Hydraulic fracturing—“fracking”—involves pumping water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground to create cracks in a shale formation to allow oil or natural gas to be recovered. Concern has been raised that these cracks will allow the fracking chemicals and/or methane gas to contaminate the groundwater near the fracking operation. Two recent studies dispel this concern.
The Department of Energy released a report finding that fracking chemicals and gas are not migrating up through the rock to groundwater. This report followed an 18-month study of fracking operations in the Marcellus Shale formation in western Pennsylvania. A link to the DOE report can be found here.
Another study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America reached the same conclusion. Researchers from Ohio State University, Duke University and the University of Rochester studied fracking operations in the Marcellus formation and the Barnett Shale formation in Texas. The university study can be found here.
Will these two reports be the final word on fracking and groundwater contamination? No. First, many opposed to fracking will disregard the studies. Second, both reports identify faulty well construction as potential sources of groundwater contamination. In other words, while the underground cracks caused by the hydraulic fracturing process may not be a source of groundwater contamination, poorly constructed wells and poorly managed drilling operations are potential sources of contamination. But that has always been the case, even with conventional drilling operations.