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New Study Predicts Frack Fluids Can Migrate to Aquifers Within Years

A new study has raised fresh concerns about the safety of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, concluding that fracking chemicals injected into the ground could migrate toward drinking water supplies far more quickly than experts have previously predicted.

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Emmett Smith

May 1, 2012, 4:22 p.m.

Fracking has been done for decades. What is wrong with you nuts? The sun is going to burn out too. Banks knew about credit default swaps and derivatives long before they caught up with them. The only prediction was when it was going to happen.

dpjbro

May 1, 2012, 4:31 p.m.

The perfect storm of corporate front men selling amateur politicians and greedy individual land owners on a short-sighted goal of extracting natural resources in a depressed economy. Those digital computer models of the process surely do look harmless. What could possibly go wrong?

cheyennebode

May 1, 2012, 4:40 p.m.

MAYBE TAKING THE PROFIT OUT OF FRACKING BY REQUESTING INSURANCE BONDING…AGAINST FUTURE FAILURES…

Ron Benenati

May 1, 2012, 4:41 p.m.

4 million gallons of water per well - imagine.  What price do we value water and how well do we understand its loss in and ecosystem?  This, to me, is frightening in and of itself.. Then, how are municipalities being ripped off by drillers for the true cost of that water so that the drillers can make their profits…much less the true cost of disposing of waste water safely.  Then the likelihood of inevitable groundwater contamination along the way.
This is a snake-oil business.

Kathleen Einwich

May 1, 2012, 4:46 p.m.

This is precisely what I have been concerned about.  This will not only pollute the groundwater, but it will eventually pollute Chesapeake Bay, along with “purified” fracking water and fluids (see earlier ProPublica articles) being dumped into the Susquehanna River, which empties into the Bay.  I retired from the EPA here in Mississippi, and I want to talk to my former colleagues about this, but it’s not in their Region…  Bravo to ProPublica for publicizing this.
Kathy Einwich
Coastal Mississippi

Stephanie Palmer

May 1, 2012, 4:54 p.m.

Hey, don’t even bother mentioning it to the governor and legislature in Pennsylvania; they don’t want to hear it.  They just had the gall to take away local zoning laws to accommodate the gas wells, and no, they still don’t tax the energy companies.  Maybe they don’t think water is necessary to human life.

Mary Sweeney

May 1, 2012, 5:26 p.m.

The article says that both Myers and Engelder “...agreed that direct evidence of fluid migration is needed, but little sampling has been done to analyze where fracking fluids go after being injected underground.”

Wouldn’t a sane society insist on doing the science first, before allowing large-scale fracking in areas with large populations dependent on aquifers for their drinking water? Why is the gas industry being allowed to treat human beings like guinea pigs?

Mike H

May 1, 2012, 7:39 p.m.

Wow Mr Lustgarten ... you keep beating this dead horse for all its worth dontcha? The case for contamination in Dimock has fallen to pieces, as has the case against Range Resources in Parker County, Texas and the case in Wyoming is certainly not proceeding as smoothly as the anti-frakers would like in Wyoming.

You sure have been quite about thise havent you?

It would seem that the “science” is becoming settled on this topic, but since you have invested so much of the past 4 years on this topic I see you arent willing to let it go. So you find one crank who has put together a “model” that predicts within 10 years the contamination that you have been claiming is widespread will start to occur.

You cant have it both ways ... the web has a long memory.

mark andersen

May 1, 2012, 7:48 p.m.

Perhaps Emmett should check his facts.  He confuses traditional drilling with non-traditional drilling.  Also,  it was not until 2005 that the drillers were exempt from the clean water act,  thereby freeing them from disclosing what chemicals they add to the water used for fracking.  Look it up,  Emmett.

Ron Benenati

May 1, 2012, 7:52 p.m.

Mike H.  You are so wrong about the long memory.  The corporations thrive on the fact that people forget.  Forget that Fukishima, the scenario they said could never happen, did—and is far from over, though the silence in the press has left if largely forgotten here in the U.S.—for now.

