Earlier I wrote two Morning Features on Fracking. Since I wrote those, a new study has been released by four scientists from Duke University. This Morning Feature is an update on that new information. (More)

But first a family story: I was at my son’s house and we were discussing fracking.

I said, “Fracking is polluting our groundwater.”

My 4½ year old granddaughter, Addi, said, “Nana said a bad word.”

After we got done laughing, I said, “Fracking is bad. Do you know what it is?”

She played it safe and said no. I told her “it was when gas companies drilled deep holes into the earth and put sand and very bad chemicals into the hole to release gas from the rocks deep underneath us. The gas companies want us to think that gas is cleaner energy than oil. They don’t want us to question the fact that all those bad chemicals they pour into the ground are mixing with our water and making it not safe to drink.

Oh, she says, “It is toxic, right?”

“Yes,” I tell her, “And the gas that they are drilling for leaks up into the groundwater. Some people close to wells can even light the water from their faucets. Do you want to see a video of that?”

Hard to gear my language to her age and to know what she knows and what she doesn’t.  I showed her the video of the man lighting his faucet water with a lighter. We replayed it several times and she was so confused.

“Nana, water isn’t supposed to make a fire, is it?”

“No Addi, water is not supposed to light on fire. That is why fracking is bad. We are destroying part of the earth that is our home.”

Back to the new study:

They found that levels of flammable methane gas in drinking water wells increased to dangerous levels when those water supplies were close to natural gas wells. They also found that the type of gas detected at high levels in the water was the same type of gas that energy companies were extracting from thousands of feet underground, strongly implying that the gas may be seeping underground through natural or manmade faults and fractures, or coming from cracks in the well structure itself….

While most of the wells had some methane, the water samples taken closest to the gas wells had on average 17 times the levels detected in wells further from active drilling. The group defined an active drilling area as within one kilometer, or about six tenths of a mile, from a gas well.

There are no current regulations for methane in drinking water. The biggest danger is that methane gas pools and is quite explosive. Ethane, butane and propane were also detected.

The study from Duke did not find evidence of contamination from the fracking chemicals in the water supply. However,

Last year the EPA found that some chemicals known to be used in fracturing were among the contaminants detected in 11 residential drinking water wells in Pavillion, WY — where more than 200 natural gas wells have been drilled in recent years — but that investigation is continuing and the scientists haven’t concluded that the contamination is linked with drilling or hydraulic fracturing.

You may remember that gas companies received a congressional exemption from EPA regulations and that they have been unwilling to reveal the exact chemicals using used fracking. Maurice Hinchey D-NY is working to change that.

Hinchey is one of several Democratic members of Congress who recently re-introduced the FRAC Act, which calls for public disclosure of the chemicals used underground. The bill, which is currently languishing in the House, would remove an exemption in federal law that prohibits the EPA from regulating hydraulic fracturing.

The advertising for gas companies as providing safe, domestic alternatives to imported oil has increased. This ad is from the American Petroleum Institute:

And this one certainly doesn’t mention any flaming water:

The ads are both designed to lull people into thinking the energy companies are doing their part to establish America’s energy independence. Since protecting the groundwater doesn’t have their ad budget, it is up to us to spread the word. Whether you live in an area with natural gas under you or not, show the flaming water video to your friends. The clip I used from YouTube is one from the movie Gasland. The movie is well worth watching in its entirety.

Some questions:

1. How can we stop the oil and gas companies from treating our home as a trash can?

2. As fracking gets more attention from the media, the ads in favor of drilling at home increase. How can we get the message out?

3. Have you been following this issue and do you hear Fred talking about it at all?

Once the underground gases are disturbed there is no going back. Once fracking chemicals are in the ground, there is no easy way to completely retrieve them. Once we have bought the gas company ads in the name of cheap energy, we may have gas but no water to drink. Hell of a trade off.