News Feature | April 19, 2017

New Report Claims Oklahoma Drinking Water Affected By Fracking

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

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Released earlier this month, a report assembled by the Clean Water Fund asserts that drinking water in Oklahoma is at risk of contamination from oil and gas wastewater wells, though others claim the report is based on faulty data.

There are also private wells whose supplies could possibly be coinciding with wastewater disposal wells permitted by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC).

Think Progress reported that the “OCC permits wastewater disposal wells for the oil and gas industry under the state’s underground injection control (UIC) program.”

“It’s disturbing that the OCC may have permitted oil and gas wells to inject directly into potential drinking water sources, and that the agency can’t accurately point to where the drinking water is located,” John Noël, lead author of the report and national oil and gas campaigns coordinator for Clean Water Action, said in a statement. “That’s fundamental to the OCC’s job  —  it is the agency that is supposed to protect Oklahomans’ drinking water from the impacts of oil and gas activities. Without proper information, the OCC cannot assure that the state’s many thousands of injection wells have all been permitted safely.”

Speaking to Think Progress, an OCC spokesperson rejected the accusation that there is anything wrong with Oklahoma’s drinking water as a result of wastewater injection.

“The study is based on faulty data that we warned the group about in February when the presented their draft findings and we saw what data they were using,” the spokesperson, Matt Skinner, said.

The analysis included that “according to publicly available data, Oklahoma has at least 18 wastewater injection wells that do not go deep enough to avoid known groundwater sources.”

“We have checked the 18 wells they said were injecting into USDW (underground sources of drinking water),” Skinner told Think Progress. “They are not.”

The analysis also claims that the OCC could be using faulty data to determine how deep the injection wells need to go to avoid drinking water sources. The report further stated that, “There are 6,844 domestic water wells and 175 public water supply wells in the state that get their water from below the depth OCC assumes is the cutoff for underground drinking water supplies.”

In Oklahoma, the drinking water wells are not maintained by the OCC, but instead by the state’s water resource board (OWRB). A spokesperson for OWRB told Think Progress “that the agency does not use the same measurements OCC does to regulate domestic water well drilling. He noted that domestic water wells are tested before they are permitted.”

However, the report did not look at how close the wells are to the wastewater injection wells.

Noël told Think Progress “that the lack of accurate, publicly available data pointed to a need for OCC to do a comprehensive audit of its injection well program to ensure drinking water is safe.”

In a similar investigation last year, two scientists found dangerous water contamination from a fracking operation in Wyoming, according to The Guardian.

The scientists’ report found that “there were dangerous levels of chemicals in the underground water supply used by the 230 residents of Pavillion, a small town in central Wyoming.”

To read more about fracking visit Water Online’s Produced Water Treatment Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Fracking LA, October 2013" Erick Gustafson © 2013 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/