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fracking contamination

  • High Levels of Methane Recorded in Pennsylvanian Stream

    Using a newly developed stream-based environmental monitoring system, researchers from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and Penn State University found methane at high levels along a stretch of a Pennsylvanian stream situated in close proximity to the site of a recently reported shale gas leak. This environmental monitoring system could potentially be of great value as a screening tool for conducting environmental assessments of the impacts associated with extracting shale gas by hydraulic fracking.


    After analyzing several water samples collected from Sugar Run, a stream flowing through Lycoming County, the scientists found evidence of methane in groundwater inflows similar to that found in natural gas. The findings were recently published in Environmental Science and Technology.

    Susan Brantley, a professor of geosciences at Penn State and co-author of the paper, finds it startling that after monitoring 15 streams, one instance of shale gas degassing has already been observed that could legitimately be explained by a known gas well leak sited nearby.

    After finding high concentrations of methane in Sugar Run, the researchers were also informed that several surrounding domestic water wells had reportedly been contaminated due to a defective cement casing of a nearby shale gas well.

    Upon conducting further analyses on the methane in the stream, the authors found characteristics that were common to that of leaking shale gas well. Unfortunately, as the researchers do not have access to baseline water samples from Sugar Run, they are unable to prove that the methane in the stream originates from the leaking gas well. However, the findings show how stream monitoring can be used as an efficient and effective method of monitoring the environmental impacts of fracking.

    "We hope this new technique developed by the USGS can now be used as a way of monitoring stray gas not only when it gets into drinking water, but when it gets into streams, which are much easier to access than homeowner wells," said Brantley. "In addition, streams collect water from nearby areas and may be very cost effective waters to target for monitoring because they integrate over larger land areas."

    Monitoring has up until now been largely restricted to water wells that supply domestic drinking water. But according to the researchers, because water wells can be spread out, particularly in rural settings, this limits the effectiveness of assessing the real impact of gas drilling operations. Water (and the chemicals in them) flows into streams from watersheds; thus sampling the streams enables us to detect leaks that would otherwise be impossible to trace.

    Journal Reference:

    Victor M. Heilweil, Paul L. Grieve, Scott A. Hynek, Susan L. Brantley, D. Kip Solomon, Dennis W. Risser. Stream Measurements Locate Thermogenic Methane Fluxes in Groundwater Discharge in an Area of Shale-Gas Development. Environmental Science & Technology, 2015; 150330072215005 DOI: 10.1021/es503882b

  • Government Agency Officially Links Fracking to Water Contamination

    Drilling for natural gas by pumping a slurry of sand, water, and chemicals deep into the ground to crack the bedrock, a process known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking", has been officially linked to groundwater contamination according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report issued December 8th.

    EPA: Hydraulic Fracturing Caused Drinking Well Contamination

    EPA found at least 10 compounds known to be used in fracking fluids in test wells they drilled near the town of Pavilion Wyoming. While the drilling company EnCana contested preliminary data release two weeks ago, saying that contamination of local wells was from naturally occurring sources, EPA ruled out that among alternative explanations: "The presence of synthetic compounds such as glycol ethers … and the assortment of other organic components is explained as the result of direct mixing of hydraulic fracturing fluids with ground water in the Pavillion gas field,” the draft report states.

    Fracking Report Based on Years of Research and Tests

    EPA first found traces of contaminates in drinking water wells around Pavillion in 2008. After additional testing in 2010, EPA warned residents not to drink their water and to ventilate their homes when bathing and showering, to prevent explosions from the methane seeping into wells. Their draft report on all the tests and analysis to date concluded that the contamination was caused by both the fracking process itself and by leaking pools of fracking waste.

    "...the EPA said that pollution from 33 abandoned oil and gas waste pits – which are the subject of a separate cleanup program – are indeed responsible for some degree of shallow groundwater pollution in the area. Those pits may be the source of contamination affecting at least 42 private water wells in Pavillion. But the pits could not be blamed for contamination detected in the water monitoring wells 1,000 feet underground.

    "That contamination, the agency concluded, had to have been caused by fracking," reported Propublica

    EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Report Contradicts Company Rhetoric on Safety

    The report directly countered many arguments by drilling companies about the safety of hydraulic fracturing, including:

    1. that pressure from fracking forces fluids down, not up
    2. that the geologic layers are watertight and no chemicals can migrate toward the surface
    3. that fracking did not cause the problems with cement and steel barriers on gas wells that may have allowed methane to escape into residential wells.

    One of the scariest things for residents near fracking operations is not knowing what chemicals might be in their water. As we've discussed in previous posts, gas companies are very secretive about what lubricants and chemicals they are using in tracking fluids.

    EPA Fracking Report May Tip the Debate on Gas Drilling Safety

    Opponents to fracking are declaring the report to be a smoking gun that will tip the debate on fracking safety. But proponents say not so fast: EPA did not go so far as to conclude that fracking in other parts of the United States had or could cause similar contamination. The hydrology, geology and drilling practices examined are unique to the area and EPA only extended their conclusions to the area surrounding Pavillion, Wyoming.

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