While many seem to fear the dangers of natural gas drilling practices, experts are quick to note that the process is much more complex than the public assumes and that Philadelphia’s water is not under threat of becoming contaminated.
Nevertheless, the Philadelphia Water Department announced it is taking cautionary measures and will introduce new tests for radioactive material in the water.
“PWD is in the process of coordinating monitoring programs for radium in water samples collected at our drinking water plants. We are currently evaluating the frequency at which testing will occur,” John DiGiulio, a spokesman for PWD, wrote in an email.
The city last checked the water for radiation in 2005.
The University does not do any additional testing to the water and has “supreme confidence” in the water suppliers, Environmental and Sustainability Coordinator Dan Garofalo said.
“We have reason to have complete confidence in the people who have been charged with the responsibility of supplying our water by the city of Philadelphia,” Garofalo said.
Nonetheless, concern regarding drilling practices has become widespread. At Penn, the Institute for Environmental Studies hosted a panel discussion to discuss the process of hydraulic fracturing — a drilling method used to extract natural gas from beneath shale rock — on Wednesday afternoon in the Chemistry Building.
The five experts on the panel agreed that the public is generally misinformed about the effects of hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as hydrofracking, which is becoming increasingly popular and controversial.
Hydrofracking became popular in Pennsylvania in 2007 as a method of obtaining the natural gas trapped beneath the Marcellus Shale, a large natural gas reserve that runs through the western part of the state and reaches as far south as Tennessee.
Some fear that the environmental effects of the drilling are not yet well studied and worry that the drilling is causing air and water pollution due to its use of radioactive materials.
For instance, American Rivers’ June 2010 report called the Upper Delaware River the most endangered watershed in the United States due to hydrofracking.
Carol Collier, the executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission and a panelist at Wednesday’s event, said there is “absolutely no waste water allowed to go to our water bodies.” However, she confirmed reports that a treatment plant near Hatfield, Pa., accepted fracking fluid and dumped the water into the Neshaminy Creek, which flows into the Delaware.
While the Delaware does provide some of Philadelphia’s water, experts still say that the city’s water supply is not in danger of becoming contaminated.
“There’s an enormous dilution factor,” said environmental science professor Robert Giegengack, also one of the panel members. “By the time fracking water gets to the Delaware, it’s likely to be diluted below the limit where anybody would recognize a health affect.”
Collier said fracking fluid is not likely to contaminate the water supply, but since the DRBC does not test the water for radiation, she applauded the city’s new efforts.
“I’m really glad that the water authorities are testing now and I think there does need to be more research on how we make sure that radioactivity doesn’t get through wastewater plants,” Collier said.