August 9, 2013
A recently published study
by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington found elevated
levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in groundwater near natural gas
fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale.
While the findings are far from conclusive, the study provides
further evidence tying fracking to arsenic contamination. An internal
Environmental Protection Agency PowerPoint presentation recently obtained by the Los Angeles Times warned that wells near Dimock, Pa., showed elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater. The EPA also found arsenic in groundwater near fracking sites in Pavillion, Wyo., in 2009 — a study the agency later abandoned.
ProPublica talked with Brian Fontenot, the paper’s lead author, about
how his team carried out the study and why it matters. (Fontenot and
another author, Laura Hunt, work for the EPA in Dallas, but they
conducted the study on their own time in collaboration with several UT
Arlington researchers.) Here’s an edited version of our interview:
What led you guys to do the study?
We were sort of talking around lunch one day, and came up with the
idea of actually going out and testing water in the Barnett Shale. We’d
heard all the things that you see in the media, all the sort of really
left-wing stuff and right-wing stuff, but there weren’t a whole lot of
answers out there in terms of an actual scientific study of water in the
Barnett Shale. Our main intent was to bring an unbiased viewpoint here —
to just look at the water, see if we could find anything, and report
what we found.