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Report: No proof of fracking groundwater pollution

U. TEXAS-AUSTIN (US) — Hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas has no direct connection to reports of groundwater contamination, scientists report.

The findings are based on evidence reviewed in a study by the Energy Institute of the University of Texas at Austin. The study found that many problems ascribed to hydraulic fracturing are related to processes common to all oil and gas drilling operations, such as casing failures or poor cement jobs.

The study was released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, British Columbia

University researchers also concluded that many reports of contamination can be traced to above-ground spills or other mishandling of wastewater produced from shale gas drilling, rather than from hydraulic fracturing per se, says Charles “Chip” Groat, an Energy Institute associate director who led the project.

“These problems are not unique to hydraulic fracturing,” he says.

The research team examined evidence contained in reports of groundwater contamination attributed to hydraulic fracturing in three prominent shale plays—the Barnett Shale in North Texas; the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, New York and portions of Appalachia; and the Haynesville Shale in western Louisiana and northeast Texas.

The report identifies regulations related to shale gas development and evaluates individual states’ capacity to enforce existing regulations. In addition, university researchers analyzed public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing, as derived from popular media, scientific literature and online surveys.

“Our goal was to provide policymakers a foundation for developing sensible regulations that ensure responsible shale gas development,” Groat says. “What we’ve tried to do is separate fact from fiction.”

Faculty members from across the University of Texas at Austin campus participated in the research, which the Energy Institute funded. The Environmental Defense Fund assisted in developing the scope of work and methodology for the study.

Groat says researchers will supplement the study with an examination of reports relating to atmospheric emissions and seismic activity attributed to hydraulic fracturing, which have emerged as significant issues of concern.

Hydraulic fracturing involves the high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemicals into a shale bed, which causes the rock to shatter, releasing natural gas. The practice has been in use for decades but has come under scrutiny in recent years from environmentalists and others who fear it poses a threat to public health.

Other findings from the Energy Institute study include:

  • Natural gas found in water wells within some shale gas areas (e.g., Marcellus) can be traced to natural sources and probably was present before the onset of shale gas operations.
  • Although some states have been proactive in overseeing shale gas development, most regulations were written before the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing.
  • Media coverage of hydraulic fracturing is decidedly negative, and few news reports mention scientific research related to the practice.
  • Overall, surface spills of fracturing fluids pose greater risks to groundwater sources than from hydraulic fracturing itself.
  • The lack of baseline studies in areas of shale gas development makes it difficult to evaluate the long-term, cumulative effects and risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.

More news from the University of Texas at Austin: www.utexas.edu/news/

chat9 Comments

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9 Comments

  1. Chip Northrup

    I read the report over the weekend – largely a bunch of industry friendly white papers.

    What the authors failed to address is the fundamental problem with gas wells – leakage.

    Regardless of how they are fracked, they leak – sooner or later, all of them.

    The industry knows this and even sells services to try to fix what is an intractable problem

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/65577477/How-Gas-Wells-Leak

  2. Kathi

    From the May 11, 2011 issue of Futurity: Methane 17x higher in wells near fracking, posted by Tim Lucas of Duke University, regarding their studies in Pennsylvania and New York.

  3. Stan Scobie

    Folks:

    I have a few observations:

    1. In the first 55 pages there is not one formal reference, despite a lot of factual and conceptual assertions. The reader is told that the details will be found further on – with no useful guidance as to just where.

    2. The 414 pg copy I downloaded yesterday from the U.T. site is a draft, yet the general media buzz and the presentation on the U.T. website is that it is a “report” implying carefully honed and finished and complete.

    3. The detailed section that I read very carefully, “Section 4 Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Development” is labeled clearly “draft.”

    In a part I was particularly interested in about substance migration related to drilling and fracking, only two of the seven references I marked for follow up were listed in the reference section.

    In an interesting instance the Boyer et al (2011) study of substance migration, published in Center for Rural Pennsylvania and subsequently withdrawn by the authors for further review, is cited without qualification as a fully fledged piece of science.

    There are very many other errors, citations incompletely described, obsolete and/or incomplete sets or related and appropriate references, etc.

    Overall, I was extremely disappointed in the quality of the work as a useful piece of “science” despite the tantalizng title: “Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection….”

