An EPA study earlier this year suggested that hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas from shale beds could be a threat to drinking water, but that actual problems were “rare.” However, there may be reason to be concerned, because the number of spills related to fracking may be much higher than previously thought. The EPA’s previous efforts for estimating spills generated a broad range of numbers.
… approximately 100 to 3,700 spills annually, assuming 25,000 to 30,000 new wells are fractured per year.
That the EPA values ranged from low to ungodly—an order of magnitude and then some—comes from all the factors they tried to consider: the amount of fluid used in each well, proximity of wells to drinking water sources, what mixture of the over 1,000 chemicals(!) used in fracking fluids were most common, the quantity of chemicals used, disposal techniques, storage, and more. With such a large number of variables and a broad range of values available at each step, the estimate was, at best, a rough estimate. Supposed “real world data,” mainly based on self-reporting, showed 457 spills over a period of six years—76 spills a year. Such a low number seemed to suggest an equally low threat.
But that now seems like the actual number of spills is many times higher.
The analysis, published Feb. 21 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed 6,648 spills in four states alone—Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania—in 10 years.
That’s 665 spills a year from four states. Granted, those states are some of the most active when it comes to fracking, but they’re hardly the whole picture. If the numbers hold true across the country, then the annual number of spills would be around 1,600—more than 20 times higher than previously indicated.