In November of last year, the Energy Institute at the University of Texas (UT) announced preliminary findings that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate groundwater (see this MDN story). The final version of the study has now been released (see a full copy of the report embedded below).
The study is titled “Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development” and focuses on reports of groundwater contamination and other environmental impacts of shale gas exploration and production in states covering the Barnett, Marcellus and Haynesville Shales. It is a detailed and thorough research study, and does not gloss over potential problems with drilling, pointing out that many of the negative issues in shale gas drilling are from oil and gas drilling in general, not specific to horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
Here are some of the key findings in the report:
- Researchers found no evidence of aquifer contamination from hydraulic fracturing chemicals in the subsurface by fracturing operations, and observed no leakage from hydraulic fracturing at depth.
- Many reports of groundwater contamination occur in conventional oil and gas operations (e.g., failure of well-bore casing and cementing) and are not unique to hydraulic fracturing.
- Methane found in water wells within some shale gas areas (e.g., Marcellus) can most likely be traced to natural sources, and likely was present before the onset of shale gas operations.
- Surface spills of fracturing fluids appear to pose greater risks to groundwater sources than from hydraulic fracturing itself.
- Blowouts — uncontrolled fluid releases during construction or operation — are a rare occurrence, but subsurface blowouts appear to be under-reported.
A fascinating section of the report takes a close look at how the media is covering shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Both national and local media are uniformly about two-thirds negative and only 10-15 percent positive in their coverage. That simple fact has a profound effect on the public’s attitudes toward shale gas drilling.
Take time to read through this important new study.