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Duke University Study Links Fracking to Ground Water Contamination

By John Daly | Wed, 26 June 2013 21:47 | 11

The process of hydraulic fracturing of deep underground shale rock to release its entombed natural gas for exploitation in the past decade has become a major element in U.S. energy production.

The process has ignited environmental concerns about the admixture of chemicals injected into wells to facilitate the process, with industry spokesmen insisting that the procedure is safe and protects subterranean water sources, a position strongly opposed by environmentalists, who not unreasonably point out that if the chemicals used are so benign, why does the industry not make the information publicly available?

In seeking verification for their positions, those on both sides of the debate seek academic underpinning for their arguments.

And now, the environmentalists have secured some Ivory Tower support, sure to send natural gas PR proponents into major damage control mode.

Who is the academic miscreant?

Duke University.

In the austerely titled “Increased stray gas abundance in a subset of drinking water wells near Marcellus shale gas extraction,” Robert B. Jacksona, Avner Vengosha, Thomas H. Darraha, Nathaniel R. Warnera, Adrian Downa,b, Robert J. Poredac, Stephen G. Osbornd, Kaiguang Zhaoa and Jonathan D. Karra lay out their evidence that households within a kilometer of shale gas fracking wells could be at higher risk of having their drinking water contaminated by flammable gases.

Related article: Centrica Pay £40 Million for 25% in Giant Shale Formation in the UK

Scientific method? The researchers studied 141 drinking water samples from bore holes in Pennsylvania and found higher levels of methane, ethane and propane in those within a kilometer of shale gas fracking sites.

But let us allow Jacksona et. al. to speak for themselves, from the report: “We analyzed 141 drinking waterwells across the Appalachian Plateaus physiographic province of northeastern Pennsylvania, examining natural gas concentrations and isotopic signatures with proximity to shale gas wells. Methane was detected in 82% of drinking water samples, with average concentrations six times higher for homes” less than one kilometer from the fracked natural gas wells.

And what environmentalist extremist rag has the Duke study appeared in?

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences … a peer reviewed journal, founded in 1915.

And Duke University is backing the research; as press release notes, “They found that, on average, methane concentrations were six times higher and ethane concentrations were 23 times higher at homes within a kilometer of a shale gas well.  Propane was detected in 10 samples, all of them from homes within a kilometer of drilling.

“The methane, ethane and propane data, and new evidence from hydrocarbon and helium content, all suggest that drilling has affected some homeowners’ water,” said Robert B. Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.  “In a minority of cases the gas even looks Marcellus-like, probably caused by poor well construction.”

The ethane and propane data are “particularly interesting,” he noted, “since there is no biological source of ethane and propane in the region and Marcellus gas is high in both, and higher in concentration than Upper Devonian gases” found in formations overlying the Marcellus shale.

Related article: Bad News for the Anti-Fracking Crowd

Adding to the study’s firepower, two previous Duke-led studies found direct evidence of methane contamination in water wells near shale-gas drilling in northeastern Pennsylvania, as well as possible hydraulic connectivity between deep brines and shallow aquifers, according to the press release.

For the moment, we’ll accede the final word in this brewing contretemps to Professor Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School. “The new data reinforces our earlier observations that stray gases contaminate drinking water wells in some areas of the Marcellus shale.  The question is what is happening in other shale gas basins.”
While predicting anything in the energy field is hazardous at best, expect a “fast and furious” response from fracking proponents.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com

Leave a comment

  • Charly Chiarelli on June 27 2013 said:
    CHARLY CHIARELLI'S FRACKING RANT

    The fracking one percent want to frack up precious earth and water
    They'll gladly frack us for a handsome sum
    Who the frack do they fracking think they are for fracking sakes
    They should frack themselves to fracking kingdom come

    Fracking greed beings fracking wealth to the frack heads in control
    The fan-fracking-tastic millions must unite
    We should fracking kick their fracking asses till they stop
    Let's show some fracking guts and fracking fight

    The fracking buck must fracking stop right fracking here and now
    Let's not let them dig that fracking pit
    Frack the one percent and frack their fracking slimy lies
    We've fracking had enough of that fracking shit
  • Todd P. on June 27 2013 said:
    Unfortunately for the tree-huggers, the Federal government's own, Geological Survey-agency study found that there was NO significant effect on the environment from "fracking".....


