The Department of Energy told the Associated Press today that a study of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in western Pennsylvania showed no signs of the chemicals used below the drinking water table making their way up to contaminate water aquifers in a recently completed study.
After a year of monitoring, the researchers found that the chemical-laced fluids used to free gas trapped deep below the surface stayed thousands of feet below the shallower areas that supply drinking water, geologist Richard Hammack said.
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While the results of the study are still preliminary, and the study continues, it’s a tremendous boost to the natural gas industry that has been fighting land owners and environmental groups tooth and nail in defending the use of drilling fluids filled with all sorts of nasty stuff that is rarely disclosed the public depending on the state in which they are used.
Fracking fluids remain over a mile below ground water
The drilling fluids were used more than 8,000 feet below the surface and remained a mile away from where drinking water is pulled from to supply the surrounding towns.
“This is good news,” said Duke University scientist Rob Jackson, who was not involved with the study. He was quick to point out however that while the study is important it is not the end-all-be-all in monitoring given the varied procedures not only in Pennsylvania alone but throughout the country.
The Marcellus Shale formation that lies under parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia has been a major contributor to the drilling of thousands of new wells nationwide in the last few years.
Environmental groups will certainly not rest on the findings and will continue to call for more transparency in the disclosure of just what is being used. Drilling companies have long maintained that they can’t disclose this information citing proprietary concerns and the worry that their “mixtures” could be copied by competitors.
Traces added to drilling fluids for monitoring
The study done by the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh is a landmark in that it is the first time that a company has voluntarily allowed the government to add tracers to its drilling fluids in order to gauge potential contamination.
Kathryn Klaber, the CEO of the industry-led Marcellus Shale Coalition, called the study “great news.”
“It’s important that we continue to seek partnerships that can study these issues, and inform the public of the findings,” Klaber said.
Scott Anderson, a drilling expert with the Environment Defense Fund, said the results sound self-suiting and peculiar.
“Very few people think that fracking at significant depths routinely leads to water contamination. But the jury is still out on what the odds are that this might happen in special situations,” Anderson said.
This argument will certainly continue but round one certainly goes to the natural gas industry.