New Research Finds Connection between Fracking, Methane in Drinking Water WellsMay 10, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP
For the first time, researchers have been able to find evidence that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, may have caused methane contamination of drinking water wells. The new fracking study, conducted by scientists at Duke University, will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
For some time now, people living near natural gas drilling operations that utilize fracking have claimed that the process has allowed methane - a flammable an potentially explosive gas - from underground to migrate to and pollute their water wells. Perhaps the most notorious case of this type of methane contamination has been alleged to have occurred in Dimock, PA, - the locale for part of this study - where some residents' water was so badly tainted, they could light their tap water on fire. Proponents of fracking have always claimed that such incidents were isolated or not connected to fracking.
The study, which involved the analysis of 68 private groundwater wells across five counties in northeastern Pennsylvania and New York, found that methane levels were 17 times higher on average in wells located within a kilometer of active fracking sites. The average concentration of the methane detected in the water wells near drilling sites fell within a range that the U.S Department of Interior says is dangerous and requires urgent “hazard mitigation," a ProPublica report said.
While wells further from the fracking operations also contained lower levels of methane, the gas had a different isotopic fingerprint, the study said.
One thing the study did not find, however, was any evidence that fracking fluids or fracking wastewater contaminated any of the wells.
According to ProPublica, the researchers surmised that there could be several reasons for the methane migration:
• The gas could be displaced by the pressures underground;
• it could travel through new fractures or connections to faults created by fracking;
• it could leak from the well casing itself somewhere closer to the surface (according to the researchers, this was the most likely cause).