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?
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