May 12, 2011
A new study has confirmed that hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells is contaminating water wells with flammable methane gas.
Researchers from Duke University in Durham, NC analyzed 68 samples of drinking water taken from private water wells in northeastern New York and Pennsylvania that draw from the Lockhaven, Catskill and Genesee bedrock aquifers sitting over the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.
The Marcellus and Utica shale formations are seeing a boom in natural gas drilling since the mainstream application of directional drilling techniques and fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process in which the drilling crew injects hundreds of thousands of gallons of a toxic cocktail containing water, sand and chemicals into the well at high pressure to create fissures in the rock formation and release the natural gas.
Residents near natural gas drilling operations are concerned about methane migration and contamination from fracking fluids and drilling wastewater as evidence of these consequences mount.
"We found measurable amounts of methane in 85 percent of the samples, but levels were 17 times higher on average in wells located within a kilometer of active hydrofracking sites," says Stephen Osborn, postdoctoral research associate at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
Water samples more than a kilometer away from gas wells contained biogenic methane from closer to the earth’s surface that is not associated with gas drilling. In contrast, researchers identified the methane contamination in water wells near gas wells as thermogenic methane, the kind formed at depths where fracking is taking place.
Researchers found the most prevalent contamination in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna and Bradford counties.
Methane is a flammable gas and poses risk of explosion of the water well or buildings where the methane contaminated water runs out of the tap.
Critics of fracking recently released a music video about the dangers that has gone viral.
The study entitled “Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing” was published online before print May 9, 2011 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).
“Our results show evidence for methane contamination of shallow drinking-water systems in at least three areas of the region and suggest important environmental risks accompanying shale-gas exploration worldwide,” researchers said.
Philly.com reports that at least nine wells in the study had methane levels higher than what the Federal government considers a well in need of immediate venting.