    http://thoughtfulwomen.org/2013/01/11/usgs-study-finds-no-harm-from-fracking/
  • ron on June 27 2013 said:
    hog wash there has never been any water wells contaminated by fracking in over 40 years. environmentalists lie and will do anything to put us back into the stone age. how about we demand they stop using any oil or electric. but oh no they dont mean them just us. its time we start burning these people out of their homes and making them get the hell out of our country.
  • Rdsig on June 27 2013 said:
    Are there any water studies with analysis done before the fracking started? Without a control study done before, this is a worthless conclusion. We have all seen pictures of faucets burning with gas before there was one frac job done in this area and documented cases of water wells drilling into shallow gas. It would be nice to see who funded this story. I know there are alot of people ticked off that this new technolgy will fuel capitalism in to the next century but most people are too smart to fall for these scare tactics. I take that back. We elected a leader who has never even ran a Dairy Queen let alone a country. Very expensive fuel would make all of us more Government dependent and likely to vote democratic. Could this be why fracking is so bad?
  • Blount on June 27 2013 said:
    What do you think they would have found if they had tested the drinking water BEFORE the gas wells were fracked? In most cases, they would have found "increased stray gas abundance."

    Correlation vs. causation once again. The Duke researchers will be slapped down by their colleagues who actually understand the scientific method. PNAS will once again live up to its well earned reputation as being politically skewed to the links -- or the gauche if you prefer.

    Why does Daly always trumpet the cheesy studies? There may be an agenda here womewhere.
  • American D on June 28 2013 said:
    Pennsylvania water has had huge amounts of methane in it for the past 200 years. This study was probably funded by the Saudis or the Russians, two countries that WILL BE HURT when the United States brings increased competition to the global energy market.

    And Charly's poem is not only ridiculous, but very short-sighted and nearly treasonous. Charly probably takes hot showers, enjoys A/C, likes to fly to Vegas or San Diego.....yet you don't want to frack domestic sources to do those things? And for cheaper once we get some actual leadership in Washington that has a clue...
  • vicki covert on July 11 2013 said:
    You people who deny that Fracking is contaminating drinking water, streams and rivers and killing fish and animals probably do not live near a Fracking well. And to the guy who said "environmentalists will lie about anything" , ha! what motivation do the "environmentalists' have to lie? I would say those who are making a fortune from it are the ones who have motivation to lie! As usual, large corporations bending the rules (i.e, not having to comply to many existing environmental laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act) to make a profit do not care about those that they hurt. True energy independence is not obtained by switching from one destructive energy source to another..
  • c.shanbau on July 26 2013 said:
    Pennsylvania has some very unusual geology in that in even in colonial and pre colonial(Indian) times there are lots of records and maps of fossil fuels (oil and gas) leaking into the environment. The first oil in Titusville was easy to find because int was sitting in surface pools and running into streams. I grew up in Pennsylvania and personally saw old maps marking such spots. Unfortunately, water wells dug or drilled that happened to penetrate very shallow sandstone formations would often have gas leaking into the water, and this was common knowledge in Pa. Unfortunately Environmentalists seem unaware of this, or as in the film 'Gaslands'may have deliberately distorted the info on methane leaks (flaming faucets) to make preexisting problems look current. No isotope documenting was done before current drilling to establish a baseline of data. em that there is natural migration of gas and oil up towards the surface so Marcellus gas isotopes might have already been present. We will never know. The good thing about all of this debate is that we get a better picture of how complicated energy dependency is!!!
  • david rees on November 17 2013 said:
    Isn't the area in West Virginia known for coal, which causes high amounts of propane and methane around these pockets? Plus methane is not actually put down hole with the fracking fluid. Plus the 5 to 8 chemicals used in a fack make up less than 1% of the water, sand mixture that go down hole. Plus do you really want to go back to coal which is far worse for the environment? Plus, dont you drive a car, use electricity, wear clothes, heat your home, stuff kind of like that, which are heavily dependent on fracking for the oil and natural gas?
  • M Sam on June 10 2014 said:
    Why would a Water Company want to remove Ground Water and direct it into a River and pay heirs of land connected to the property where they are drilling?
  • Sandhill on June 20 2014 said:
    I have an issue involving the secrecy of the composition of the materials used in the fracking fluid. In N.C., in the event of a spill or contamination, then and only then can the ingredients be revealed. What's wrong with being proactive, so that first responders can take immediate action? The contents of other materials that travel over highway and rail are not shielded from public scrutiny.

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