Pursuit of Shale Gas May Contaminate Water, Says UT Study, But It's Not Due to Fracking

Categories: The Environment

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The University of Texas Energy Institute cast a skeptical eye on the likelihood that the actual act of fracking could result in groundwater contamination. Particularly in the Barnett Shale, where aquifers sit thousands of feet above the shale rock, head researcher Dr. Chip Groat reasoned that the danger of fracking fluid migrating thousands of feet upward through propagating fractures was far-fetched. (As opposed to a Pavillion, Wyoming, where horizontal fracks and aquifers are much closer together.)

But as the shale play moves out of the pasture and into densely populated areas, that doesn't mean, taken holistically, that the pursuit of shale gas doesn't pose risks to groundwater.

An even greater threat, says the completed UT study, comes from surface spills of the concentrated chemicals later diluted in fracking fluid. But regulatory bodies don't keep detailed enough records to gauge how serious they are, or how often they occur.

Much depends on proper well construction and integrity. Given the extremely high pressures at which fracking fluid is injected into shale formations -- up to 1,400 pounds per square inch -- the odds that a poorly constructed well will be compromised are good. Fracking fluid could conceivably penetrate the casing or cement and slip into aquifers.

Blowouts, or the uncontrolled release of natural gas and fracking fluids, are among the most common of well control problems. Blowout preventers keep them from reaching the surface. The side effect is that all that pressure has to go somewhere, and it could exploit weaknesses in the casing or cement. "For example, in the Barnett shale, the Railroad Commission of Texas determined that two of 12 blowouts were underground, but publicly available information is insufficient to evaluate the causes or consequences of the blowouts."

Blowouts, the study points out, appear under-reported. The truth is, instances where fracking fluid enters an aquifer through compromised casing and cement could be more prevalent than anyone knows.

The lighter setting a running faucet aflame is the iconic image of the anti-fracking movement. The study says the gas is likely naturally occurring and has been a problem for years. But water well owners complaining of cloudy, foul-smelling water shortly after nearby fracking operations begin may be onto something

"It appears that many of the water quality changes observed in water wells in a similar time frame as shale gas operations may be due to mobilization of constituents that were already present in the wells by energy (vibrations and pressure pulses) put into the ground during drilling and other operations rather than by hydraulic fracturing fluids or leakage from the well casing," the study says. "As the vibrations and pressure changes disturb the wells, accumulated particles of iron and manganese oxides, as well as other materials on the casing wall and well bottom, may become agitated into suspension causing changes in color (red, orange or gold), increasing turbidity, and release of odors.

"None of the water well claims involve hydraulic fracturing fluid additives, and none of these constituents has been found by chemical testing of water wells."

What the study observed about attitudes and public knowledge regarding fracking in Texas was just as interesting. Some 71 percent of those interviewed in 26 counties didn't know that the Railroad Commission doesn't regulate the setback distance between gas wells and homes. Another 42 percent overestimated the amount of scientific research surrounding fracking and its potential to contaminate water sources.

Sixty-seven percent placed a higher priority on the environment and health than energy production. Some 86 percent placed a higher priority on satisfying energy needs with fewer impacts to water and water consumption.

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31 comments
King Neece
King Neece

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King Neece
King Neece

Remove radiation from any water source

 

Our University of Alabama patented solar desalination product uses noelectricity, has no filters to replace, can be taken anywhere and extracts purewater from any contaminated water source. It removes radiation, fluoride, salt,pesticides, bacteria, dirt and other contaminants from any water. It aidspeople to be prepared for disasters, saves hundreds on bottled water andutility bills. Made tough in the U.S.A.

 

Please visit us:

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These units can also be placed together in arrays of literally any size, asneeded, to accommodate a desert vegetable farm or remote area water needs, etc. 