That the BP oil spill in the Gulf could never happen.  But it did.  Twice,  in fact.  There was one prior that went unreported.  They have poured millions in false ads telling everyone how pristine things are again (just ask the fisherman in Alaska, the can tell you how well that worked out).  Yet, here come the reports of contamination of 1/4 of the fish supply consumed by the American people.  Mutating shrimp, crabs rotting alive, cancerous fish.  Not important?  Bad science?

The fossil industry has played an important roll for many years.  But, its day is over.  From this point on its like a pathetic rock star who just didn’t know when to quit.  There are plenty of great alternatives, and the fossils don’t have any spin worth listening to.

terry

May 1, 2012, 9:33 p.m.

what is the study’s EXACT title? The article does not even mention it (and the link goes to the Journal.)

I’m interested in reading this, but can’t because as usual, a piece of science journalism doesn’t link to the actual study or give its title. I want to read the actual study because it seems to rely solely on computer models with no real-world verification.

shane algarin

May 1, 2012, 9:41 p.m.

Wow, fracking will free us from energy dependence. No longer will we depend on dangerous regimes and their terrorists.

If we poison our drinking water in the process….So be it! Brilliant!

Joshua B. Pribanic

May 1, 2012, 9:57 p.m.

Bob Haag called the event of man-made fractures opening up areas for frack water to move to the surface from greater depths than previously known a “Pressure Bulb” — check it out: http://www.publicherald.org/archives/13916/investigative-reports/energy-investigations/fracking-energy-investigations/ — An idea scheduled to be highlighted this summer in a publicherald.org documentary, Triple Divide, a synthesis of our investigations in Pennsylvania.

Lawrence Herbert

May 1, 2012, 10:38 p.m.

Non-toxic Green Fracking Fluids Must Be Made An Industry Standard.  Increases in Earth Tremors (20 times more in Oklahoma) exasperates the fractures and migrations, as explained in Environmental Impact Statements.  Local Community Discretion Is Essential.

RandomAction

May 1, 2012, 11:46 p.m.

FRACKING this way has only been done since 2005…. this is not your old gas well of yesteryear.  Everyone has known this gas has been here for decades, but everyone knew it was impossible to release.  This is extreme gas extraction and the technique used is toxic!  It must be BANNED like over 50 towns in NY have done, Albany has done, Quebec, Nova Scotia, France, Bulgaria and VT is on the cusp.  NJ banned it but the governor vetoed it so NJ is in a race with VT to officially ban it.  Ludicrous to think toxic chemicals mixed with sand and water won’t move…. of course it will.  We don’t put our nuclear waste under the rock and say we’re all good.  That goes into a sealed vault…. this is just shale, crumbly rock broken apart by the pressure and the fluid will go where it may.  The only SOLUTION?  BAN IT!  SIGN 3 IMPORTANT PETITIONS BELOW… 20 of your seconds makes a lifetime of difference.  Your kids, nieces and nephews will thank you :
1. http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-natural-gas-development-in-the-susquehanna-river-basin
2. http://action.foodandwaterwatch.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=6125&track=hp-051811-actioncenter 3.http://www.thepetitionsite.com/5/mothers-against-fracking/

STEVE DEGRAFF

May 2, 2012, 4:10 a.m.

I agree fracking dangers should be studied in depth and the fossil fuel industry stands in the way. The real culprit in all bad legislation is ALEC
I HOPE YOU ALL STAND AGAINST THEM.

Michael Hoy

May 2, 2012, 6:27 a.m.

yep, this is one way - perhaps a sure way - to privatize potable water. Poison the natural supply.

Liz Rosenbaum

May 2, 2012, 7:20 a.m.

Golly, does Engelder have a detailed map every last crack and fissure in the Marcellus? Why doesn’t he share it??

Mark Johnson

May 2, 2012, 7:34 a.m.

Whenever journalists write about fraccing a well, they say the companies inject around 4 million gallons of frac fluid. That is if it takes the first time. The two wells next to my house in Texas are not producing and have been fracced 3-4 times each. Thats 12-16 million gallons per well. And we are all living under water restrictions….

Trevor Stimes

May 2, 2012, 9:14 a.m.

I’d like to point out that while people in the marcellus may have not collected much data on baseline sampling and potential contamination, Colorado has. 

