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Study: Fracking itself not cause of contamination



Published: Wed, February 22, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Karl Henkel

khenkel@vindy.com

A new study by the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin has found no evidence of aquifer contamination from hydraulic-fracturing chemicals in the subsurface as a result of horizontal fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking.

The report, however, details groundwater contamination that the report says often occurs in conventional oil- and gas-well operations.

“Overall, surface spills of fracturing fluids pose greater risks to groundwater sources than from hydraulic fracturing itself,” the report release read.

The report also uncovered the following information:

Natural gas found in water wells within some shale-gas areas, such as the Marcellus Shale, could be traced back to natural sources.

Most state environmental regulations were written before the widespread use of fracking.

Media coverage of fracking is “decidedly negative,” and few reports mention scientific research.

The lack of baseline studies in areas of shale-gas development has made it difficult to evaluate long-term, cumulative effects and risks.

Jeffrey Dick, chairman of the geology department at Youngstown State University, spoke about water contamination in an interview with The Vindicator on Tuesday.

He said there are a few ways in which gas can migrate into aquifers but likely not as a result of the actual fracking process.

He said the most common is a result of a poorly constructed gas well, known in the industry as a “bad cement job.”

Dick cited an example of this in Bainbridge Township in Geauga County in 2007, when a well leaked methane gas into an aquifer.

Dick said the contamination from the fracking process, which in the Utica Shale occurs about 7,500 feet below the ground — and about 7,200 feet below water sources — is unlikely.

Gas would need to migrate the 7,200 feet through approximately 20 or so underground formations, including thick rock layers, to get into the water sources.

“The shallower the oil and gas accumulation, the more likely you’ll have commingling of groundwater,” he said.

Susie Beiersdorfer, geology instructor at YSU, however, said the report shows there still are issues with hydraulic fracturing.

“It definitely validates my concerns for the process,” she said. “The reason there aren’t a lot of baseline studies and problems brought to light is because of nondisclosure forms” signed between landowners and drilling companies. These forms don’t allow landowners to speak publicly on any fracking-related incidents.


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