A favorite gimmick of the anti-fracking movement is to post a video of someone setting fire to the water coming out of a faucet. The sweeping conclusion is that hydraulic fracturing releases natural gas and/or methane into water aquifers, which ends up in water wells.

But new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences debunks the thesis of that claim.  Researchers at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment found that the process of forcing water and chemicals into gas-laden shale deposits thousands of feet below the surface does not cause groundwater contamination.

“(The) 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 researchers conclude in their abstract.

This finding should help mitigate the worst fears of environmentalists, citizens groups, and landowners concerned about their property: Groundwater is not being contaminated by gas, brine water or chemicals escaping from deep below the surface where the fracking is taking place.

“The worst-case environmental scenario appears to be off the table, based on these studies,” said researcher Thomas Darrah.

That’s not to say drillers are off the hook.  The research still turned up issues associated with gas well construction and maintenance.

The study looked at samples from 133 drinking water wells in heavily fracked regions of northeastern Pennsylvania and Texas and found eight examples of increased gas contamination.  The researchers concluded, however, that the gas was a result of leakage through failures of the drill hole casings or, in one instance, an underground well failure.

Another one of the study’s authors, Prof. Avner Vengosh, says these issues can be resolved through regulations requiring a higher degree of drill casing integrity.  Or, the professor says, gas well drill holes can be kept at least one-half mile from water wells.

The still relatively new process of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in Marcellus and Barnett shales has been a boon for the energy industry. Thousands of new wells are releasing millions of cubic feet of natural gas.  The abundant supply is keeping prices low and generating a financial windfall for property owners and regions where the drilling is occurring.

Of course there are concerns, just as there are with any industrial process. Drillers and regulators must ensure the environment is protected.   The drillers know that a serious mistake will trigger a public relations nightmare and bring down the regulatory hammer.

Fracking opponents should be held accountable as well, and this new research illustrates some of their alarmist proclamations are just wrong.

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Comments

  • George

    And the earthquakes in ok and it doesn't snow in January What crap you pushing on us next

  • ShepnWv

    I've been in the hydraulic fracturing industry for a while now.
    I can honestly say Human error should be your biggest fear with the process.
    Thankfully, I have been able to work with companies of extreme high standards that require training for the simple fact of "weeding out" the ones who aren't capable of working safely, efficiently, and with a respect for the environment and the people we come in contact with. But there are companies who cut corners and ruin it for the rest of us. Pinching pennies to make a profit. This, and the huge demand for employees are the biggest dangers to what we do.
    Sometimes hiring too many people with too little or rushed training provides a horrible result in environmental protection.
    But I believe, for as long as I have been doing this ( over 300 wells fracked and counting) human error and lack of care are our biggest fears and threats by far.

  • Jason412

    Several things about the fracking industry need stricter regulations. Casings and waste water is where to start.

    Haliburton developed a fracking fluid that is basically harmless, it has been used successfully several times, but it is very far from a standard.

    If that fluid was financially viable for all companies to use, that alone could pretty much solve the problem of any waste water spills without the need for any regulations. I'll have to look into what the fluid was and what it was called, but I believe it was on Haliburton's website.

    As for casings, it's inexcusable. I would almost go so far as to say that a pattern of faulty casings that can be proven to be the result of negligence or intentional should be a criminal offense. Who would be charged, I'm not sure, but a monetary penalty only does so much.

    These wells are in peoples back yards, on farms, near streams, in our forests, it should not be tolerated for faulty casings to be as much of a problem and be as common as they are.

    Another area of concern is the recent study showing a link between fracking and earthquakes. I'm not sure if anything has been done yet to fix that, but it needs to be looked it.

    At the very least if a new well is drilled and there is even one earthquake, especially in an area like Youngstown that historically is not earthquake prone, drilling should be stopped immediately until tests can be done and every possible step should be taken to avoid earthquakes before drilling even starts in a new area.

    Fracking can end up a great thing for America. A few rogue companies taking shortcuts can ruin that, we must prevent that.

  • Concerned

    Well, one study showed what hop wanted so let it be written in stone.

  • Ginger Vitis

    http://www.propublica.org/article/scientific-study-links-flammable-drinking-water-to-fracking

    I apologize for the personal shot in my prior statement however the sentiment or possible sediment (pun intended) holds true. This is an older example of "scientific" studies that seem to go unreported by and large based on the fact of convenience however I have many other peer reviewed scientific studies I can send your way if you would like to "have the debate" as you are fond of saying.

    • James Brotherton

      Sorry, but Propublica is not a valid scientific reference.

