Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Fracking' for Natural Gas Is Polluting Ground Water, Study Concludes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Fracking' for Natural Gas Is Polluting Ground Water, Study Concludes

Article excerpt

A Duke University study finds high methane levels in ground water near where fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has occurred. Fracking is a controversial practice to extract natural gas from shale.

Methane levels were 17 times higher in ground water near areas where shale-gas "fracking" wells had been drilled in Pennsylvania, compared with areas where no gas drilling had occurred, a new study has found.

Duke University researchers analyzed methane gas in 68 private ground-water wells across five counties in Pennsylvania and New York. The study cited "evidence for methane contamination of drinking water associated with shale-gas extraction."

In shale-gas extraction, water is mixed with chemicals and sand and is injected at high pressure deep into shale formations, which then releases natural gas.

The peer-reviewed study, which is being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of the first to conclude that hydraulic fracturing is polluting ground water. And it's likely to be used as ammunition in court by those opposing drilling in sensitive watersheds.

The hydraulic fracturing approach has dramatically increased available US reserves of natural gas by unlocking gas that was previously trapped in shale formations from the mid-Atlantic to Texas to Colorado. But environmentalists and local residents have long claimed that fracking pollutes ground water with methane as well as with chemicals in the injection fluids.

The Duke researchers said that the presence of methane likely was due to its escape from faulty drill casings.

While the study found high methane levels, it did not find any evidence that the chemicals injected at deep levels to fracture the shale had moved upward to pollute relatively shallow ground water.

"We found no evidence for contamination of drinking-water samples with deep saline brines or fracturing fluids," the study found. "We conclude that greater stewardship, data, and possibly regulation are needed to ensure the sustainable future of shale-gas extraction and to improve public confidence in its use."

Even so, the study was immediately attacked by natural-gas industry lobby groups. …

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