UTA Survey of Barnett Shale Water Wells Finds Contaminant Levels Highest Near Fracking

Categories: Science

fontenotandschug.jpg
UTA
UTA researchers, from left to right, Brian Fontenot and Kevin Schug.
The question Dr. Kevin Schug set out to answer was refreshingly simple: Does drilling activity in the Barnett Shale contribute to groundwater contamination? There is no shortage of assurances of safety from industry, or claims of mysterious illness from aggrieved landowners and environmental types. So, Schug and a fellow researcher at the University of Texas at Arlington, Dr. Brian Fontenot, decided to let science sort it out in 2011. In a study that is the first of its kind in the Barnett, the researchers tested 100 private water wells in a 13-county area. Some were located at various distances from natural gas wells. Others were completely outside of the Barnett Shale.

They analyzed the groundwater for arsenic, heavy metals and compounds commonly found in the concoction of chemicals, fine sand and water blasted thousands of feet beneath the surface at enormous pressures. Many of these contaminants occur naturally in the Barnett Shale. But on average, they were found in high concentrations in the water wells nearest drilling activity. In the study's active drilling-area, arsenic was detected in 29 water wells at levels exceeding federal limits. "It was clear in times where we found really high arsenic levels, you're up close to a wellhead," Schug tells Unfair Park.

Though the study, published last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, identified a correlation, Schug is quick to point out that they haven't singled out a mechanism for what could be causing the contamination. It could be a failure in the casing designed to protect groundwater. Mechanical vibrations might be disturbing particles in neglected water well equipment. Perhaps it's the lowering of the water table by the fracking process.

"I think our biggest conclusion is that more work needs to be done," Schug says.

One of the obstacles to this study was a lack of baseline data on contaminant levels before drilling began. Schug had to rely on historical data from the Texas Water Development Board. That's why he's so excited about the next phase of his research. Drilling in the Permian Basin's Cline Shale is ramping up. Schug and his colleagues were able to sample 60 wells before fracking operations began. They've gathered the kind of baseline data that was impossible get in the Barnett. What they predicts is that it will give them a before-during-and-after picture of groundwater quality in a shale play.

"This time lapse is something people haven't been able to look at before," he says.

Given the "frackademia" scandals of late, including the University of Texas researcher who exonerated fracking while neglecting to mention his well-compensated membership to a major fracker's board of directors, it's worth noting that this UTA study took no funding from either side of the aisle.

"Nobody could align us with the industry or the environmentalists, and assign us one agenda or another," he said.


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71 comments
holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

A friend has 660 acres in Johnson County.  He has five producing shale gas wells.  The stock tanks and the well water have been tested.  

No arsenic or any other pollutants.

so STFU.  

epicmale
epicmale

We need a little history here.  Back before there were oil or gas wells in many areas of Texas, one could drill a 100-700' deep water well and 'discover' natural gas.  I've seen folks lighting the 'burps' out of their water hoses 60 years ago.  It was amusing.  If the water was used for livestock, they'd just let it burp.  If the water was used in the house, then they added some kind of diverter, and a charcoal filter.

In some areas of Texas, a water well can produce what looks like orange juice, which smells like a truck load of rotten eggs, which is due to sulphur and associated compounds.  And other areas have water that looks like strong tea flowing from their wells, which is iron and associated compounds.  There are areas where the well water contains so much salt that it will gag you and turn your hair green if you bath in it.

The point is that not every area produces pristine, pure, palatable water.  That is just one reason that good water is so valuable in Texas.  But move a city dweller into an area where they are unfamiliar with the vagaries of the water table, and its sometimes decades long variations, and you get lawsuits and politicians jumping into the well together.

TexMarine
TexMarine

Water? You mean like out of the 'terlit?

juanmayeaux
juanmayeaux

 I wouldn't call this a complete study in any sense of the word. Data incomplete is the correct tagline.  If you read the story, it admits the following: One of the obstacles to this study was a lack of baseline data on contaminant levels before drilling beganEdit (5 minutes)

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

If it is proven that gas wells do not cause arsenic to be in the well water, then get a filter at your own expense.

If it is proven that gas wells do cause arsenic to be in the well water, then get a filter at your own expense and bill the gas well owners.  Or invoice them directly.

http://www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/qarsenic.asp

And if your water is soft and tastes like shit . . . get a filter.

but go get a filter if you want peace of mind.

Christy Eppinette Bowers
Christy Eppinette Bowers

Wasn't it from Pennsylvania that a study just came out that said fracking was safe and the water was fine? Scary pile of lies.

ebailey75057
ebailey75057

They will gather the data from the Permian Basin's Cline Shale wells, along with their baseline data.  They will discover; Oh My!  the wells are being contanimated.  They will begin to compile their findings and ready it for dissemination to the public. Just prior to the release of their report they will be contacted by an unknown entity and will either accept a large deposit in an offshore bank account or they will never be heard from again. Big Business and their employees the Repubs will make this report go away no matter the cost.  This government has already sold our souls to the devil.   They will continue to lie and put up smoke screens to its citizens until they are nailed against the wall with evidence.

