Fracking Drinking Water

A crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas on June 25, 2012, in Zelienople, Pa.

The following editorial appeared in The Times-Tribune of Scranton, Lackawanna County. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.

Pennsylvanians need not shake in their boots over a finding by state environmental regulators that there is a likely correlation between a gas fracking operation in western Pennsylvania and a series of small earthquakes in that region.

The earthquakes last April in Lawrence County were too weak to be felt by residents of the area and they did not cause any damage.

Seth Pelepko of the state Department of Environmental Protection told the Associated Press that the state’s geology across the areas being drilled for natural gas generally does not lend itself to the more intense earthquakes that have affected other drilling regions, including Ohio and Oklahoma.

The correlation between a particular fracking site and minor earthquakes is illustrative, though, in that earthquakes were not among the advertised potential environmental issues when the debate about drilling and levels of state regulation began more than a decade ago.

Most of that discussion has been relative to water and air quality, which are more immediate concerns.

Earthquakes are an unanticipated consequence of drilling and fracking that has emerged over time.

The discovery raises questions about other unforeseen consequences that might arise later on, and the degree to which the industry and the state government are prepared to deal with them.

In the earthquake case, driller Hillcorp Energy Co., based in Houston, stopped fracking the well in question and decided not to use a particular technique at other wells that it had employed at the suspect well.

The DEP also required the driller to place seismic monitors in the host township.

That’s a sensible resolution for the case.

But the discovery also should remind regulators and lawmakers alike that not everything about the fracking enterprise is fully understood.

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