CBM wells in the southwest part of the state require mandatory baseline sampling testing, since 2000.  And since then, over 2,000 samples have been collected and independently verified that there have been no chemical increases from hydraulic fracturing or subsequent operations.  To further drive the nail in the fear coffin, CBM wells are fracked much closer to groundwater, ~2000-3000 feet deep as opposed to deep shales 6000+ feet. 

These hypothetical studies that are carried out by people unfamiliar w/ substrata are very politically based in nature due to the controversy surrounding hydraulic fracturing, and are unfortunately very damaging of spreading misinformation instead of the reality of the situation.

Darryl D. Robinson

May 2, 2012, 9:21 a.m.

So who should you believe?  The fast talking sales agent professionally trained to seduce you to say yes or your neighbors dying of cancer whose main source of entertainment is lighting the water coming out of their faucets?

John

May 2, 2012, 9:31 a.m.

I do like the “perfectly safe” and “it’s the only way” lines.  I mean, gosh, if only there was some way of producing natural gas instead of mining for it.

Like wood gasification, which can be adapted to different types of garbage and used to be “Town Gas,” used to power a city’s gaslights.

Like biological sources, since we’re all familiar with methane from digestive sources.

There are plenty of cheaper and more scalable ways of getting methane.  Given how defensive they get about any alleged harm (and equating “no connection found” with “no connection”—I notice Mike H. has taken on Global Warming’s protective amulet of “settled science”), I find myself wondering if there’s just something symbolic about thrusting pipe into “Mother Earth” to pump cavities full of chemicals.

Maybe they’re overcompensating for some other shortcoming?

jack hyland

May 2, 2012, 9:32 a.m.

anyone using commmon sense would know that the fracing fluid used ifor fracing wil follow th path of least resistance—which mean it ends up traveling eventually in the drinking water as it also travels following the path of least resistance and has been for millions of years. Eventually the dumb butts that drilled the wells will end up destroying the very thing we need the most—the water supplies. And the dam fools have helped create the paths that will eventually destroy our fresh water systems. And at what price to the people?

Susan Sullivan

May 2, 2012, 9:51 a.m.

I live in the Delaware River Watershed.  According to the Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, in a report to Congress in 2006, there was not enough water in the Basin system in a drought to serve existing users.  That would be municipalities, farmers, and industries in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.  Fracking is presently under review by the Commission.  The Commission, interestingly, faces a lack of funding, with the Federal Government, New York, and Pennsylvania not giving their agreed upon monies. Funds to do comprehensive impact studies have not been released.  Let’s imagine that fracking is allowed, and thousands of wells, each using 4, or 6, or 10 million gallons of water are being fracked.  And there is a drought (which we are close to experiencing right now).  Extreme weather is anticipated due to climate change and is being studied by the EPA.  Do you think if the industry is allowed into the Basin, they will just go away in drought conditions?  Dream on….This is just one example of the profound disregard for ordinary citizens right to a clean, realiable water supply.

Ron Benenati

May 2, 2012, 10:04 a.m.

At current rates Clean Energy Alternatives are coming on line the fossil fuel industry is projected to lose $4 trillion by 2020.  In an industry known for its lack of ethics, is it any wonder they are playing games with the truth? 
Fact is, the rate needs to, and will accelerate. In spite of all their money and obstruction, reality is against them.

Michael S. Knapp

May 2, 2012, 10:37 a.m.

Abrham,

This “study” is Park Foundation garbage. I could set up a computer model that shows with a fair amount of certainty that, within the next 6 months,  Jessica Alba will skydive into a Pirates world series game with briefcases full of cash to declare her love for me on international television. 

There’s only one thing that is pretty much universally accepted about gas drilling…  that frac fluids returning from depth is not a concern.  You can set up a computer model (or a study for that matter, *cough HOWARTH cough*) that will lead you to whatever conclusion that you desire. 

This “study” doesn’t even pass a simple common sense sniff test.  We’ve been hydraulically fracturing much more porous sandstone formations for 60 years, into formations less than 1,000’ deeper than aquifers, whereas the Marcellus in most places is 6,000 to 7,000’ deeper than the aquifers….  We did this using many of the same chemicals that are in use today, or other chemicals. No sign of them in our water supplies. 

