As concerns continue to mounts about the safety of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, new research suggests that poorly build wells have caused water contamination at a number of sites, contaminating aquifers with natural gas.
In a study published last week in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, researchers found no evidence that injection fluids used during the controversial hydro-fracking process were contaminating ground water sources, but rather indicate that wells with bad cementing may leak natural gas and other contaminants from the deeper shales, impacting aquifers that are often used to supply drinking water.
Hydro fracturing is a gas extraction process where a mixture of water, sand and fluids that the gas industry has fought to keep secret is injected into the ground at extremely high pressure, cracking shale deposits and freeing trapped natural gas, which can then be removed. Those fluids are then sucked from the ground and often disposed of in wastewater wells.
Fracking has come under increasing scrutiny over the last several years. It has become a popular method of gas extraction, due to new drilling techniques and the discovery of large shale reserves throughout the eastern seaboard.
It first began to boom in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin region, but now it has spread across the east coast in thousands of well sites in New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Fracking Water Contamination Risk
In this latest study to examine whether fracking wells are actually polluting water supplies, researchers from Duke University analyzed 133 drinking water well samples from two major shales targeted by hydraulic fracturing operations. They looked for the presence of hydrocarbons and isotopic compositions in groundwater near shale-gas wells.
“Against a backdrop of naturally occurring salt- and gas-rich groundwater, we identified eight discrete clusters of fugitive gas contamination, seven in Pennsylvania and one in Texas that showed increased contamination through time,” the researchers noted. “Noble gas isotope and hydrocarbon data link four contamination clusters to gas leakage from intermediate-depth strata through failures of annulus cement, three to target production gases that seem to implicate faulty production cases, and one to an underground gas well failure.”
Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have expressed concerns for years that hydrofracking presents a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment.
The findings contradict claims by the industry that naturally occurring gas migration into groundwater was the cause of the contamination events, as the researchers found a method of determining whether the gas contamination happened quickly after drilling began.
Hydrofracking Safety Concerns
There are a number of other environmental concerns surrounding the fracking process. Residents near hydraulic fracturing sites have reported air pollution, dust problems, and a recent study found that pregnant women living near fracking wells had an increased risk of having a child with birth defects.
A number of studies have also shown that there may be a link between fracking and earthquakes, suggesting that the intense pressure from the unidentified fluids can cause ground tremors violent enough to damage property and cause injuries and possibly deaths.
Earlier this year, Texas jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a family who sued a hydraulic fracturing company for being a public nuisance. According allegations raised in a fracking lawsuit filed by the Parr family, nearly two dozen wells near their property caused a private nuisance, exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered property value.