      • Hillboy

        No, Propublica is not a scientific journal. But they do a pretty good job of reporting on scientific issues, usually with links to the actual journal article. Here is the link for the one mentioned above: http://www.propublica.org/documents/item/methane-contamination-of-drinking-water-accompanying-gas-well-drilling

        It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which is usually considered a valid scientific reference. The research was also conducted at Duke and also included Dr. Vengosh. So, it should be as valid as the study Hoppy refers to.

        • worker bee

          Worth noting the Duke study mentioned by GV and HB was a few years before the one referenced in Hoppy's story... could it be the continued research refuted the earlier report and in fact these same scientists eventually determined that fracking was not impacting the fresh water table?

          • Hillboy

            The first report did not conclude that fracking was the source of the methane in the water wells. It did conclude that some, not all, water wells had high methane that was caused by drilling, but not because of the fracking process in particular. So there was nothing contradictory between the two reports.

  • Hop'sHip

    I don't get it. Just what alarmist proclamations does this research prove wrong? Of all the environmental concerns associated with shale gas, I never heard of any serious concern of "gas contamination by upward migration." I didn't hear the interview. They seem to be serious researchers. Are they comfortable with how Hoppy and friends are using their research in a straw man attack?

    • The bookman

      The industry has always pointed to geology and physics as the proof that migration into water wells would be virtually impossible, but the point of all the viral videos of water burning was that the industry was lying. Perception of truth isn't always accurate, and industry isn't always the most trusted source. This study underlines the validity of industry's claim that fracking fluids and gas from their activity are not making it into water wells.

      I do not think the study vindicates drilling, however, in that there is a high level of significance in distance between gas well head and water well as it relates to methane presence in the water. There are obviously indirect factors involved which will lead to further regulation on the industry. It would appear that such regulation is justified, and I would think industry would support it given the possibility of legal culpability.

      • Wowbagger

        Bookman,

        There are wells that produce water from coal, a natural aquifer, also producing coalbed methane. Yes they burn. I know of a hand dug well in the South Branch Valley near Petersburg, WV that had to be filled in because it kept catching on fire. It was probably producing gas from the Oriskany Sandstone. There are no petroleum wells anywhere nearby.

        There are also wells in metamorphic rocks in the Rockies that produce disturbing volumes of Radium for no other reason than that there are radioactive rocks either in the well bore or connected by natural fractures. Gas coming from a water well is much more complicated than you realize.

        • The bookman

          With all due respect Wowbagger, I don't think nor have I expressed the presence of methane in well water as simple. In fact, the major regulatory issue seems to be how to separate natural occurrence and drilling as a catalyst. If you have some insight, please share it.

          • Wowbagger

            Drilling is a catalyst as you drill water wells too, of course, although natural seeps definitely occurr.

            For absolute certainty it is probably necessary to evaluate each individual case until these start to form clusters with similar geological settings.

        • Wowbagger

          Oops,

          Correction: Radon not Radium.

    • Matt Miller

      What Straw Man?

      The study says that Fracking doesnt cause any harm.... but that, as with any industrial activity, there are risks associated with errors or spills or the the like.

      The study is in line with every bit of evidence that has ever turned up in the field, as well.... so its easy to accept it.

      • Hillboy

        The straw man is that Hoppy sets this up as if there is some group of people whose only issue with the gas industry and the current boom is that they are against fracking.

        And since this study basically found fracking had no impact and the other non-fracking methane sources could be controlled that there is no longer anything for anyone to be concerned with.

        In reality there are a number of issues of concern (e.g treatment and disposal of flow-back water, availability of water for making up frack water since a large fraction of the frack water is never going to come back up, e.g.) . Fracking is only one of the issues but Hoppy, through most of the article, makes it seem like it is the only one. He acknowledges that there are other issues but buries this admission at the end.

        • Wirerowe

          Hill boy I think any reasonable person and I include hoppy in this recognizes that this is a very complex process of drilling, finding water sources and waste water disposals and spill control. It demands rigorous, vigilant and effective regulation and enforcement. You have very selective memory that forgets that by far the greatest concern expressed by the environmental community and those who have pressed for moratoriums was about the fracking itself and the fluids used in the fracking and how that would impact groundwater and ultimately surface water. The results of this study shoots holes in those concerns. Instead of acknowledging that based on actual data the people that made those claims without any data were wrong you change the argument and criticize Hoppy for what he didn't say. Again no reasonable person would read this article and conclude that there are no other valid concerns out there about the shale it is a stand alone article.

