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Study Finds Methane-Contaminated Wells Near Fracking Sites

This article first appeared on ClimateProgress
by Matt Kasper and Patrick Maloney,

Ray Kemble pumps water from a truck into his neighbor's tank in Dimock, Pa.  Image Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Ray Kemble pumps water from a truck into his neighbor’s tank in Dimock, Pa.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Wells used for drinking water near the Marcellus Shale in northeast Pennsylvania have methane concentrations six times higher than wells farther away. That is the finding of a Duke University study published on June 24th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers analyzed 141 drinking water wells (combining data from a previous study of 60 sampled wells in 2011) from the Alluvium, Catskill, and Lock Haven aquifers and a few drinking water wells from the Genesee Formation in Otsego County of New York. Methane was detected in 82 percent of drinking water samples for homes within a kilometer (0.62 miles or 1,093 yards) of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, wells.

Robert Jackson from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment wrote the report and confirmed that, “the methane, ethane and propane data, and new evidence from hydrocarbon and helium isotopes, all suggest that drilling has affected some homeowners’ water.”

The natural gas boom is happening all across the country. Gas constitutes about 25 percent of total energy consumption. Pennsylvania saw natural gas production increase by 69 percent in 2012.

But this boom has also created many issues: earthquakeswater contamination and scarcity, and leakage. 65 percent of Americans already say more regulations of fracking are needed, despite only a few studies having been conducted on the topic of possible water contamination. This makes the recent Duke study a significant contribution to the ongoing fracking debate.

The study states “the two simplest explanations” for the contamination in drinking water are faulty or inadequate steel casings and imperfections in cement sealings.

Natural gas companies will hopefully work to develop ways to fix the problem of well integrity, but the Duke study shows just how much additional research and investigation into the fracking process is needed, especially by the federal government.

Unfortunately the EPA has decided to drop their investigation of probable water contamination due to fracking in Pavilion, Wyoming. Instead, the agency will support the state’s own investigation into water quality in the area even though EPA originally concluded that “the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing.” Wyoming’s version of the report is set to be released by September 30, 2014.

Even worse, the Bureau of Land Management’s draft rules released in May fail to protect people from harm and instead protect the oil and gas industry from having to follow strong environmental standards. DeSmogBlog also notes that BLM adopted the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill written by ExxonMobil.

Even if the engineering problems were fixed, fracking will still allow greenhouse gases to pump into our atmosphere, which is bad for public health and drives global warming.

 

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