If fluids were migrating upwards from gas bearing formations, then why aren’t the natural fluids in the formation already in our aquifer?  The Marcellus has been there for 300 MILLION YEARS. Thats plenty of time to allow for upward migration.  But there’s no Marcellus brine or any of the heavy metals from it in our aquifers. 

The EPA’s preferred method for disposal of fluids is by deep well injection.  There are over 144,000 thousands of them in use today in the United States. 

I’ve got to admit, it’s sad to see these types of articles continuing to come out of ProPublica.  It’s very nice to see that you at least contacted Professor Engelder, who has forgotten more about Pennsylvania oil and gas related geology, specifically its fracturing and migrations tendencies, than most other scientists possess cumulatively.  But I’d be willing to bet that he had a lot more to say than made it into this article.  Had you decided to use it, you could at least have offered your readers a much more balanced article with the proper context.

But again, props on talking to Engelder, and for mentioning the Park Foundation, who they are, and their role in the study. 

Best,

Michael S. Knapp
President
Knapp Acquisitions & Production
Kittanning, Armstrong County, PA

Rochelle

May 2, 2012, 10:45 a.m.

They used the same “impermeable/impenetrable” argument of the placenta protective barrier.  Really nothing is totally impermeable over time.  Time is the overlooked factor.

John

May 2, 2012, 12:45 p.m.

Mr. Knapp, I see two potential flaws in your line of thought.

First, we’re not allowed to know the makeup of the fluid (trade secret, somehow), so are you so sure we’ve never, ever seen any of these materials in the drinking water?  It’s “mostly water,” so who’d know the difference…?

Second, “why aren’t the natural fluids in the formation already in our aquifer”?  The before/after difference sounds like it might be when somebody poked a big hole through brittle rock and then pressurized the chamber beneath.  A can of soda can sit quietly for days without the contents “migrating,” too, until some bozo shakes it and pops the tab.

While I’m not saying that the study is right or that you’re being disingenuous in the slightest, the conclusion of the study is far from the implausible scenario you’re suggesting.

Judi Millis

May 2, 2012, 1:15 p.m.

Trevor Stimes…even though you point out the water testing in Colorado…you forgot to mention the air quality in Colorado from fracking is now crap…just another downside to fracking…..

http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/news/2012/03/19/colorado-study-links-fracking-to-air.html?page=2

Kevin Schmidt

May 2, 2012, 1:17 p.m.

No one could have ever predicted that toxic chemicals would ever “migrate” down through porous rocks and enter an aquifer the same way that rain water does.

This news defies all oil industry science and propaganda!

Michael Knapp

May 2, 2012, 1:21 p.m.

John,

To your first point:  We ARE indeed allowed to know the makeup of the fluid.  There are a few copolymers that companies withhold certain info about as the information is proprietary, but most of the constituents are common household products, such as hydrochloric acid and soda ash (swimming pool water additives), certain glycols, thickening agents like guar gum (which is in ice cream and many other foods) and biocides. 

Check out http://www.fracfocus.org  It’s an online registry that most companies use the site to disclose exactly what, and how much, of each chemical they used on a well by well basis.  Here in PA and in Colorado, it’s mandated by law. 

But beside all of that, those would not be the most obvious indicator.  The biggest indicator would be salts.  Were water returning from depth, it would be 100x saltier than ocean water. 

And again, it would have to travel up through the conventional formations we’ve been tapping for years.  And if there are conduits for WATER from the Marcellus (or other formations), then gas would be migrating up through them even easier.  We’d be seeing thermogenic gas in our aquifers.  But, we are not. 


As to your second point:  Whenever you “shake the can and pull the tab”  the soda doesn’t start to seep out of the pores of the can… it goes out the hole in the top.

Kevin Schmidt

May 2, 2012, 1:21 p.m.

Michael S. Knapp, yes, it is sad to see that real science will put a dent in your profits. But according to your illogic, we have been polluting aquifers for decades, and destroying the environment for even longer than that, so why stop now?

Michael Knapp

May 2, 2012, 1:28 p.m.

