UT study finds no direct link between fracking and groundwater contamination

From Fort Worth Star-Telegram, By Jack Z. Smith, February 16, 2012 – 

Hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas has no direct connection to groundwater contamination, according to a study by the Energy Institute of the University of Texas at Austin.

The study, released at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, British Columbia, found that many problems ascribed to fracking actually have other causes, such as “casing failures or poor cement jobs.”


University researchers also determined that many reports of contamination are the result of above-ground spills or other mishandling of wastewater from shale-gas drilling, rather than the fracking process.

“Our goal was to provide policymakers a foundation for developing sensible regulations that ensure responsible shale-gas development,” said Charles “Chip” Groat, an Energy Institute associate director who led the study. “What we’ve tried to do is separate fact from fiction.”

With the advent of intensive shale-gas drilling, fracking has become a controversial environmental issue and the subject of national studies, including one being done by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA study, which seeks to determine whether fracking is a significant threat to groundwater contamination and water quality in general, includes North Texas’ Barnett Shale.

Groat disclosed during a Fort Worth speech in November that the study’s preliminary findings showed no direct link between fracking and groundwater contamination.

Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund, acknowledged in a statement on the group’s website that the study “did not find any confirmed cases of drinking water contamination due to … hydraulic fracturing.” But “this does not mean such contamination is impossible or that hydraulic fracturing chemicals can’t get loose in the environment in other ways (such as through spills of produced water),” he said. Produced water is wastewater that comes up a wellbore along with gas.

Fracking, widely employed in the Barnett Shale, blasts large volumes of water and sand, plus some chemicals, underground to fracture rock and allow natural gas and oil to flow into a wellbore.

The study also concluded that “natural gas found in water wells within some shale-gas areas … can be traced to natural sources and probably was present before the onset of shale-gas operations.”

The researchers examined reports of groundwater contamination attributed to fracking in the Barnett Shale, Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, and the Haynesville Shale in Louisiana and East Texas.

The EPA filed an emergency order against Fort Worth-based Range Resources in 2010, contending that two Range gas wells “caused or contributed” to contamination of two residential Parker County water wells with methane, a key component of natural gas. Range has denied the claims and is battling the EPA in federal courts.

Range has stressed that gas was found in water wells in the area before it began drilling there. But a couple that owns one well contends that improper casing and cementing of the Range wells led to the contamination, which the company also denies. A judge in Weatherford dismissed the couple’s claim, saying they lacked legal jurisdiction because of a prior Texas Railroad Commission finding that Range’s wells did not cause the contamination.

Online: tinyurl.com/8282p3c

Jack Z. Smith, 817-390-7724


3 responses

  1. […] UT study finds no direct link between fracking and groundwater contamination « Parker County Blog. Share this:FacebookLinkedInPrintEmailMoreRedditTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. I have a few observations;

    1. In the first 55 pages there is not one formal reference, despite a lot of factual and conceptual assertions. The reader is told that the details will be found further on – with no useful guidance as to just where.

    2. The 414 pg copy I downloaded yesterday from the U.T. site is a draft, yet the general media buzz and the presentation on the U.T. website is that it is a “report” implying carefully honed and finished and complete.

    3. The detailed section that I read very carefully, “Section 4 Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Development” is labeled clearly “draft.”

    In a part I was particularly interested in about substance migration related to drilling and fracking, only two of the seven references I marked for follow up were listed in the reference section.

    In an interesting instance the Boyer et al (2011) study of substance migration, published in Center for Rural Pennsylvania and subsequently withdrawn by the authors for further review, is cited without qualification as a fully fledged piece of science.

    There are very many other errors, citations incompletely described, obsolete and/or incomplete sets or related and appropriate references, etc.

    Overall, I was extremely disappointed in the quality of the work as a useful piece of “science” despite the tantalizng title: “Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection….” It is just not ready for prime time.

    Stanley R Scobie, Ph.D., Binghamton, NY

  3. Does anyone really believe that a Parker county judge will rule against either oil or gas companies. Check out all of their money filings at the ethics commission in Austin if you really want to know who controls our “justice and courts ” here in Parker co. The condition is state wide. Those companies have more money and clout than our government who is supposed to protect us. WE are prey.

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