State Regulators Wary of Releasing Fracking Data While Feds Rein In Oversight

Natural gas is burned off next to water reservoirs used for fracking at an oil well site August 23, 2011 near Tioga, North Dakota. Hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking or hydrofracking, is the process of initiating and subsequently propagating a fracture in a rock layer, employing the pressure of a fluid as the source of energy The fracturing, known as a frack job is done from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations, in order to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas and coal seam gas. A new oil boom in western North Dakota has produced thousands of jobs as the Bakken formation is tapped for the liquid commodity. 
National Journal
Clare Foran
Jan. 6, 2014, 1:39 a.m.

Hun­dreds of com­plaints that drilling activ­ity may have con­tam­in­ated drink­ing wa­ter have em­an­ated from states where frack­ing is in use, with state reg­u­lat­ors con­firm­ing that con­tam­in­a­tion has oc­curred in some in­stances, ac­cord­ing to an in­vest­ig­a­tion by the As­so­ci­ated Press.

After re­quest­ing data from state reg­u­lat­ors in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Vir­gin­ia, AP found ma­jor dis­crep­an­cies between states in how com­plaint and con­tam­in­a­tion cases were re­gistered and re­cor­ded. There was also push­back from some state of­fi­cials over the re­lease of the data in states like Pennsylvania, while in oth­ers, such as Texas, reg­u­lat­ors did not hes­it­ate to provide the re­ques­ted in­form­a­tion.

The re­port shows con­firmed cases of well-wa­ter con­tam­in­a­tion in Pennsylvania and Ohio, al­though Ohio reg­u­lat­ors in­sist that this is un­re­lated to frack­ing. In West Vir­gin­ia and Texas, reg­u­lat­ors have not con­firmed aquifer con­tam­in­a­tion, but nu­mer­ous com­plaints of pos­sible con­tam­in­a­tion were re­ceived there. In West Vir­gin­ia, reg­u­lat­ors have re­ceived 122 re­cor­ded com­plaints in the past four years, while the Texas tally topped 2,000.

Al­though AP is quick to note that the num­ber of com­plaints re­gistered in each state make up only a small frac­tion of the total wells fracked, the re­port nev­er­the­less sug­gests that state reg­u­lat­ors, over­all, ap­pear wary of re­leas­ing data re­lated to frack­ing, a stance that en­vir­on­ment­al ad­voc­ates in par­tic­u­lar have found troub­ling.

The news comes at the same time that en­ergy ana­lysts say the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is un­likely to step up its over­sight of frack­ing ahead of the 2014 midterm elec­tions.

Re­u­ters re­ports that the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency may be eas­ing off ef­forts to en­force pen­al­ties against drillers for pos­sible con­tam­in­a­tion due to the fact that frack­ing has brought about ma­jor eco­nom­ic growth across the U.S.

The In­teri­or De­part­ment’s Bur­eau of Land Man­age­ment is work­ing to cre­ate frack­ing reg­u­la­tions that would re­quire drillers to fully dis­close all of the chem­ic­als used in drilling op­er­a­tions, but the rule has not been fi­nal­ized. EPA, mean­while, has ten­ded to de­fer to state reg­u­lat­ors in is­sues in­volving al­leg­a­tions of ground­wa­ter con­tam­in­a­tion, likely be­cause the agency is un­will­ing to ruffle feath­ers when frack­ing is seen as one of the few bright spots in the eco­nomy.

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