Jan 9 2012

Lifetime Chemical Contamination

Fracing WILL Contaminate New York’s Acquifers,

Says Former DEC Environmental Engineering Technician;

Also, Beware of Water Testing by Shale Gas Companies


“Hydraulic fracturing WILL contaminate New York’s aquifers (emphasis added).”

Not MIGHT – WILL contaminate, according to a former Environmental Engineering Technician with New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Paul Hetzler spent three years with the DEC’s Region 5-South managing scores of groundwater remediation projects from 1994-1997.  Region 5 serves nine counties in the Eastern Adirondacks and Lake Champlain area.  It encompasses the northeastern tip of New York State and includes three-quarters of the Adirondack Park.

Paul Hetzler, former Environmental Engineering Technician with NYS DEC.

  “If you were looking for a way to poison the drinking water supply, here in the Northeast you couldn’t find a more chillingly effective and thorough method of doing so than with hydraulic fracturing.”  Hetzler initially made his remarks in a commentary published in the Watertown Daily Times.1

He notes, “all geologic strata leak to some extent.  The fact that a less-transmissive layer lies between the drill zone and a well does not protect the well from contamination.”

“A drinking water well is never in ‘solid’ rock.  If it were, it would be a dry hole in the ground.  As water moves through joints, fissures and bedding planes into a well, so do contaminants.  In fractured media such as shale, water follows preferential pathways, moving fast and far, miles per week in some cases.”

He makes three key points among others:

  • “If your well goes bad, neither you, nor your children, nor their children will ever be able to get safe, clean water back.”
  • “Chemicals injected into the aquifer will persist for many lifetimes.”
  • ‘’Drill for gas, absolutely, but develop safe technologies first.”

In a follow-up exchange, he told this writer:  “I don’t claim that every potable well in a hydraulic fracturing zone would become contaminated, but some certainly will.”

“Subsurface conditions vary considerably, and the results of injecting pollutants into the aquifer at a particular point are hard to predict,” he adds.  “Even small heterogeneities [differences] in a stratum can lead to different outcomes.”

“Pumping rates also influence whether a well takes a hit – two neighboring wells might become contaminated while a third remains OK.”

Hetzler made a recommendation, coupled with a warning:

“Since contamination can show up months or even years after a pollution event, I’d advise all residents near a hydrofracturing operation to get monthly lab analysis on their water for several years after drilling ceases.  Obviously this is quite a burden.”

Water test results, he warns, may depend on who does the testing.  Based on Hetzler’s DEC experience, he does not have complete confidence in gas companies – described here as “RPs” or “Responsible Parties.”

“One would like the gas company to pay for this, but I’ve seen RPs (responsible parties) use tactics that reduce the likelihood of detecting contamination, such as using inappropriate methods (e.g. EPA 602 for wastewater instead of a 503.1 for drinking water) or having method detection limits set above safe drinking water thresholds, which leads to a meaningless report of ‘nothing detected’ (above a very high level).  You have to be right on an RP in everything they do.”

Hetzler said he has written to the DEC and filed a public comment regarding the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS).  Public comments will be accepted up until January 11, 2012.2

Today, Hetzler works for the Cornell Cooperative Extension as a horticulture and natural resources educator.  He does not speak for Cornell or the Extension office.

 Links & Resources

 1 “Hydrofracking sure to contaminate water”Watertown Daily Times, December 13, 2011.  Reference link:  http://www.watertowndailytimes.com/article/20111213/OPINION02/712139975  Pdf file: Watertown Daily Times | Hydrofracking sure to contaminate water

2 Public Comments should be made by January 11, 2012 on the revised Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS).  Following are links and sources for information.

  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:  High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Comments – Comments can be submitted by following instructions on the DEC website at this link:   http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/76838.html
  • In addition, consult this user friendly citizen guide for assistance in responding to the DEC online.  You’ll find analyses by many knowledgeable folks including Chip Northrup, energy industry investor, and Lou Allstadt, former Executive VP of Mobil Oil Corporation: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=DSGEIS_Responses

NOTE:  This article is cross-posted on the Accountability Central website at this link: http://www.accountability-central.com/nc/single-view-default/article/voices-from-the-shale-fracing-will-contaminate-nys-acquifers-former-dec-environmental-engineer/  Accountability Central is part of the Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc.


One Response

  1. Chip Northrup Says:

    Hetzler is stating the obvious. The problem in NYS is that people in rural areas depend on very shallow water wells – which are very vulnerable to being polluted. Over time, all gas wells will leak, Every one of them.


Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.