Several new studies have been completed, checking possible links between methane gas in well water and nearby hydraulic fracturing operations. But pro-fracking interests have high-jacked this preliminary research to flog it as proof that fracking poses no risk to groundwater.
And what about surface pollution caused by fracturing operations? This issue is simply swept under the carpet without a mention.
An article on June 11 in the Columbus Dispatch, cites a University of Cincinnati study, but seriously inflates the significance of the findings. A quick read of the original research shows the testing was done on one hundred and eighty samples from twenty-four private water wells. Most of the private wells are located in one county in Ohio.
“Three sites were found to contain enough methane to be a risk of fire or explosion in contained areas.”
Despite this, and that only methane, acidity, and electrical conductivity were tested for, the results are billed as proof enough that there’s no groundwater contamination at all from oil and natural gas drilling.
Field director Jackie Stewart, for Energy In Depth — called a research, education and outreach program, sponsored by the Independent Petroleum Association of America — was quoted in this article as saying that two dozen other studies reached the same conclusions. The papers were not identified.
Another director for the same organization, Nicole Jacobs, appears on Morning Consult’s website — a technology company specializing in data research. She cites the Cincinnati study, and another from Yale University, that also only tested for methane, using eight monitor wells next to gas pads.
A third study from Penn State added iron, manganese, total dissolved solids, and sulfate to the substances screened, as well as methane, but didn’t test any human-use water supplies, either. Yet it’s claimed that methane in private wells doesn’t come from fracking activities.
When I checked the papers listed on IPAA’ s website, all concerned testing for methane, with one exception. In west Virginia, Duke University’s paper notes that spilled fracking wastewater:
Avner Vengosh Prof Geochemistry, Dukes’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
If the cherry-picked research isn’t bad enough, Ms Jacobs has the gall to claim the latest EPA paper examining issues with fracking and water supplies as evidence of low risk!
What Does the EPA’s Fracking Report Really Say?
Here are the highlights from the report, published December, 2016:
The huge withdrawals of water needed for fracking can directly affect drinking water due to changes in the quantity or quality of the remaining water.
Biocides, scale inhibitors, corrosion inhibitors and other chemical mixtures used in tracking fluids, are detrimental to water and soil quality.
The potential for fracking fluid movement via abandoned wells into underground and surface waters is of great concern.
Estimates that over a million wells were drilled prior to initial regulations being enacted. The locations and conditions of many of these wells are unknown.
Faulty well casings are a source of contamination
Fracturing has already occurred within underground drinking water resources, polluting these resources.
Water that returns to the surface during fracking operations — called produced water — is hazardous to the environment and requires careful handling.
Above Ground or Under, Fracking Spells Long Term Trouble
High salinity produced water often contains toxic levels of elements, such as bromine and radium 226. Approaching four million gallons of water can be injected per well. This creates anywhere from twenty-five, to one hundred per cent, of the original volume in waste water. Even if this waste can be disposed of by injecting it deep in the ground, existing and new fractures in the bedrock, along with old wells, all pose a serious risk of leakage to nearby water.
There are also solids produced during drilling which can be highly contaminated, and are frequently improperly disposed of.
Recent reports of illegal dumping of radioactive fracking waste can’t be ignored. Investigation of radiation levels that increase steadily in the months and years after disposal, due to breakdown of radium into it’s daughter products, has barely begun.
Leaking storage pits, broken pipelines and transport accidents, contaminate all they spill on. And the fairly common practice of disposing frack water via regular water and sewage treatment plants never designed to deal with this waste, must stop entirely.
And What Else is New in Fracking?
Since The Independent Petroleum Association of America is very selective in it’s choosing of research studies, I’ll add a few more for balance:
Live Science reports that Dr Avner Vengosh and his team from Duke University, haven’t just looked at methane. They’ve found radium in creek sediments downstream of a fracking wastewater plant in West Pennsylvania to be two hundred times higher than levels upstream of the plant.
Also, in Pennsylvania, the state had to stop the spreading polluted fracking wastewater on roads. It was assumed to be safe to use as a dust suppressant.
And here’s a joint effort between Duke, Stanford, and Ohio State Universities, to address the lack of any study on fracking well depth:
“Because hydraulic fractures can propagate 2000 ft upward, shallow wells may warrant special safeguards, including a mandatory registry of locations, full chemical disclosure, and, where horizontal drilling is used, predrilling water testing to a radius 1000 ft beyond the greatest lateral extent.”
So much for the claim that fracturing is done deeply enough to prevent intrusion into underground fresh water.
Alternatives to Fracking
Biomethane is just one practical, and far safer, fuel to replace fracked gas,oil, but since the infrastructure is already in place, might be the better route to take. The generation of natural gas goes on everywhere on the planet every minute of the day. Following nature’s example, the water wasted on fracking would be best used to grow algae suitable for methane production. Byproducts are water to recycle back into the process, and high quality fertilizer that can replace synthetic inputs for better soil quality. And biomethane certainly isn’t all that algae is good for.
It might take a lot of us to yell loud enough to make it happen. New companies trying to put environmentally friendly fuels into the front-running need all the back-up they can get. The up-and-coming generation have enough consequences of poorly thought out policy to contend with. The sooner we start demanding an end to it, and promoting better technology, the faster fracking will wind up a foot-note in the history books.
No one has the right to lie and cover up the risks. The mess already made by fracking is enough reason to knock it off. The potential for even more environmental damage just adds urgency.
Although the dismal economic reality of fracking comes far second to the environmental state-of-affairs, if you’d like to know more, I recommend this recent article by Justin Milkulka and Sharon Kelly.