Seeping Toxins and the Polluting of America’s Groundwater

There are new reports outlining the real and potential dangers of deep-depth ground wells in America including those involved in the fracking process. Deep earth wells are used primarily for either toxic waste disposal or for deep earth fracking and gas extraction. Though advertised as safe and foolproof, wells which extend thousands of feet into the ground have exhibited signs of weakness, both in the well casing themselves and in the belief that rock formations where toxins are sequestered serve as infallible shields against upwards deep earth toxic migration. The consequences of this industrial practice have a very high potential to pollute America’s groundwater, thereby affecting the health and safety of Americans in fracking intensive regions.

Business analysts, including those involved in the deep well process, term “contingency” as the method for evaluating project risk. Risk, which industry analysts gently refer to as “unforeseen circumstances,”1 applies to the potential for catastrophic events to either earnings potential or the environment that can result from a given industrial practice. Examples of such catastrophic occurrences related to the energy industry include both the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown and the Macondo oil well blowout, which sent millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Whereas industry outsiders oftentimes consider these disasters as tragedies that should be avoided at all costs, energy corporations simply consider these risks as a part of doing business. In fact, referencing “The Owner’s Role in Project Risk Management” by The Committee for Oversight and Assessment of U.S. Department of Energy Project Management, National Research Council, “‘contingency’ is often understood to be a number added [to total costs]…to cover some element of risk or uncertainty.”1 Essentially, the industry knowingly puts a price on the environment and your potential health and well being.

This industrial method of quantifiable risk management has been employed by American deep well drilling companies. However, the so called ‘contingency costs’ of this industrial practice are starting to add up. Over the past few decades, industry has injected 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid into American soil under the presumption that layers of rock would encase the pollutants for thousands of years. Resultantly, fountains of toxic chemicals have sprung up across the country, everywhere from a Los Angeles dog park to South Florida, in spite of projections to the contrary.

2010 national testing on fracking deep drill wells (classified as Type 2 wells) reveal that 2,500 type 2 wells were failing nationally. In Texas, for example, one of every three type 2 wells was issued some sort of violation. When wells fail, there is great potential for toxic substance migration, which refers to the movement of toxins through layers of rock. If toxins reach groundwater sources, the groundwater source could be irrevocably polluted.

There is growing concern about the scale of the problem at hand. New evidence shows that toxic substances migrate much more quickly underground than previously imagined, leading to speculation that, in the words of Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program in Washington, “In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted…A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.” The only way to make sure this does not happen is to make sure fracking is diminished. Presently, there are loopholes in our current environmental regulations which enable to operate fracking companies to operate recklessly. Furthermore, there minimal national regulations that deal with fracking, letting states choose their own methods of operation, often at the expense of their own environment. If you want to protect America’s groundwater and environment as a whole, attend the “Stop the Frack Attack” rally on July 28 in Washington D.C.

By Thomas Cristofaro 

1 National Research Council. “6 Contingency.” The Owner’s Role in Project Risk Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2005.  Granberg for ProPublica Sources: R. Laurence Davis, Ph.D., University of New Haven; E.P.A. © 2012 ProPublica