Judy Conatser
Judy Conatser

I suppose it this keeps up water will have to be trucked in. Have you watched Gasland II. It's a must watch. Towns in Pa no longer have safe water. It has to be trucked in.

Brian Bonifas
Brian Bonifas

A few disappearances, a few donations to the college, a few campaign donations, and that water will be clean enough to drink again!

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Without measurements showing what the levels were before drilling, this data isn't much use.  So the concentrations are higher there.  The concentrations are also consistent with the shale formations themselves.  That's why they are close to where they are drilling.

It's like finding bird corpses near bird feeders and saying that bird feeders kill birds.  The only reason you are finding the bird corpses is because the birds gather around the feeders.

Cynthia Henson
Cynthia Henson

the $ won't stop the fracking and we will never find out what the chemicals are being used to get the gas out of the ground

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

the urbanites don't get their water from wells.  We are reservoir people.  Only those "rural" people - the rednecks you so loathe - drink well water.  

So why the sudden compassion for water table people?  When have you ever given a shit about Americans outside your tolerance level (ha!)?  Answer - never.  The people in the rural areas are but merely a vehicle to advance your goofy abolitionist approach to environmentalism, when the only approach that meets with reality is that of a utilitarian one.  

You don't have the science so you fear monger.



TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@holmantx 

Well, (ha!) That settles it, then.

These five wells are clearly representative of all shale gas operations.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@holmantx  

Actually, an activated charcoal filter after the solids filter is indicated.  A simple filter will not remove dissolved solids.

juanmayeaux
juanmayeaux

@ebailey75057 I wouldn't call this a complete study in any sense of the word. Data incomplete is the correct tagline.  If you read the story, it admits the following: One of the obstacles to this study was a lack of baseline data on contaminant levels before drilling began

Willie
Willie

@ebailey75057 Nice screed.  What they will find is that the water wells have low levels of petroleum-derived contamination from the multitude of existing oil wells built to older standards.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@ebailey75057 The amount it would take to buy them off is more than it would take to just buy out the well owners.

If you believe any of this, then you also believe that the oil companies love money above everything.  They will go with the plan that lets them keep the most of it, and that is buying out the landowners, not bribing researchers.

Filter
Filter

@everlastingphelps I didn't realize you're a scientist as well as anthropologist, economist, leader, teacher, and soldier that you've proven yourself to be around here. Rather than spit facts at you I'll just ask how much money are you getting from the oil and gas industry? Otherwise why would you protect the people that would buy and sell you for the price of a quart of oil?

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@holmantx Neither side has the science they need yet, Holman.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with following the science to the truth.  If it is true that they received no money from either the industry or the environmentalists, there is no reason to discount the study.  Unlike Gasland and the Parker Cty goof, this study seems to be aimed at uncovering the truth, whatever it may be.

ebailey75057
ebailey75057

@everlastingphelps @ebailey75057 

Campaign contibutions can open; and keep open, alot of doors.

TexMarine
TexMarine

@Filter @everlastingphelps "Rather than spit facts at you I'll just ask how much money are you getting from the oil and gas industry?"  Just when I thought you had him, you go all nutjob.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Filter @everlastingphelps How about those facts now.  A sound argument is based on the facts of the matter at hand, not how cleverly you can insult those with an opposing view. Yes?

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@Filter@everlastingphelpsI didn't realize you're a scientist as well as anthropologist, economist, leader, teacher, and soldier that you've proven yourself to be around here. 

Anyone who doesn't have some skills in all those fields is an uneducated moron. I prefer not to sit back and be spoon fed propoganda, kkthxbai.

Rather than spit facts at you I'll just ask how much money are you getting from the oil and gas industry? 

Zero.  I don't work in that industry.  Besides, paying shills is more of a left thing than the right.  (See: Soros, Tides Foundation, "community organizers", etc.)

Otherwise why would you protect the people that would buy and sell you for the price of a quart of oil?

Because the truth is more important than who makes what money where.  Here's my reply question:

Why are you so envious of someone making a buck that you will support people who lie and pervert science just to harm them?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@RTGolden1 @holmantx 

I do not discount the study.  Like they said, it needs more study.

My impression after reading the piece is that a conclusion was hinted at, which the study did not support.

And to be blunt, well water can be decontaminated down to a couple of microns.

Dallas treats its water.

We need the shale gas.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@everlastingphelps @scottindallas 

That is an excellent idea.

Now, how much would you like to wager that the fracking folks and the politicians they finance will come up with a whole bunch of reasons not to do this.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@scottindallas Actually, that's not a bad idea.  An inert chemical marker, like they currently put on commercial explosives, tied to an individual site.

Not only would it end the question of whether or not the contaminants are from the fracking fluid, it would even tell us which sites are liable for the contamination of which wells.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

We need to know what the fracking coctail.is made of. Then, it would seem simple to test for these chemicals. Fracking is expensive either way. Either all that water is forever lost from the water cycle, or that chemical slurry migrates

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@holmantx@Filter@everlastingphelps 

In other words, correlation does not necessarily prove causality.