          • Hillboy

            I agree with part of what you say. People are people regardless of which side of an argument they fall on and a certain percentage of them are going to respond emotionally. I agree that too many people within the environmental community (which is no more homogeneous than the conservative community) have focused too much on fracking to the neglect of other related issues.

            But, I still think Hoppy intentionally muddies the water by writing about an "anti-fracking movement" as if that is their sole concern (so now they can go home). It is cold comfort to a property owner whose well has been destroyed by drilling to learn that the cause was not fracking.

    • Wirerowe

      Hops there have been extensive concerns from the environmental community about the contamination of water sources by chemicals used in the fracking process and that the fracking process in and of itself contaminates ground water. The professor did not find this at all. No testing is definitive and final . But the results of the tests give some if not complete reassurance about the process and that regulations and due diligence can keep the methane migration to a minimum.

      • Hop'sHip

        Wouldn't you agree that the most serious water issues surrounding shale gas extraction involves the handling of waste waters? I know that wasn't what this research was looking at but this study is being presented as a refutation of environmentalists concerns regarding environmental impacts from shale gas extraction.

        • Wowbagger

          Hippie,

          That is absolutely correct!

        • Matt Miller

          Its being presented as a refutation of Anti-Fracking concerns.

          It specifically mentions that that doesnt mean there are no concerns.

          Its the reasonable tone that none of the anti-development folks have wanted to take so far, so it wouldnt surprise me if they see it as a threat. Because what the study says is that it is probably possible to do this right.... whereas the anti-development folks will only settle for not doing it at all. Doing it right isnt good enough.

        • thornton

          No.....the study is not being presented as a refutation of all the anti-environmentalist's concerns.

          Some may try to spin it that way, in an attempt to gain a foothold as they slide south.

  • TD

    Great to see you putting faith in science Hoppy, well at least when it suits your needs.

    As for the study, terrific news.

    • toddyo

      Here in Kern County, CA we have been fracking for over 40 years. A friend of mine invented the horizontal boring tool that made high production fracking practical.

      George Soros of Katrina rig movement from the Gulf to Brazil has had MoveOn.org picketing here to end fracking. Now the currency manipulator has invested $500 mil in fracking equipment and fluids technology.

      I give environmentalists credit for calling attention to potential and real problems. They should also participate with entrepreneurs to solve the problems so we can all prosper in a clean environment instead of having the Feds running around harassing and fining which accomplishes nothing..

  • exwvguy

    Many years ago as a young man in WV. I was working in a factory around Morgantown that used well water in their process. It was always bubbling. I could hold a lighter at the end of the hose and it would burn. I believe this to be common in that area if the water wells are not done properly.

    • Matt Miller

      It is not unusual in this region.

      In fact, one of the examples most often cited by anti-development voices is Cabot and Dimmock, PA. Some of the more litigious residents of Dimmock would show their water had gas present, and could be lit on fire. Previous residents of some of those homes, however, signed affidavits stating that there was gas in the water there going back decades.

      The earliest oil development was in places where you could see it bubbling up through the surface. You also see naturally occurring gas bubbling to the surface.

      All of that is to say that it is a fact that gas can and does end up in water wells and springs through entirely natural means.

      That does not mean, however, that industrial operations cannot help gas migration along in some cases.

      As this study shows, though, even when drilling activities may impact local water wells, the impacts are most often coming from outside of the wellbore, not from within.

      I believe that spills on the surface are far more of a concern than fracking, but it does not have a scary, almost vulgar-sounding name to go along with it like fracking does, so anti-development folks stick with the more appealing soundbites.

  • Ginger Vitis

    Definitive proof that corporate sponsors are correct. No proof to contaminated wells or water from fracking, nooooo. This study solves it case closed. Sleep well on your gas profit furnished home as you continue to peddle that sweet sweet smut.

    • CB44

      FYI…the EPA has never recorded a water contamination event from hydraulic fracturing. They're certainly not a corporate sponsor.

    • Jesse's girl

      I cannot help but notice that when the facts and true science get in the way of cherished fiction, the left always resorts to name-calling. A clear sign that they are "busted."

      • Hop'sHip

        Hmmm. Resorting to disparagement, sort of like your post below?

