Water safety an issue as fracking begins

PARKERSBURG – The safety of water supplies remains an important issue as natural gas extraction related to the Marcellus Shale begins to move into the area, local public service district officials said.

The process of extracting the gas, fracking, uses sand, water and chemicals injected at high pressures to blast open shale rock and release the trapped gas inside, is a concern for many people.

The concern is the impacts these wells and drilling operations would have on water supplies. Newspapers have reported residents near such operations say their well water was contaminated with natural gas.

Randy Adkinson, manager of the Lubeck Public Service District, said he doesn’t have enough information for an opinion.

”I am not privy to any information that anyone else doesn’t already have,” he said.

However, maintaining the quality of their drinking water is the prime concern.

”Safety is obviously the upmost importance to us,” he said.

Todd Grinstead, general manager for Claywood Park Public Service District, said they pull their water from the Little Kanawha River for their 3,700 customers in Wood and Wirt counties. Pollution is always a concern, he added.

Grinstead is concerned for the potential of runoff of materials and brine water from different operations making its way into the river.

”We would have to take precautions,” he said.

Many of the gas operations are still outside their area, Grinstead said.

”They are a bit far away from us, but they are getting closer,” he said.

Representatives from other public service districts either declined to comment or didn’t return messages.

An ongoing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study on natural gas drilling and its potential for groundwater contamination has gotten tentative praise so far from both industry and environmental groups.

Glenn Paulson, the EPA’s science adviser, describes the project as “one of the most aggressive public outreach programs in EPA history.”

The final report won’t come out until late 2014. But a 275-page progress report was released in December and, for all its details, shows that the EPA doesn’t plan to address one contentious issue – how often drinking water contamination might occur.

Congress ordered the EPA to study the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which entails blasting a mixture of water, sand and hazardous chemicals at underground shale to release the gas or oil captured in the rock.

As a gas rush surged in parts of the Marcellus Shale region that underlies Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia concerns arose for the watershed that provides drinking water for 17 million people from Philadelphia to New York City.

For the study, the EPA is talking to experts from the industry, the environmental community, and universities.

It’s conducting its own research and using federal supercomputers to analyze the possibility of contamination.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.