University of Texas Fracking Study: No Evidence That It Contaminates Groundwater

Categories: The Environment

Hydraulic-FrackingBarnettShaleDrilling-e1320158260740-199x300.jpg
The University of Texas released the preliminary results today of that comprehensive study on the controversial natural gas producing process known as hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), drawing no link between it and claims of groundwater contamination.

"While there have been casing/cement issues identified by regulators, we haven't seen evidence in our preliminary review of the data that these have resulted in significant groundwater contamination," UT geologist and lead researcher Chip Groat told The Houston Chronicle.

This finding, which will be formally released later today in Fort Worth, isn't earth-shattering. An MIT study made a similar finding, as did one for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. However, the UT study doesn't let fracking off the hook completely. Spills of fracturing fluid on the surface, along with seepage from wastewater pits, occur more often during the hydraulic fracturing process than with other types of oil and gas production, the report found.

Faulty surface casing -- which separates the product from aquifers -- appears to be a reoccurring problem. The study by the National Academy of Sciences found instances of methane contamination in groundwater supplies near hydraulic fracturing.

The UT study may put another dent into the perception that the fracturing process itself is responsible for widespread groundwater contamination, but considering the documented air quality impacts, greenhouse-gas effects and the yet-to-be-disclosed makeup of fracturing fluid, it will likely take more than this study to allay the fears opponents harbor for this purported "bridge" source of energy.

Update: UT just sent out a release announcing other preliminary findings and objectives in its evaluation of shale gas production. Those follow.

- Many allegations of groundwater contamination appear to be related to above-ground spills or other mishandling of wastewater produced from shale gas drilling, rather 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. Groat said researchers could recommend additional baseline studies, depending on final evaluation of data yet to be compiled.

- 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 of the practice.

At Wednesday's briefing, Groat also discussed two other Energy Institute initiatives related to hydraulic fracturing for shale gas development.

The first project would evaluate claims of groundwater contamination within the Barnett Shale in North Texas. As proposed, the research would entail an examination of various aspects of shale gas development, including site preparation, drilling, production, and handling and disposal of flow-back water. Researchers also would identify and document activities unrelated to shale gas development that have resulted in water contamination.

A second project, designed to be an extension of the current study, would involve a detailed field and laboratory investigation of whether hydrological connectivity exists between shallow groundwater aquifers and fractures created by hydraulic fracturing during shale gas development. The project calls for university researchers to conduct field sampling of hydraulic fracturing fluid, flow-back water, produced water, and water from aquifers and other geologic units within the Barnett Shale.

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17 comments
Marc
Marc

Here is a key piece of the story that those who support frac'ing will intentionally neglect to consider or discuss:

" 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. Groat said researchers could recommend additional baseline studies, depending on final evaluation of data yet to be compiled."

For the record, baseline studies CANNOT be done after a well has already been drilled. Those studies have to be undertaken BEFORE the well is drilled and frac'ed so that a BASELINE can be obtained to determine the difference before and after the well is drilled and frac'ed.

pak152
pak152

I suspect that many didn't follow the links provided otherwise they would have read this item"The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been involved in the design of the study and will provide comments to researchers before a final report is made public, he said. A peer group representing scientists from cooperating universities in the affected areas also will review the team’s findings."http://www.utexas.edu/news/201...

S Aten
S Aten

I was reading yesterday in the Sydney Daily Mail that you can frack without water.   There is a company in Canada that has developed a process that does not use water at all for drilling.   Most stories that I have seen re: contamination of groundwater occurs when the drillers cut corners and do not properly seal the hole they are digging with pipe and cement.  

Paul
Paul

Fracking causes alkaline hydrolysis and synaptic reflexive posturing syndrome ...

GigEm
GigEm

So I guess being able to light the water on fire is a natural occurrence?

lorlee
lorlee

It's the use of untold millions upon millions of gallons of potable water that should concern us when water is a limited resource.

Juan Valdez
Juan Valdez

University of Texas Fracking Study: No Evidence That It Contaminates Groundwater

It only makes people glow in the dark.

Marc
Marc

You are correct. GasFrac (http://gasfrac.com/) of Canada has been doing this for some time now using LNG instead of chemically-polluted fresh water, and they recover almost 100% of their frac fluid, which is then available for commercial sale if they choose not to re-use it for another frac job.

I have heard that it may not be feasible to use that process everywhere because of warmer subsurface temperatures. There is a Houston-based company that has been experimenting with the same process, but I have not heard of any major success they have had in doing so. But, some companies are looking at alternatives to the current process. In the midst of the worst drought in history the use and permanent destruction of a vast quantity of potable water is insane!

Our state climatoligist recently told us that this current drought may continue another 5-15 years. His studies have show the same ocean patterns, but with greater tendencies, that occurred in the last two great droughts we faced in the 1950's and 1980's.

jfpo
jfpo

Flammable water apparently isn't "significant" contanimation.

GigEm
GigEm

I don't think Ben Franklin had indoor plumbing. Nice try though.

FM
FM

Guess not. Maybe the other hundreds of chemicals in the water would be. I wonder if any of these alleged scientists have watched Gas Land or spoken to people who have suffered the water and air contamination caused by improper drilling techniques.

Juan Valdez
Juan Valdez

Do you want me to use fracked water. I hear its delicious. You may autocombust.

Chris Salmon
Chris Salmon

did you mention indoor plumbing?  I must have missed that.  Oh, wait - you didn't.  Never mind.

Chris Salmon
Chris Salmon

Riiiigghht.  Watching a movie and gathering anecdotes is a great way to obtain useful evidence.  Very convincing.

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