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Scientists Find 'Alarming' Levels of Chemicals Around Barnett Shale


From Texas Standard:

The Environmental Protection Agency recently concluded that contamination of drinking water from fracking isn’t as widespread as previously feared. But is the panic over water contamination a thing of the past? A new study is re-igniting the fears of some.

The recent study checked the water quality at 550 wells across 13 Texas counties along the Barnett Shale. It’s one of the largest independent surveys on water near fracking sites ever conducted in the U.S., and the conclusions are alarming.

The Barnett Shale, a gas reservoir located near the Dallas-Forth Worth area, spans at least 17 counties. It’s believed to have more usable natural gas than any onshore oil field in the country. But the shale in the area has a reputation for being naturally hard to drill into, so it was largely untapped — until hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, came along.

According to one of the study’s four lead authors — Zacariah Hildenbrand of the University of Texas at Arlington — fracking comes with some significant risks. Though it may be a great method for extracting natural gas and creating jobs, fracking’s also potentially contaminating potable water with the chemicals used in the process. Hildenbrand says the Barnett Shale study found that “where there is more drilling, there are more abnormalities.” By abnormalities he means chemicals, some of which are quite harmful.

In the counties where drilling is more prevalent, the drinking water is at risk.

The new study found that, of all the wells tested, about 20 percent of them contain water that would be deemed unsafe to drink by EPA standards. There are some areas where you wouldn’t even be able to bathe.

“If the water contains chemical compounds that can be absorbed through the skin, it could accumulate in your body over time and could have long term health effects, like leukemia or anemia," Hildebrand says.

“If you’re living in the Barnett Shale area, it’s best to check your well for abnormalities."

There are various treatment options for purifying water, such as carbon or reverse osmosis filters. These filters can protect against harmful chemicals that seep into wells during the fracking process.

So what’s Hildenbrand’s advice for people living around the Barnett Shale?

Get your water checked. ASAP.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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