      • Jeff

        I'm speechless

  • Jesse's girl

    Thornton and captainQ are right on target. I had not heard the “since Hector was a pup” for many decades and it caused a chuckle. But to the seriousness of what you said. I recently learned of a column by Stephen Hayward in which he speaks of a book just out by Naomi Klein: “This Changes Everything.” There is the old saw that environmentalists are “watermelons”–green on the outside, red on the inside. Apparently and unwittingly, Ms. Klein validates it. The purpose of militant environmentalism is to obliterate capitalism. In describing the book, the liberal website, CommonDreams, says: “Forget everything you think you know about global warming. The really inconvenient truth is that it’s not about carbon–it’s about capitalism.”

    And for all those robotic environmentalists, you are the “useful idiots,” (a term ascribed to Lenin and widely used in the former Soviet Union for those who unwittingly were programmed to carry out the propaganda of the leaders). Most of the so-called “environmental” groups are far from benign. Before joining, giving monies to or credence to, the intelligent person will seek to find out who they really are.

    What is known as “fracturing” was used in Pennsylvania’s early oil industry. Great, great uncles of mine were involved in that venture. One of my older brothers remembers our grandmother throwing the dynamite into the hole to bring up the oil ("fracking"). Due to the oil business, my grandmother, who grew up on a farm outside Meadville, PA, went to college. My father was not only able to go to college, but received his PhD in chemistry from M.I.T. and taught at WVU for 40 years.

    Capitalism is the only system where people can move themselves up the economic and social ladder justly. Taking from those who produce and giving to those who do not (social “justice” or redistribution of wealth) is not justice.

    • Ginger Vitis

      If you believe this is still the case you are more a fossil fuel than you think.

      • toddyo

        Is oil a fossil fuel or is it abiotic, formed under great pressure? A clue is where oil is found - even possibly in the Gulf where an asteroid hit 65 million years ago.
        Just asking...

        Also consider petroleum is a critical ingredient in road paving, roofing, pharmaceuticals, plastics and many other uses. Wind and solar are only good for about 20% of the grid. It gets dark at night and the winds vary widely,

        Consider the wiping out of bird populations by wind turbines and more flying into the new heliostatic solar farms where birds are roasted in the air.

  • GregG

    You should save yourself a bunch of keystrokes Hoppy and just say............Big Business would never do anything to endanger people or the environment. I doubt that either of us will be around 40-50 years from now, but I'm pretty certain that if we were you would be eating crow in regards to your never ending support of this Marcellus boon.

  • The bookman

    Hoppy,

    Be careful not to read too much into this scientific study. Yes , this peer reviewed study does support what we already knew, that given the depth of these shale formations, fracking liquids and gas from the fragmentation process was not migrating through strata to contaminate water wells.

    But the study does link distance to well heads as significant to contamination of wells. So why is the EPA not reacting here?

    Evidence directly implicating current drilling operations are non existent or inconclusive. There are many ways for methane to enter an aquifer. Most are natural processes, or operations that are not linked to gas fracturing. The Texas Railroad Commission, the regulatory agency charged with oil and gas drilling oversight in that state, inform private water well owners to properly vent and/or aerate their wells to guard against accumulation of methane or other contaminants.

    The state of Kentucky has a very informative booklet online that describes the proper maintenance and operation of a private water well. If you have a private well, you would do well to read it and follow those guidelines to mitigate methane and other naturally occurring contaminants in your water supply.

    Due diligence and personal responsibility, as well as an industry that is concerned for public health and safety should permit the development of this resource.

  • Wirerowe

    I heard the professor from Duke on your show yesterday. To his credit unlike the professor on the water crisis his conclusion was something other than more tests need to be made. Initially when you were almost giddy about the fact that the actually cracking was not causing the methane migration I thought you were splitting hairs . Because somewhere in the process whether through leaky casing or the gas moving outside the casing was causing the migration. But the more I thought about it you are right. The casing like the injection wells of waste materials can be regulated and fixed.

  • thornton

    Wells have been drilled, comparably, since Hector achieved pupdom.
    One issue is that in those earlier days, both the technology in drilling and completion, the requirements of operation and the regulations in plugging were not as consistent, knowledgeable or monitored as today.
    Add in the naturally-occurring natural gas and the often very shallow gas zones, such as the Cow Run, and one has and has had, negative issues with water wells and coal mines....for a good spell.

    However, no fears by the anti-enviros(correctly described) will be allayed...there is no profit there for either their agenda or their membership roles and coffers.
    Commonsense ignored, is their stock in trade.
    It is swell that research can be banked as to the issue of hydraulic fracturing effects to shallow water zones but, really, nothing will change.

    Actually, what continues to be ignored is one of the actual legitimate concerns with this recent boom.
    That is in the obtaining and disposal of water.
    And, there naturally are other issues of concern afloat, as any boom brings problems and tradeoffs along with the advantages inherently possible with development to meet Progress and human expansion.

