A History of Hydraulic Fracturing

1908: An early form of hydraulic fracturing was used to separate granite from bedrock.

1947: Hydraulic fracturing was used for the first time to extract natural gas.

1949: Halliburton becomes the first company to use hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas at an industrial scale. The technology used then bore little resemblance to what is used in contemporary fracking procedures. Only natural gas present in loose geological formations was accessible for extraction, because drilling operations couldn’t use the same pressures or scale that they can today.

1974: Congress passes the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to protect underground sources of drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires Underground Injection Control (UIC) permits under the SDWA for any injection of a fluid (42 U.S.C. Sections 300h to 300h-8). EPA bans injection of most hazardous materials and mandates regulation of all injected materials. The EPA rules that hydraulic fracturing does not fall under SDWA responsibility, because it’s primary cause is extraction of natural gas, rather than injection hazardous material. Because of this, fracking operations were able to proceed without new regulation under SDWA.

1987: An EPA report indicated water contamination in Jackson County, West Virginia. The report showed that frack fluid had leaked from fractures in a well drilled by Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company and into the private water well of James Parson.

1980s/early 1990s: Horizontal drilling is combined with hydraulic fracturing for the first time on a frack job of the Barnett Shale in north Texas.

1996: Fracking in Alabama results in a lawsuit against EPA by the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation (LEAF v. EPA) alleging that injection of fluids for hydraulic fracturing must be regulated by EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). 1997: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (Atlanta) flatly rejects EPA’s legal position in LEAF v. EPA. The court concluded that injection for the purposes of fracking must be regulated by EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The federal district court stated: “[We] conclude that hydraulic fracturing activities constitute underground injection under Part C of the SDWA. Since EPA’s contrary interpretation could not be squared with the plain language of the statute, we granted LEAF’s petition.…” Further, the court stated that, “… as LEAF correctly notes, wells used for the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids fit squarely within the definition of Class II wells. Accordingly, they must be regulated as such.”

2001: EPA begins a study of the impacts of fracking on drinking water stating: “As a result of the … lawsuit on hydraulic fracturing of coal bed methane wells, the EPA recognizes this issue raises concerns and is conducting an investigation to evaluate the potential risks to … drinking water.”

2001: Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force urges EPA to conclude that EPA should not regulate fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

2003: President George Bush and VP Cheney back a sweeping national energy bill that includes a provision to exempt fracturing from EPA drinking water regulation. This provision backs up the exhisting exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

March, 2004: Near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, gas seeped into the home of 64-year-old Charles Harper and his 53-year-old wife, Dorothy, from one of several frack wells next to their property. The gas collected until it exploded and, according to court records and news reports at the time, reduced the home to a pile of rubble. Debris was found across the road. The bodies of the Harpers and their grandson, Baelee, were discovered under piles of debris from the house.

June 2004: EPA’s report on fracking says fracking fluids are toxic and some portion of these toxic fluids remain in the ground. However, the report concluded that “injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coal bed methane wells poses little or no threat” to drinking water supplies and “does not justify additional study at this time.”

July 2005: The U.S. Congress passes the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (signed in August by the President), which includes a provision codifying that Congress never intended for hydraulic fracturing to be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (as also evidenced by decades of precedence.) Prior to this, EPA had authority to investigate and regulate fracking.

September 2005: EPA’s Inspector General stops her investigation stating the question of EPA conducting a fraudulent study is no longer relevant since Congress had exempted the practice of fracking from the law.

2006: Drilling fluids and methane began bubbling from the ground near a gas well in Clark, Wyoming. A total of 8 million cubic feet of methane was released, and a shallow water well was found to be contaminated with fracking chemicals.

November-December 2007- At least 22 water wells in Bainbridge, Ohio were contaminated with drilling chemicals, one of which exploded due to methane released from well water.

