Duke University Study Finds Methane Contamination in Drinking Water Near Fracking Sites

Photo by Augapfel. Some rights reserved.

Last month it was Cornell, and this month it’s Duke, but all these universities are telling us the same thing: hydraulic fracturing comes with environmental risks.

While the study from Cornell focused on the global warming effects of methane that escapes from natural gas fracking, a recent study from Duke University found that escaped methane from shale wells is also making it into surrounding groundwater.

Specifically, concentrations of methane in drinking water wells near active drilling and extraction areas were found to be 17-times higher on average than in wells by non-active drilling areas.  “Although dissolved methane in drinking water is not currently classified as a health hazard for ingestion,” the study points out, “it is an asphyxiant in enclosed spaces and an explosion and fire hazard.”

Of course, the results of a study like this won’t go uncontested. One article questioning the study’s reliability points to an industry spokesman who claims that “the authors (of the Duke University study) admit they have no baseline data at all, which makes it impossible to characterize the state of those water wells prior to recent development.”

However, one good – and surprisingly less publicized – piece of news for the gas industry is that this particular study found no evidence of drinking water contamination from the fracturing fluids themselves or from “produced” water (wastewater that results from the fracking process). Still, the EPA announced yesterday that they are continuing to seek information from natural gas drillers on their wastewater disposal processes to “ensure that natural gas production takes place safely and responsibly.”

For more information on the study, check out this Fulbright & Jaworski Briefing.

One response to this post.

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