Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. has become the first major insurance company to say it won't cover damage related to a gas drilling process that blasts chemical-laden water deep into the ground.
The Columbus, Ohio-based company's personal and commercial policies "were not designed to cover" risk from the drilling process, called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, Nationwide spokeswoman Nancy Smeltzer said Thursday.
The process injects chemically treated water into wells to fracture shale thousands of feet underground and release trapped gas or oil. There are rich shale deposits in parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia and elsewhere.
Health and environmental groups claim fracking can contaminate drinking water. The gas industry says it's safe if done properly. Nationwide said risks involved in fracking operations "are too great to ignore" and apply to policies of commercial contractors and landowners who lease property to gas companies.
The Nationwide policy first came to light when an internal memo detailing underwriting guidelines was posted on websites of upstate New York anti-fracking groups and landowner coalitions seeking gas leases. Smeltzer confirmed that the memo was genuine but said it wasn't intended for public dissemination.