Shale Gas Fracking Study Shows No Contamination

February 22, 2012

The extraction of shale gas through hydraulic fracturing shows no evidence of water contamination according to a study from the Energy Institute at University of Texas. The university funded the independent study with no involvement from oil and gas companies or environmental organizations.

The Energy Institute completed the study with the purpose of reporting facts to policymakers for use in creating regulatory policies for safe shale gas production. Shale plays in the study included Barnett Shale in North Texas, Haynesville Shale in western Louisiana and northeast Texas and Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, New York and Appalachia.

Experts on the the interdisciplinary team came from geology, environmental law, public affairs, communications and others. They investigated groundwater contamination, hydraulic fracturing fluid toxicity, water use, drilling waste disposal, atmospheric emissions and blowouts.

Investigation of Groundwater and Environmental Contamination

The team found no scientific evidence to support concerns that hydraulic fracturing or methane releases contaminate groundwater.

Key findings from the study:

  • No evidence of hydraulic fracturing chemicals contaminating groundwater.
  • No observed leaks of hydraulic fracturing at depth.
  • The presence of methane in water wells around the shale play are most likely from natural resources and present prior to shale gas development.
  • Surface spills of fracturing fluid are a bigger risk for contaminating groundwater than the hydraulic fracturing process is.
  • Many reports of contamination stem from aboveground spills or mishandling of wastewater, something not unique to hydraulic fracturing. These occur in conventional oil and gas operations.
  • Blowouts rarely happen; however, subsurface blowouts show to be under-reported.

Examination of Shale Gas Laws and Regulations

The team reviewed federal and state laws and regulations related to shale gas production in 16 states with current and future shale gas development. They also investigated exemptions of shale gas production from federal environmental laws (e.g. the Clean Water Act).

Key findings from the study:

  • Most regulations are delegated to the state level giving states primary authority for creating shale gas regulations.
  • States established most of the oil and gas regulations before shale gas production became widespread.
  • Some states have changed regulations for shale gas development relating to disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals, wastewater management and proper casing of wells to prevent contaminating drinking water.
  • Need greater emphasis on regulation of more pressing problems, such as spill prevention because it poses a higher risk than hydraulic fracturing does.
  • Regulation needed for well casing and cementing, and the management of water and waste.

Regulation Enforcement and Public Perception of Shale Gas Production

The study looked at enforcement of state regulations for shale gas production where they found it varied widely by state. They discovered most violations involved conventional gas drilling activities not hydraulic fracturing and shale gas production. These infractions often occurred in aboveground activities rather subsurface.

The tone of media coverage related to shale gas development is overwhelming negative in all areas of media including newspapers, TV, online news and radio. Only 20 percent of the news reports reference any scientific research on hydraulic fracturing.