Thousands of gallons of potentially toxic hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," liquids spilled across pastures and into a stream in rural Pennsylvania early this morning, after a natural gas well suffered a blowout at 11:45 p.m. Tuesday night.
Francis Roupp, a deputy director of the Bradford County emergency services, said "many thousands" of gallons of fracturing liquids were released after a blowout near the well head. Roupp was unsure how much liquid was released, but he said it is possible that hundreds of thousands of gallons could have been released and have spilled across acres of pasture and into a small tributary to a local river.
Seven families were evacuated from the area and no injuries or release of gas into the atmosphere have been reported, according to local newspaper The Morning Call.
State and local officials are coordinating with well operator Chesapeake Energy to deal with the spill. Roupp said it is Chesapeake Energy's "problem" and they are being held responsible for dealing with it.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is monitoring the water and has found a high salt content, Roupp said. A DEP spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
A blowout in a Pennsylvania fracking well last June was found to be potentially "catastrophic" by state officials because of the large amount of liquid and natural gas that was released after a "blowout preventer" in the well failed.
Pennsylvania sits atop the Marcellus Shale, a natural gas-rich underground formation that has become ground zero for new fracking operations in recent years. The Marcellus Shale stretches from northern West Virginia to New York, and a broad grassroots movement in that region of the country has mobilized to oppose fracking.
A report recently released by Democrats in Congress shows that between 2005 and 2009, top fracking companies used fracking liquids containing 29 chemicals that are known or possible carcinogens. Components of fracking liquids, long kept secret by the industry, ranged from harmless substances like salt to dangerous pollutants like methanol, lead and benzene.
The EPA began a comprehensive review of fracking last year after public outcry prompted the agency to reconsider a 2004 report that stated fracking did not pose a threat to the water supply. The 2004 report prompted Congress under the Bush administration to exempt fracking from regulation under the Clean Water Act, and gave the green light for thousands of fracking wells to be established with little federal oversight. The results of the current EPA study are expected next year.