The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Drilling and Drinking Water

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted February 28, 2011

The New York Times published a story yesterday about drilling that does a major disservice to its readers. The front-page article poses several questions about drilling and drinking water, and implies that water supplies in some northeastern cities could be tainted. It is an implication that isn't supported by the facts.

We are looking at the article in its entirety (as are many others, including the Marcellus Shale Coalition and Hot Air), but we did want to quickly address the part that mentions API. Regarding the draft version of an API study, the article states:

"The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways." (Emphasis Ours)

This study was hardly "confidential." API provided the draft document to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and published the final version in 1991. It was not an industry secret that anyone was trying to bury. Rather, it is part of the industry's ongoing efforts to ensure responsible operations. And what the report actually concluded was:

"Because of the many conservative assumptions incorporated into this screening-level analysis, it can be concluded that the risks associated with the discharge of produced water to coastal Louisiana is small."

Or to put it bluntly, the study found the exact opposite of what the article states. And that's not the only case where the exact opposite appears to be more correct than the article's assertions. Former Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection secretary John Hanger took to his blog to counter a quote in the article:

"[T]hough I am quoted in the piece, this reporter never interviewed me. ... The words that I find myself saying in this piece were said by me somewhere at some time and in some context but they were not said in the context of an interview for this piece. The reporter never called me after January 18th for any purpose including to confirm the quotation that he put together for me. The reporter did not ask the new administration for my contact information after I left office...I was informed by agency radiation experts that the radiation levels were not a threat to truck drivers, workers at sewage treatment facilities or the public. ... I believe the agency staff were handling this issue in a serious, careful manner. I still believe that to be the case."

The oil and natural gas industry takes water, environmental and health issues very seriously, and API recommends that readers get the actual facts about drilling and hydraulic fracturing before rushing to judgment. This blog post published in November provides factual information about hydraulic fracturing and an EPA study showing that it has had no confirmed impact on groundwater.