Scobies
Scobies

 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 friday 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 key  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

rishi
rishi

The Trinity River is at great risk if fracking occurs in Dallas.  Almost all of the proposed sites are near or around the Trinity from the Elm Fork and downriver, in addition to other bodies of water.  This can lead to contamination of our surface water as well as depletion of our water supply for years to come.  

Bruce
Bruce

It is too painful to acknowledge the truth that we are on the downward slope of our fossil fuel supply, and we DON'T WANNA CHANGE OUR BAD HABITS. It is easier to believe the best, or that it is SOMEONE ELSE'S FAULT.  Truth is . . . .  we all better start treating our energy as precious, no matter the cost.  We gotta carpool, ride buses, stay home, and turn down the thermostat.  Our President called this one in the 70s and we are still pretending that it isn't true.  The turmoil that is starting to happen is the natural result of our own behaviour.

TXsharon
TXsharon

Here is what people who live in Gasland know: \

***When they frack, water gets contaminated.***We don't know how or why, we just know it happens that way. Period!

pak152
pak152

one of the interesting parts of the study  was an analysis of print, broadcast and online news media. they found the tone was overwhelmingly negative and that tone was consistent at both the national and local levels. they found that less than 20% of newspaper articles mention scientific research related to the issue. , while only 25% of broadcast news mentioned scientific studies while 33% of online news media mentioned scientific studies..

Gee wouldn't want to spoil the story with scientific facts better to rely upon apocryphal anecdotes instead.the above information can be found in a brochure titled "Separating Fact from Fiction in Shale Gas Development" found here http://energy.utexas.edu/index...

http://bit.ly/A9LbOx

claytonauger
claytonauger

That same survey found that people overestimated the amount of actual scientific study going into examining fracking harms. Don't cherry pick. The industry is signing legal settlements right and left in the Shale to keep those stories "anecdotal."

Edgar
Edgar

Your claim that the industry is signing settlements is, at best, anecdotal.

WCGasette
WCGasette

Something that is so harmful to our communities ~ really, many of us could care less about this debate. We just see the results. And all fracking aside, it's not just about that.

Fracking and drilling, the infrastructure including tank batteries, processing plants, compressors, compressor stations and laying non-odorized transmission and gas gathering pipelines under our communities and near our homes, schools and hospitals, creating permanent distrust among neighbors and friends ~ turning our communities into industrial zones with dangerous emissions and leaks of highly volatile organic compounds (VOCs) ~ all of it is no good...no matter what they say or how they try to pin it down to being "one" problem that they can fix ~ just to make everyone relax all over again. Game over.

Guesto
Guesto

"The University of Texas Energy Institute cast a skeptical eye on the likelihood that the actual act of fracking could result in groundwater contamination."

Wow, perhaps because they are Energy Institute.

WCGasette
WCGasette

And perhaps because they are funded by the industry? Conoco Phillips to be precise.

Professor Groat admits that in this email from last evening:

For the [follow-up] case study, we will use Energy Institute money plus funds from energy companies and governments in the Barnett Shale development area. This is a matter of financial necessity, but we want to spread the funding among organizations with different interests in Barnett Shale development."

http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com...

Conoco Phillips clearly has a vested interest in the results being in their favor (from the comments of the cosmiclog at the link above.)

http://breakinglawsuitnews.com...

pak152
pak152

 "The Environmental Defense Fund is taking part in the study, in addition to a number of UT faculty." http://fuelfix.com/blog/2011/1...