    It is just not ready for prime time.

    Stanley R Scobie, Ph.D., Binghamton, NY

  4. Roger Austin

    I like Futurity. I like that the site will address controversial topics. Surfed the site to see what their process was regarding what they post and could not find it. Is it there and I missed it?

  5. Robin

    Texas is the home of the oil and gas industry. I am skeptical of such a report. Too much money depends on the success of investors winning the debate over those asking simple questions that are never answered.

    New York City and over 8 million residents depend on a massive investment over many years to provide potable water from outside the city boundaries at remarkably low cost. However enforcement of existing regulations in NY State is weak and no money has been allocated to strengthen enforcement. Meanwhile companies such as Chesapeake Energy, not to mention Shell and ExxonMobil, are spending millions on tv ads to promote jobs and energy independence, sweet music indeed that totally ignores the dark side of fracking.

    This is not the same as a football match. The outcome is about the health of citizens versus the greed of an industry that has shown little regard for their impact on local communities. Another sad and ugly commentary on our society. Yet we have the knowledge and the technology to drill in a responsible manner.

  6. Tom Young

    More than 50 years ago in W. Va my father put together investors and multiple old oil and gas leases so that worked out fields and previous wells could be rehabilitated with a new process called hydraulic fracturing. These wells were less than half the depth of present horizontal wells and vertical.There was no particular effort to contain the return of “fracking” fluids with or without chemicals. This process has been used continually since then in all areas containing oil and gas wells. Certainly over the last 50 years in W.Va and Texas, I am unaware of widespread or even limited contamination of groundwater.
    In any event there is nothing new about Hydraulic fracturing but there is a lot new about the depths of the wells required for horizontal drilling in the Shale strata, the techniques of horizontal drilling, and finally the expense of these wells. I would be much more impressed by the environmental point of view if they didn’t sound so much like “Chicken little” and conspiracy theorists.
    Nothing is perfect and nothing is without risk and consequences. There are substantial societal risks to exploding energy costs, inefficient wind turbines and solar panels or alternatively enhanced coals mining and Nuclear power. Some or all of these risks and expenses must be borne. Lets evaluate them in an open fashion and then decide. This report is a good first step toward that.

  7. Robin

    And so it goes on….unsupported statements from industry friendly academia and lack of respect for science and scientists.

    When will we learn that fracking and climate change are serious subjects affecting our health, our communities and our survival.

    Let’s get past the politics to the issues. Let’s by-pass the Federal deadlock. Anyone interested in such a novel suggestion?

    We need the funding for objective studies on such subjects as:
    * How to protect potable water supplies for about 6 million people in New York City?
    * The quantified impact of fracking in $$$$ on populated areas such as Chesapeake Bay, Philadelphia and New York City from the release of CO2, methane, run-off water and chemicals used in the fracking process.
    * The costs to police and regulate fracking in a rational scientific way at state level compared with the pitiable regulatory system currently in place. Any comment from Governor Cuomo? Or ExxonMobil? Or the Chairman of Chesapeake Energy?

    We need to get organized to address such issues. We need some serious money to undertake some serious work fast. 10 people sending $10,000 each will get us started. 100 contributions would be even better.

    Robin otherwise known as the Hood who robs from the rich to save the rest of us.

  8. Robert Reed

    I’d like to thank everyone for their restrained and thoughtful comments. I’d also like to ask
    Tom Young if there are records of the ‘fracking’ chemicals used 50 years ago, and if follow up studies have been done on well water surrounding that halcyon field of long ago.
    Any sign of the chemicals? Just asking.
    Robin, I’m not going to give anybody money just because they are strident champions of the 99%…..and this report does read like an industry white paper.
    Its all wrapped up with the money. I’m glad where I live doesn’t have Oil and Gas. We do have water though, and I’m certain ‘they’ will be coming for that soon enough.
    We can all make choices that reflect the world we wish to live in. What we buy, where we work and live, and how we spend our time. There has never really been a “have your cake and eat it too” period for Humanity. Its always a life of struggle, for most. The Oil age is coming to a close and it will have sharp repercussions for all of us not insulated by piles of money. Have fun while we can, love to all.

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