Complaints of water contamination in two states have been tied to oil or gas drilling, according to an Associated Press investigation.
The AP looked at well water contamination complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas and found that two states — West Virginia and Pennsylvania — had linked some complaints to fracking. In Pennsylvania, since 2005, more than 100 well-water contamination complaints have been confirmed, meaning that the well water in question was found by authorities to be polluted, There were nearly 900 complaints claiming that drilling operations had affected private well water in the state in 2012 and 2013 alone. West Virginia had about 122 complaints that claimed drilling was affecting well water over the last four years, with four of them linked to oil and gas drilling.
It’s unknown what sort of pollution caused the complaints that were confirmed to have been due to fracking — it could have been chemicals from the fracking operation, which oil and gas companies aren’t federally obligated to release, or methane, which according to the AP is the more common form of fracking-related water pollution.
The AP investigation also found that the states’ policies regarding the release of complaint data differed drastically. Starting in 2011, the AP writes, “the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection aggressively fought efforts by the AP and other news organizations to obtain information about complaints related to drilling,” while Texas provided reporters a detailed spreadsheet “almost immediately” upon request.
The investigation sheds light on the hundreds of complaints made in these four states alleging contamination from drilling operations, and it adds to evidence that fracking can pollute well water. A July Pennsylvania study found the methane concentration of residential water wells at homes one mile from a fracking well was six times higher than it was in homes located farther away from wells, while levels of ethane, another natural gas component, were 23 times higher in homes closer to fracking wells. Fracking has been tied to other instances of water contamination as well — an October report found that in New Mexico, chemicals from fracking waste pits have contaminated water sources at least 421 times.
The investigation also comes on the heels of another not yet published study on oil and gas drilling’s impacts. The study, presented last week at the American Economic Association’s annual meeting, found that living close to a fracking operation increases the risk of low birth weight in a newborn baby by more than half, and and doubles the baby’s risk of a low Apgar score, a scale that summarizes of the health of newborns. However, water contamination wasn’t the likely culprit in the study: the mothers in the study who had access to monitored public water had babies that were of similar health as mothers who relied on private wells, which are more likely to be affected by fracking.