University of Texas Study Says Fracking Has Not Contaminated Groundwater

by Duane Nichols on November 14, 2011

Professor Charles Groat

A nine-month study began in May at the Energy Institute of the University of Texas in Austin is to include an analysis of reports of groundwater contamination attributed to fracking in several shale plays: The Barnett in Texas, the Haynesville in Texas and Louisiana, and the Marcellus. Professor Charles Groat, a geologist, has said that thus far a review of all available data indicates that fracking of shale is not contributing to groundwater contamination.

The Duke University study, which has been criticized for its methodology and limited scope, measured methane in groundwater close to some well pads in Pennsylvania and New York, but drew no firm conclusions on how the methane got there. It speculated that poor well casings was one possibility. The University of Texas research team also hopes to examine air emissions from well pads. Surface owners and others have expressed concerns about fumes from vehicles and well equipment, evaporation from impoundment ponds, and spills, as well as foul smells and illnesses attributed to extraction operations.

Professor Groat said the final report will also identify existing regulations related to shale gas development and evaluate individual states’ capacities to enforce regulations. They also will provide an analysis of public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing, as derived from popular media,  scientific studies and interviews with local residents.

As reported today in the Morgantown Dominion Post, Jim Kotcon, a WVU soil science professor in the agriculture college, and chairman of the Sierra Club West Virginia Chapter Energy Committee, had a different take on the study. “While it is true that fracking per se has limited effects on groundwater, it is also true that none of the other problems associated with it would have occurred if the wells hadn’t been drilled in first place using hydraulic fracturing technology. … It’s misleading to focus on one technical aspect as if that excuses the contamination and poor land use that results” from current operations.

Professor Kotcon said, “Connectivity between layers will depend on the specific geology at each site.” It’s improper to assume that an aquifer will be automatically protected or contaminated. It should be decided case by case. For that reason, he said, it’s vitally important that the West Virginia Legislature include a public comment requirement for all well permit applications in any new regulation. The amendments to SB-424 currently have a 30 day comment period for affected parties.

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