July 2008: The Ohio Department releases a 64 page report on the natural gas invasion of aquifers in Bainbridge township. They link the chain of incidents to “inadequate cementing of the production casing” and over preservation of the well for 31 days.

September, 2009: 13 wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania were contaminated with methane. One of the 13 wells exploded. The gas company responsible for the culpable drilling project was forced to compensate residents and build a pipeline to supply safe drinking water.

November 2009: A fracking wastewater impoundment caught fire and exploded in Avella, Pensylvania. Flames went 200 feet into the air, burned for six hours, and produced a thick, black smoke cloud visible ten miles away. Soil tests conducted at the site found arsenic at 6,430 times the permissible level and tetrachloroethene (a carcinogen and central-nervous-system suppressant) at 1,417 times the permissible level.

June 2009: Representatives DeGette and Hinchey in the House, and Senators Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) in the Senate introduce the Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC ACT). The act would repeal hydrofracking’s exemption the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).. The act does not pass.

July 2009: Records show roughly 58,000 active gas wells in Pennsylvania.

January 2010: Gasland, by Josh Fox, premiers at the Sundance Film Festival. The film shows clips of residents lighting their water on fire due to high concentrations of methane in their tap water. The director attributes this contamination to fracking.

July 2010: After fracking operations began on a Clearville farm, elevated arsenic levels on farmland cause a farmer’s livestock to lose control of motor-skill, and suddenly die.

December 2010: The Hagy family in Jackson County, West Virginia, sues four oil and gas companies for contaminating their drinking water, saying their water had “a peculiar smell and taste.” The parents, as well as their two children, suffer from neurological symptoms.
February 2010: Steve Heare, director of EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division, says: “I have no information that states aren’t doing a good job already” with respect to regulating hydraulic fracturing.

February 2010: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), launches an investigation into potential environmental impacts from hydraulic fracturing. Citizen reports from numerous communities are filed with Waxman claiming that hydraulic fracturing has led to ground water contamination and public health risks.

June 2011: A well blowout in Clearwater County, Pa., resulted in a gas explosion and a 16-hour uncontrolled spill of about a million gallons of toxic wastewater into a creek in Moshannon State Park.

May 2011: The state Agriculture Department quarantines 28 head of cattle on a farm in central Pennsylvania after they came in contact with wastewater leaking from a natural gas well holding pond. Farmers contacted the state after noticing that grass had died in the area. Tests found chloride, iron and other chemicals in the wastewater.
November 2011: By request of the US Congress, the EPA issues a Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources, to be completed by 2014.

December 2011: The EPA releases its draft report on Pavillion, Wyoming. The report says, “detections of high concentrations of benzenes, xylenes, gasoline range organics, diesel range organics and … hydrocarbons in ground water samples from … wells near pits indicates that (frack) pits are a source of shallow ground water contamination,” the report continues. At some wells the researchers found “water near-saturated in methane” and in deep water wells, they also found chemicals used during the fracking process: gasoline, diesel fuel, BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene), naphthalenes, isopropanol, and a whole slew of other things that you’d rather not drink. The report continues: “Detections of organic chemicals are more numerous and exhibit higher concentrations in the deeper of the two monitoring wells … (which) along with trends in methane, potassium, chloride, and pH, suggest a deep source of contamination.” Their observations of chemical reactions in the field led them to suggest that upward migration of chemicals from deep underground is the culprit. They also found that the reports companies filed detailing jobs listed chemicals as a class or as “proprietary,” “rendering identification of constituents impossible.”

January, 2012: Youngstown, Ohio is racked by its 12th earthquake of the year. The earthquakes were triggered by a D&L Energy Injection well.

January 2012: Records show over 64,000 active oil and gas wells in Ohio- only a small portion of which are fracked, but all of which can be easily converted to a frack well.

January, 2012- After thousands of reported cases of water contamination, and millions of accidents associated with fracking, President Obama voices his support for natural gas extraction during his State of the Union address.


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