Injection wells have proliferated over the past 60 years, in large part because they are the cheapest, most expedient way to manage hundreds of billions of gallons of industrial waste generated in the U.S. each year. Yet the dangers of injection are well known: In accidents dating to the 1960s, toxic materials have bubbled up to the surface or escaped, contaminating aquifers that store supplies of drinking water.
The U.S. government and energy companies have been fiddling with ways to get at gas trapped inside rock underground for decades. Now, using highly pressurized toxic liquid to extract the petro-bubbly is becoming standard practice, even as evidence mounts that it poisons drinking water. ProPublica charts government and industry’s decades-long regulatory dance.