The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) signed into law by US President Gerald Ford on December 16, 1974. Since then, the law has been amended several times. In most cases, the amendments were created to provide additional protection for the public and to ensure that the public is informed about contaminant levels. There is one exception.
In 2005, the SDWA was amended to exclude hydraulic fracturing, a process used in drilling for natural gas. The process has caused a variety of problems for home owners. In Texas, minor earthquakes have been linked directly to the practice, but the main concern is contamination of wells.
Hydraulic fracturing fractures in rocks benefit the ground. The process makes it easier for companies to get the natural gas and to get more of it. Some type of fluid is injected into the fraction, along with sand or another material that will hold the fraction open.
One of the problems is that the gas companies will not disclose the materials used in the process. According to a PBS documentary, the materials used by the gas companies include toxins, carcinogens, explosive gases and heavy metals.
In Colorado and Pennsylvania, the contaminants mentioned in the film have been found in wells. Benzene is one example of a cancer-causing chemical that has been found in wells in Colorado. The cause of the benzene contamination is hydraulic fracturing.
An attempt was made in 2009 to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act and repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing, but the bill was not signed into law.
The SDWA cave the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to create maximum contaminant levels for public systems, test samples for contaminants and require providers to correct the problems when they are found. If the industry is found to be the cause of contamination, the EPA can fine the company and require them to pay for cleaning up the mess, but since companies use hydraulic fracturing are exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA is powerless.
In 2010, the Agency found arsenic, copper, vanadium and adamantane in groundwater near hydraulic fracturing operations. The EPA also found methane gas in underground aquifers in Pennsylvania.
A 2011 study conducted by Duke University established a clear link between drilling for natural gas and methane contamination of groundwater through the area known as the Marcellus Formation, which includes parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. The Safe Drinking Water Act currently provides little protection from the contamination that can result from hydraulic fracturing.
The process is not used only in the US. Contamination of groundwater in Australia, Canada and other parts of the world has been linked to drilling for natural gas. Furthermore, hydraulic fracturing is not the only industry that causes freshwater contamination. Even if governments were able to ban the practice, there would still be chlorine in most public sources and paths of lead in most homes.
It's not a good idea to rely on the Safe Drinking Water Act or any other regulation to protect your family.
Some of the home water purifiers available today can protect us from all types of contaminants. That's something we can rely on.