The Consequences of PA’s Fracking Boom In One Statistic

The entire debate about the merits of Pennsylvania’s fracking boom rests on the tricky question of whether people’s air and water are being contaminated by the chemicals drillers use to get at the vast quantities of natural gas sitting underneath the state’s expansive Marcellus Shale formation. If procuring it is safe, then natural gas appears to be a great alternative to dirtier fossil fuels like coal and gas*. If not, well, it’s not.

Now, we have some answers. Newsworks flags the results of a painstaking investigation by the Scranton Times-Tribune mostly to highlight what a pain in the butt the state can be when it comes to releasing records from the Department of Environmental Protection. But the investigation also tells us how many contamination cases oil and gas drilling has really caused in Pennsylvania: From 2008 to 2012, the state found, water supply contamination was due to drilling in 161 of 969 reported cases, a large increase from the pre-fracking era. Whether we can even trust that number, as some analysts told the Times-Tribune, is another question altogether.

*This post has been updated to clarify that natural gas is also a fossil fuel; the original wording suggested it was not.