the three homes with the polluted water. This study analyzed the water from the homes using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this study is one of the first to scientifically show fracking chemicals getting into drinking water.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of releasing trapped gas and oil from geologic formations deep underground. A well is drilled, thousands of feet down to the shale, then a casing of steel and cement is inserted around the walls of the well. The casing is perforated in dozens of places next to the shale. Then fracking fluid, which can contain up to 39,000 gallons of chemicals per well, is injected into the well at high pressure. The fluid enters the shale through the drilled holes and breaks – fractures – the shale formation, allowing the gas trapped in the shale to escape into the well.
Fracking companies claim that because fracking occurs so deep under ground – below drinking water aquifers – the many hazardous chemicals used in fracking pose no risk to human health. 2BE is a solvent used in latex paint, varnishes, enamels, paint strippers, dry-cleaning compounds, and liquid cleaners. The chemical found in the three families wells, 2-BE, is known to cause tumors and birth defects in rats. The amount of 2-BE found in the drinking water was within safety regulations, but It is not yet known if 2-BE causes cancer or birth defects in humans.
The bigger concern is the possibility that other even more hazardous chemicals already known to cause birth defects and other reproductive harm in humans could similarly wind up in the drinking water of families. Many chemicals used in the fracking process, such as toluene, ethylene glycol, methanol, and ethanol, are known teratogens, meaning they are known to cause birth defects.
The study authors believe the fracking chemicals in the drinking water wells likely migrated from poor fracking well integrity. As a result of the lawsuit by the three homeowners, Pennsylvania now recommends that fracking companies extend the casings on wells at depths below 1000 feet. Of course, as Scott Anderson of the Environmental Working Groups points out, while drilling companies know how to make wells safer, “the fact is, they don’t always do so.”
Thornton Law Firm is currently investigating birth defect and other reproductive disorder claims against the fracking industry in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and other states. Thornton Law Firm currently represents many clients suffering birth defects resulting from parents’ chemical exposures. If you believe you or a family member has been harmed by nearby fracking operations, please tell us your story here, or contact our birth defect attorneys at 888-491-9726 for a free, confidential evaluation of your legal case.