Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water
Fracking contaminates drinking water in Texas and Pennsylvania with carcinogenic chemicals
The results of a new study regarding the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracking in the Marcellus and Barnett Shales are both interesting and surprising. Completed by researchers from five different universities, the study sought to discover the source of natural gas contamination in drinking-water wells.
Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study suggests “gas found in water wells appeared to have leaked from defective casing and cementing in gas wells, meant to protect groundwater; or from gas formations not linked to zones where fracking took place,” according to The Dallas Morning News.
“Our data do not suggest that horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing has provided a conduit to connect deep Marcellus or Barnett formations directly to surface aquifers,” wrote the authors.
A new method of geochemical forensics was used to trace how methane gas migrates under the earth. Noble gases such as helium and neon often accompany methane when it leaks underground, sometimes flowing long distances together.
By studying atomic mass, which determines how “the ratios of noble gases change as they tag along with migrating natural gas,” scientists were able to determine the source of “fugitive methane” in drinking water aquifers.
“These results appear to rule out the migration of methane up into drinking water aquifers from depth because of horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing, as some people feared,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University.
“This is relatively good news because it means that most of the issues we have identified can potentially be avoided by future improvements in well integrity,” added the study’s lead author, Thomas Darrah of Ohio State University.
A distinction without a difference
While it might be true that well-water contamination isn’t occurring because of horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing, it’s still a component of the fracking process that’s causing people problems and potentially endangering their health.
“Maybe the drill bit didn’t cause that but the drilling process certainly did,” said Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment. “So to say fracking itself doesn’t cause groundwater contamination is somewhat misleading.”
Others say the study was too narrow, only sampling one cluster of wells in Parker County, Texas, and the rest of the surveys were from oil fields in Pennsylvania, reported CBS.
Fracking in the Marcellus and Barnett Shales
Hydraulic fracking in the Marcellus and Barnett Shales is to thank for the recent oil and natural gas boom in the U.S. Consisting of more than 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the Marcellus Shale bridges nine northeastern states, while the Barnett Shale spans 5,000 square miles across 18 Texas counties.
Until recently, there were very few studies on the impacts of fracking, the high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water mixed with chemical additives into rock formations deep underground.
As fracking has become more widespread, many blamed the under-researched practice for well-water contamination, a claim that some studies have backed up.
Researchers from University of Texas at Arlington found increased levels of heavy metals and arsenic in water wells located within 1.8 miles of natural gas drilling in the Barnett Shale, according to a report by the Denton Record-Chronicle.
Other reports involve claims of high concentrations of natural gas in drinking water, which can place harmful fumes in homes, making them susceptible to explosions or fires.
Texas Park County resident Steve Lipsky became famous for being able to set his water on fire after Range Resources began drilling for natural gas near his home; he has since been sued for defamation by the company.
It’s safe to say there’s still a lot to be understood about the consequences of high-pressured drilling. A study underway by the Environmental Protection Agency could shed more light on the environmental impacts. Officials expect the report to be released early next year.
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Health and Wellness Associates