Many rural communities in West Virginia are dependant on well water as the primary source of fresh water. Based on a 2012 report from the U.S. Geological Society Report, “the quality of West Virginia’s groundwater is generally good, according to a recent 10-year U.S. Geological Survey study, the most comprehensive assessment of West Virginia’s groundwater quality to date. In the majority of cases, raw, untreated groundwater samples met primary drinking-water criteria meant for finished, supplied drinking water.” The report highlights that “about 42% of all West Virginians rely on groundwater for their domestic water supply.”
With the onset of fracking activities in states such as West Virginia, there has been increasing evidence of many communities that are experiencing well water contamination from such activities. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, “has led to a boom in oil and natural gas production around the nation.” It has reduced imports and led to hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue for companies and landowners, but has also created pollution fears. Extracting fuel from shale formations requires pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to break apart rock and free the gas. When some of that water, along with large quantities of existing underground water, returns to the surface, and it can contain high levels of salt, drilling chemicals, heavy metals, and naturally occurring low-level radiation.
Furthermore, it has been reported that “West Virginia has had about 122 complaints that drilling contaminated water wells over the past four years, and in four cases the evidence was strong enough that the driller agreed to take corrective action.” The issue of fracking and well water contamination remains hotly contested, as often there is no clear causal relationship between the natural gas and fracking and the onset of water contamination.
A recent report by the EPA has concluded that fracking does often contaminate drinking water. It concluded that fracking “led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells.” These conclusions by the EPA are the first real acknowledgement by the environmental agency that fracking can and does lend itself to water contamination. As a result, many property owners, when they determine that their drinking water and water wells have been contaminated, seek to assert claims for personal injury, health care claims, and medical monitoring. All of these personal injury claims are premised on the ability of the property owner to show that such health claims are causally related to the fracking activity.
The homeowners must actively seek pre-drill water quality, where property owners must demonstrate contaminant levels prior to any fracking or drilling activity, and then make such comparisons afterward, where the goal is to demonstrate that fracking significantly contributed to adversely harming the quality of the water. The strategy of the natural gas drilling companies in these type of situations is usually to deny any responsibility over tainted water by arguing that there are many contaminants that occur naturally in water. The presence of pre-drill water quality testing rebuts many of these arguments and provides very scientifically sound basis by which to assess the quality of water.