    It is a shame that honest thought is often so dropped in favor of ignorant and emotional buzz words, like Fracking, when trying to stir a pot or break up a day for a lonely person looking for attention.
    I would suggest that more folks in need of a great Cause to trumpet, consider mosaics.
    America will thank them and....they will have a nice piece of decoration for the rumpus room wall.

    • Hop'sHip

      I'll probably regret asking because I am sure the answer will come with a strong measure of condescension, but I must admit wondering why the correct description of I'm not sure whom is "anti-enviros?"

      • thornton

        I do tend to lump folks who adopt an attitude of Savior together a bit.

        Often, Saving The Forest, for example from axe and saw, makes these lads and lasses all giggly and blind to the shallowness of their thought.
        As in reality each tool used properly, delivers the healthiest of forests for all of us, afoot or a-wing.
        Ignoring the value of each then, is very much an anti-environment attitude....albeit one that appears grand at the coffee shop.
        I suspect that the Marcellus/Utica is also prime coffee shop fodder and this recent study will be spun the way all is spun that is inconvenient to consider, as the coffee perks.
        Therefore...the lumping.

        Work through any discomfort or questioning my comments delivered...the world will still spin much the same tomorrow.
        Despite the apparent wishes of a few souls tip and dripping the latte and looking for somewhere they can imagine themselves as green Walter Mittys saving .....Something from Something.
        More thought than that or thought past that delivered by biased analysis or lonely Internet surfers is quite foreign to them.
        Perhaps though, standing intellectually apart in a coffee shop is actually frightening to them and "uh-huh, you go girl" is simply easy-peasy and gets them through the day.
        If so, I pity them all the more.

        • Hop'sHip

          I was right. I shouldn't have asked. But thanks for responding.

          • thornton

            Sure..no problem.
            I live but to serve.

            Maybe next time you can work on highlighting the condescending attitude continually displayed on the part of the Marcellus, et al whiners.
            If so, then soon you may save the world, yourownsel, eh?

  • CaptainQ

    Hoppy, you know as well as I do that environmental wackos don't want to be 'confused by the facts' in anything. If the true facts don't match their position, they have no problem either stretching/bending the truth or 'creating' their own brand of 'facts' to back their agenda up. Remember all those discovered e-mails that proved some of the leading scientists in the 'climate change' movement were producing fraudulent data? Yeah, most of the news media kind of hid reporting of that development fast.

    Bottom line, if these environmental extremists can 'create' enough data to scare the Obama Administration, you can bet his EPA will go after WV fracking operations next. After all, shutting down the state's coal industry will NOT be enough to satisfy the President, he'll want to stop ANY energy production that the environmentalist wing of the Democratic Party deems as 'dangerous.'

    • Hillboy

      Captain, with all due respect, I don't think you are a good person to complain about people being confused about the facts. The so-called "Climategate" story faded away because several independent committees investigated the allegations and found no evidence of fraud on the part of the four researchers involved. Yet, somehow you accept that it is a fact that their data were manipulated. If you have some facts on exactly what data was fabricated I'd like to hear about it. Because even when the story was in the news, those details were kind of vague.

      Oh, and I wouldn't worry too much about Obama going after the gas industry. They are allies in the war on coal after all.

      • scottyakzo

        Is it completely relevant whether the climate gate researchers "were cooking the books" or not? It's quite telling that anyone who dares to question climate change as caused by man is considered a neanderthal. Last I checked, until something becomes a law scientifically, it can be questioned or tested. Not so with anything that the left believes.

        How many research projects have failed to be reported because they have debunked the climate change argument? More than we will ever know.

        I'm an engineer and don't have a strong opinion on the subject. However, when I'm told how I have to think or conclude and I better not challenge conventional left thinking, then I become skeptical.

        Besides, are we willing to spend trillions of dollars on something that might happen based on very inaccurate computer models? I think that would be completely ludicrous for our political leaders to lead us that way based on what might happen. Last I looked, this country has plenty of other problems to deal with besides climate change.

        • Hillboy

          My point actually had nothing to do with whether climate change is real or not. It had to do with someone calling one group of people factually challenged by using an example of fraudulent research that was found to not be true.

          You are free to question climate change as people on this MB do all the time.

      • thornton

        Allies have turned to enemies before...once they pass their due date...kinda like ground turkey at Kroger.

        • Hillboy

          He'll be out of office by then.

          • thornton

            In his mind, he has already left.