For example, does the DJI index rises in February because the NFC wins the Superbowl and drops because the AFC wins the Superbowl?  There is a correlation for this.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@Filter @everlastingphelps

Post hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for "after this, therefore because of this", is a logical fallacy (of the questionable cause variety) that states "Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one."

the fallacy of confusing consequence with sequence.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@scottindallas 

it's not an either or.  And it's not proven fracking is polluting the ground water.  And even if it is, the water can be filtered at nominal cost.  And if it is not, the water needs to be filtered anyways if it is polluted.  And A LOT of ground water is (polluted), either by the Earth naturally or by a host of possible human activity.  The gas is vital to the state and the nation.

The abolitionists are using a small, curable problem that has always plagued ground water use to block drilling they don't like and everyone friggin' knows it.  

"The Pecos River contains so much Sulphur a coyote has to lick his ass to get the taste out of his mouth."  Cows won't drink it.  Humans can't..

The twig munchers can go try and harness the surf or something. 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

You don care about high energy costs, you support high energy costs. You support finance "capitalism" over real capital intensive capitalism. You support the low cap gains and top marginal rates that reward speculation over cap intensive production. The higher rates would lower the tax burden for the petro producers, and discourage the commodities speculation. And, reward factory production by bringing depreciation back into the mix

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

Don't we need the water more than the gas?

ebailey75057
ebailey75057

@Willie @fracquestions By utilizing millions of gallons of an even more precious resource than oil or gas, water.  So we can heat our homes, but not take a bath or flush our toilets.  Brilliant concept.  Not to mention the damage caused by the earthquakes that are caused by this destructive process.  So no water and an unstable platform to which we live on.  Outstanding concepts  Let me get this straight your willing to take a dump right where you live just for the Holy Grail of cheap energy.  What happens when that runs out?  Whose future are you going to mortgage (or in the Republican frame of mind "Sell Out" at that point of the game?  

fracquestions
fracquestions

@Willie @fracquestions Willie, your knowledge about these matters would fill a very small thimble. Currently, natural gas sells for about 40% of its production cost. When you factor in transportation costs, royalty fees and taxes the price is perhaps 25% of the cost. By any measure that is a losing proposition, which is precisely why Wall Street is now running from natural gas investments.

As to "LMG", which I assume you meant as LNG, we are probably at least a decade away from exporting ANYTHING, and at least 15 years away from being able to export any significant quantity. Long before we have operational LNG terminals in the US both Russia and China, and possibly Japan, will have developed their own natural gas fields. Their gas will sell for MUCH lower prices and the transportation costs will be much lower than the cost of cooling and compressing natural gas to a liquid state to ship from her to Europe and Asia.

By the way, it costs about $7-10 Billion and about 5-7 years to convert a plant from import to export and takes about $10-15 Billion and a decade or more to build a new export terminal from the ground up. We have seven import terminals in the US. We need a minimum of 23 export terminals to make exportation financially feasible.

\Now, please explain to me how exporting our natural gas will reduce our "dependence on other countries." That claim flies in the face of reality.

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum topcommenter

Hydrocarbon sources of energy have far too many environmental problems associated with them. The advantages are they are cheap and easy to obtain and distribute.

I'd like to see much more focus on renewables. These are the ultimate future, even if new methods like fracking make cheap fossil fuel energy viable for another 100 years. The nations that embrace renewables and wean themselves from these 19th century energy sources will be insulated from the vicissitudes of supply fluctuations and pollution.

Willie
Willie

@fracquestions  Actually, the price has crept up a bit, but it's still very low.  The continued development of natural gas will continue to keep prices low, which provides incentive for power companies to switch from coal to gas, which is orders of magnitude cleaner.  Markets, schmarkets, there are lots of markets for our gas.  LMP terminals on the gulf coast are being converted from import to export.  And by exporting the gas, we are reducing our dependence on other countries.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@fracquestions @holmantx @RTGolden1 

To hold electrical costs down.  And when economic activity rebounds out of this intractable recession, we won't be dependant on the Middle East for prosperity.  Energy independence is freedom.  We now hold our own fate in our hands.   

No one but an idiot thinks prices will remain at below the cost to produce gas wells.  No more than we will be able to contain interest rates and inflation once this economy heats back up.

And cheap energy sources will be the main engine of our financial salvation from the debt and deficits that hold us all in this looping economic groundhog day of misery and malaise. 

fracquestions
fracquestions

@holmantx @RTGolden1 What an idiot! We have so much gas now that the overabundance is driving the price through the floor. We have no markets for all the gas we are producing, so why do "we need the shale gas?"

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@holmantx @RTGolden1 Ok, I may have read too much into your comments.  I am of the wait and see variety myself.  We DO need the gas.  The only thing we need more than the gas are valid, unbiased studies, and neither side of the argument are giving us those.

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