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Study Finds Fracking Will Not Contaminate Your Water

The debate about the safety of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been ongoing, and likely won’t be settled anytime soon. Fracking proponents and opponents are steadfast in their beliefs, and no amount of proof from the other side will be enough to change their minds. A new study released by Thomas Darrah of Ohio State University might only make the situation worse.

Darrah worked with researchers from Duke, Stanford, Dartmouth, and the University of Rochester to study eight fracking wells in Pennsylvania and Texas over an 18 month period. The study took place in areas where recent complaints have been made by homeowners regarding tainted water supplies. The goal was to answer two questions; whether gases found in drinking-water aquifers were natural or man-made, and how those gases entered the water.

They studied the hydrocarbon abundance and isotopic compositions of the gases. This allowed them to determine whether the noble gases came from pockets opened up thousands of feet below ground from fracking initiatives, or from shallow pockets that were compromised by the gas wells and their production casings. The image below from Darrah’s report shows where the leaks commence.

Image courtesy of PNAS

Image courtesy of PNAS

The team found a total of four leaks, all originating from intermediate depths, which are analogous to the depth of the well itself. Three were associated with faulty production casings and one was tied to an underground well failure. The report states, “Noble gas data appear to rule out gas contamination by upward migration from depth through overlying geological strata triggered by horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing.”

The process of fracking involves drilling a well deep within the ground and injecting a combination of water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure to fracture the shale rock, allowing gas or oil to flow up to the surface. Fracking opponents argue that there is no adequate control of the gas once it escapes, thus the chance of it entering aquifers and getting into the local water supply. Darrah says otherwise,

We found the evidence suggested that fracking was not to blame, that it was actually a well integrity issue. Our data clearly show that the contamination in these clusters stems from well-integrity problems such as poor casing and cementing.

Though the study proves that the recent contamination in those locales was caused by leaky wells and not fracking, it won’t give gas opponents any relief. There are plenty of aspects of the fracking process that need further scrutiny, including well construction, sand usage, water usage, the chemicals used, waste water treatment and disposal, and fracking itself. There is hope, though, as Darrah states, “The good news is that most of the issues we have identified can potentially be avoided by future improvements in well integrity.”

Will any of it really matter, though? Studies might not be enough to sway opinions. Could an entire study that flat out announces “Fracking Is Safe!” or “Fracking Will Kill You!” change public opinion, especially when dealing with such a controversial subject? The idea that fixing well leaks will prevent gas contamination might not temper concerns about fracking. It may very well take years of research, data retrieval and assessment, and open dialogue to bring the two sides together. Even that might never be enough.

 

 

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Green Fracking: New Ways for Cleaner Energy?

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