"This is the first documented and published demonstration of toxic compounds escaping from uncased boreholes in shale gas wells and moving long distances" into drinking water, Susan Brantley, one of the study's authors, told Yahoo News.
The water wells located in Bradford County were tested by Penn State University researchers and were found to contain dangerous levels of methane and other substances used in Marcellus Shale drilling operations. One of the wells also contained the compound 2-BE, which is also used in household products such as paint and cleaners, however the authors have deemed fracking to be the most likely source of the contamination.
The contamination likely took place prior to new regulations enacted in 2011 requiring stricter standards for fracking wells.
Hydraulic fracking is the process whereby gas companies drill deep into the earth and shoot a high-pressure mixture of chemicals, water, and sand into the holes, forcing gas to be pushed up out of the well.
The water tested did not contain high levels of salt, a prime ingredient in the fracking chemical mixture, so it is believed that the contamination occurred while the crew was drilling the well instead of migrating upwards from the Marcellus rock formation underground.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition has fired back in defense, stating that the study does not prove that the 2-BE came from their fracking activities and claiming that they are continuously improving their safety and protection of water supplies.
"It's absolutely critical to acknowledge that important technological advancements have been and continue to be made, along with the fact that Pennsylvania's regulations were dramatically strengthened over the past several years… aimed at protecting groundwater, which is a top industry priority," Travis Windle, a spokesman, wrote in a statement to the media.
Due to these findings, Chesapeake Energy, the drilling company in the area, was hit with a record high fine of one million dollars. The homeowners whose water was tainted also sued the company and had their homes bought out as part of a $1.6 million dollar settlement.
Despite the extremely high settlement, the gas company continued to deny any wrong-doing or accept blame for the contamination.