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Scientists: Conventional Oil Impacts Groundwater More Than Fracking

While many protests against the oil and gas industry focus on the effects of fracking on the environment, scientists say that as far as groundwater is concerned, conventional oil and gas exploration and production could affect underground water supply much more than hydraulic fracturing could.

According to a recent study by hydrogeologists Jennifer McIntosh from the University of Arizona and Grant Ferguson from the University of Saskatchewan (USask), the amount of water injected and produced in the ground during fracking operations is smaller than the amounts that conventional oil and gas production injects.   

“The amount of water injected and produced for conventional oil and gas production exceeds that associated with fracking and unconventional production by well over a factor of ten,” McIntosh said in a statement of the University of Saskatchewan.

According to McIntosh and Ferguson, fracking receives much of the attention, but most of the bigger picture is associated with conventional oil and gas activities.

“There’s a critical need for long-term—years to decades—monitoring for potential contamination of drinking water resources not only from fracking, but also from conventional oil and gas production,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh and Ferguson analyzed information about water injection in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, the Permian, and the states of Oklahoma, California, and Ohio, and the amount of water produced by high-volume fracking throughout the U.S.

“What was surprising was the amount of water that’s being produced and re-injected by conventional oil and gas production compared to hydraulic fracturing,” McIntosh said, commenting on the results.

“In most of the locations we looked at—California was the exception—there is more water now in the subsurface than before. There’s a net gain of saline water,” McIntosh noted.

The researchers found that due to enhanced oil recovery (EOR) at conventional wells, there’s likely more water underground at oil sites, and this could change the behavior of all liquids in the ground, increasing the possibility of contamination of the water in underground freshwater formations.  

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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