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Environmental Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing or “Fracking”

By Everett & Associates on Jun 26, 2013 at 09:42 AM in Environmental Issues

It is no secret that hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and horizontal drilling are driving a resurgence in oil and gas exploration and production in the United States. This development has wide-ranging implications for the economy and the nation’s energy independence but many people are concerned about possible environmental consequences of fracking. State and local governments, environmental groups and average citizens are all questioning whether fracking can be accomplished in a consistently safe manner. On one hand, more abundant natural gas should allow us to reduce the use of coal for power generation, leading to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, anecdotal stories abound regarding contamination of drinking water sources near drilling operations, either from methane or from chemicals in fracking fluids.

This is a situation in which technology advanced faster than governments could respond with protective regulations and faster than the scientific community could keep up with the kind of careful research needed to evaluate potential environmental effects of fracking on water resources. Thus, regulators and researchers are hurrying to catch up to this new reality. L. Everett & Associates has been very active addressing the environmental aspects of fracking. Dr. Everett co-chaired (with senior scientists from DOE) the recent World Federation of Scientists symposium on environmental issues related to fracking. We are also working with a team of scientists and engineers to develop protocols for groundwater and vadose zone monitoring at fracking sites.

A recent study by researchers from Duke and other universities published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed 141 drinking water wells near shale gas wells in northeastern Pennsylvania, examining natural gas concentrations and isotopic signatures. Methane was detected in 82% of drinking water samples, with average concentrations six times higher for homes closest to natural gas wells. The study evaluated other possible explanations for the presence of methane (and other petroleum hydrocarbons) in shallow groundwater and concluded that drinking water at some homes near gas wells has been contaminated with gases from the fracking operations. This study has gained significant media attention, such as this report in which the lead author stated: "The bottom line is strong evidence for gas leaking into drinking water in some cases. We think the likeliest explanation is leaky wells.”