skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Amy Mall’s Blog

More news on the risks to drinking water from oil and gas development

Amy Mall

Posted August 12, 2013

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Share | | |
  • A new peer reviewed study published in Environmental Science & Technology analyzed the water in 100 private water wells in and near the Barnett Shale of Texas. The study found elevated levels of arsenic, selenium, strontium and total dissolved solids (TDS) that exceeded the EPA's Drinking Water Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) in some samples from private water wells located within 3 kilometers of active natural gas wells. The scientists concluded that "elevated constituent levels could be due to a variety of factors including mobilization of natural constituents, hydrogeochemical changes from lowering of the water table, or industrial accidents such as faulty gas well casings."
  • EPA announced it would not be issuing "effluent limitation guidelines" for wastewater generated by coalbed methane operations--even though NPR recently reported that this wastewater has levels of benzene--a known carcinogen-- "that far exceed safety standards,"  and has been observed with "oily sheens on top," "creating solid formations under where pipes dumped water into a lake," and in some cases "smelled very strongly of rotten eggs — a sign of hydrogen sulfide, which can be deadly if inhaled at high enough levels." A Duke scientist stated that coalbed methane produced water has "salts, metals, radioactive elements like radium, and chemicals such as benzene, and sometimes at levels 150 times what's allowed in drinking water."
  • About 30 communities in Texas could run out of water by the end of the year, according to a report from The Guardian. The town of Barnhart ran out of water last month. The article profiles rancher Buck Owens, who suffered an oil company drilling 104 water wells on land he leased for ranching. Owens used to run 500 cattle and up to 8,000 goats on 19,000 acres, and now has only a few hundred goats.  Also, in Texas, the town of Spicewood Beach has been trucking in water since early 2012 and the city of San Angelo had to dig a pipeline to an underground water source more than 60 miles away. I highly recommend watching the excellent video associated with the article.
Share | | |


Michael BerndtsonAug 13 2013 12:31 PM

No limits on Coalbed Methane? What? Coal bed methane or in situ retorting is heating up a coal seam underground and collecting whatever comes up the extraction pipes as a gas, condensate and liquid. It's basically what was done in the 19th and early 20th century to produce gas for street lights and such. Manufactured Gas Plants (MGP) have become a remediation nightmare (for electricity/gas ratepayers) and a daydream for environmental remediation contractors for the past 25 years. What didn't get pumped into pipelines like solids and liquids just got buried in the MGP's back 40. There's tons of these sites throughout the US.

Coalbed methane is probably worse because the basis of design is "hopefully everything that gets mobilized is collected." Here's some problems. Coal seams are typically pretty shallow. The waste water assuming it comes into contact with raw material or product probably contains whatever isn't sold off as useful product. Australia is going full speed ahead with coalbed methane. Surface emissions are bad. The groundwater impact is bad. People aren't happy.

Is there some sort of environmental protection work around for coal mining at play here? I'm truly confused about this.

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Amy Mall’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In