I guess we need to tar brush the EDF just as we need to condemn the Sierra Club for taking money from a utility to condemn the coal industry

Max from the Sandspit
Max from the Sandspit

At least Gasland turned a profit for it's promoters. Can't wait for Gassland Too- Exploding Frog Syndrom, might even get reviewed by John Bloom if there's enough aardvarking goin' on.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

UT Energy Institute in Austin saying there's no problem about contamination is like saying the dancers at Silver City are all professional choreographers from New York who don't engage in sexual activity with their audience.

pak152
pak152

 hey darrd2010 I'll assume that you too are unaware that the Environmental Defense Fund was involved with the study. what say you to that? mmmm?

claytonauger
claytonauger

I think they're saying that drilling does contaminate water, and now the disagreement is how it does so. The part abut surface spills is important to Dallas, which is in the verge of OK'ing new rules for drilling in the city that would allow fracking from Royal Lane to West Dallas to Cedar Valley College.

pak152
pak152

 "I think they're saying that drilling does contaminate water"

read the study. they said that the most likely source of groundwater contamination comes from the failure of the casing. or spills. they recommend stronger casing. BUT they found no evidence that fracking itself contaminates groundwater

Bruce
Bruce

That is just wordplay.  If the casing fails, then it only fails under the pressure of fracking. Without fracking, there is seldom failure, and during fracking, many failures.  Who gives a crap about words, it is about contaminated water, and air.  This is like an article written by lawyers.

claytonauger
claytonauger

And yet there are other studies tht have found fracking to be the likely cause of graoundwater contamination. So now we have two causes at least - drilling casing and actual fracking itself - both integral to the fracking process - that are under fire for causing groundwater contamination. That suggests that these guys really don't have it down to an exact scinence yet, to say the least. In urban drilling, where we don't usually depend on well water for our drinking supplies, the spillage cause is of more concern because you're having an accident in the middle of a densly populated area, as opposed to a pasture or rangeland. There's actually more potential for harm in a place like Dallas with the scenario outlined in this report than with fracking alone. So, you know, not so much reason to celebrate. The bottom line is that they screw up on a frequent basis and it resutls in bad stuff happening which still isn't very well documented.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Oh yeah, they haven't heard about the new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge becoming the new front door to Gasland in West Dallas, have they?Now THIS will be the time to either shed a tear from the horseshoe or run out of city council chambers with embarrassment for signing those leases in 2008.

Hey media, power up those cameras and microphones, this will be newsworthy.

Jim
Jim

In other news, NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND IS DRILLING IN THE BARNETT NOW! Gas is $2.66 / MCF, conservative estimates say those wells are profitable at $6 / MCF.

RTGolden
RTGolden

So, basically what is being said here is 'We don't have enough available data to make an informed decision one way or the other', right?

pak152
pak152

 try reading the study then make a comment

pak152
pak152

"As opposed to a Pavillion, Wyoming, where horizontal fracks and aquifers are much closer together.)" and many folks have found numerous problems with that EPA study that makes it not as authoritative as many would like it to be

keepthetrinitykosher
keepthetrinitykosher

Many folks also found problems with the findings stating, "that smoking cigarettes were bad for you". Of course, we all know, who those whom had such problems with "those studies" worked for....

pak152
pak152

 apparently you haven't read the study nor are you aware that the Environmental Defense Fund was a part of the study or that Dr. Groat "who served as head of the U.S. Geological Survey under the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations"http://fuelfix.com/blog/2011/1...but why let facts stand in the way of hysteria and don't forget that Sierra Club took money from a utility to trash the coal industry. I trust the UTx study more

pak152
pak152

 prior to the BP blowout how many blowouts had occurred? Engineers learn from failures. they have improved the blowout preventers. as for "shilling" gee I just love ad hominem attacks you assume something not in evidence ie that I am paid by the oil industry. My suggestion is that you go to the study download it and read it. keep an open mind, skepticism is okay.

here is a list of the current advisorshttp://energy.utexas.edu/index...

not that the President of the Environmental Defense Fund is a current advisor.

as for having nifty studies at hand at least I can provide sources to support my statements. what do you have?

keepthetrinitykosher
keepthetrinitykosher

I'm not shilling for either side(unlike others on here, ahem)...just remembering BP telling us how safe their drilling operations were, that's all...i'll stop there, because this is how you make your living, after all, and you have plenty of nifty studies ready to copy/paste.

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