Kevin Schmidt:

Who wouldn’t have predicted that?  Certainly not the US Government.  They have identified over 400,000 cases where leaking underground storage tanks have discharged diesel or gasoline (which contain BTEX compounds and VOC’s that those opposed to drilling often cite) into an aquifer.  That’s just confirmed cases.  Imagine how many others went unreported. 

Check this out:  http://knappap.blogspot.com/2011_04_01_archive.html

Michael Knapp

May 2, 2012, 1:36 p.m.

Kevin:  This isn’t real science.  This is a “computer model” put out by a scientist who has made a living testifying for NRDC and other enviro organizations, at the behest of the Park Foundation and the Catskill Mountainkeepers…  who have been rabidly attempting to ban all natural gas drilling. 

There are other, very real threats to water quality, that go far beyond anything natural gas drilling can pose on its worst day by its most callous operator.  And, I will absolutely admit that natural gas drilling CAN impact aquifers… .but its through surface spills and through improper well construction allowing methane to migrate from gas bearing formations below them (not the target formation).  Those are the real threats, but thankfully those are areas that can (and are) being improved upon greatly as experience and stronger regulations continue to improve the drilling process.

Abe an' Joe Playa

May 2, 2012, 1:59 p.m.

I agree completely Mary Sweeney. A sane society would analyze the impacts of any sort of resource extraction that might damage something as crucial as a region’s water source. 

Unfortunately it’s apparent that we don’t live in a sane society.  There is no profit in preventing public health issues.  On the other hand, when we let it happen and take a really long time for anyone to admit that it’s happening, all sorts of people are spending money on doctors or private studies or advertisements saying fraking is safe or that it isn’t safe.  All that money exchanged stimulates the GDP. 

It seems just a little insane to me that we gauge the success of our nation based not on how happy we are, our overall health or quality of life, but on how much money we spend.

Borg Hendrickson

May 2, 2012, 2 p.m.

I’m disturbed by the focus on the “far more quickly” aspect of this article.  It doesn’t really matter if the migration of fracking fluids happens today, tomorrow, or ten years down the road—the result in any case is disastrous.  Protest is warranted whether “far more quickly” or not.

Michael S. Knapp

May 2, 2012, 2:13 p.m.

Borg,

I’m disturbed by the “far more quickly” line as well… because it’s completely incorrect. 

We inject BILLIONS of gallons of wastewater into the ground every year, and we’ve been doing so for decades. 

Check it out:  http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/index.cfm

Kevin Schmidt

May 2, 2012, 2:17 p.m.

How does the water get down to the aquifer but not the harmful chemicals? How strange an argument is being made that we can safely inject harmful chemicals deep into the earth without any negative repercussions over time.

Making a living by testifying for environmental groups does not in itself discredit the scientist. Neither does making a claim that computer models are unscientific. However, asserting unscientific opinions as facts and making ad hominen accusations only discredits you and no one else.

Kevin Schmidt

May 2, 2012, 2:20 p.m.

Yes, we’ve been heading for the cliff for decades, so why stop now?

John

May 2, 2012, 2:39 p.m.

Mr. Knapp (I’m being formal due to the proliferation of Michaels, here, not to keep you at insulting-arms’ distance, by the way), we can narrow the flaws, but they’re still flaws.

“Just a few” are proprietary still means that it’s a secret.  Writing off a class of chemicals as just copolymers, because polymers have a tendancy to be “sticky,” and a block copolymer has all sorts of potential bonding sites.  Again, I’m not saying that they’ll react with rock—I have no clue—but I know it’s not out of the question.

Also, “biocides” aren’t exactly giving anybody the warm and fuzzies, either.  Nor should hydrochloric acid, which I know dissolves a fair variety of minerals, since that’s its common use in a chemistry lab.

As to the soda can analogy, can you guarantee that the hole for the tab doesn’t warp or crack during the escape?  And if we weaken the can beforehand, it may very well burst before the tab is popped.

Too much of this seems analogous to the Global Warming people, where dissenters are handwaved away as the fringe and flaws in the reasoning are dismissed as we peons being unable to understand the big picture.  It’s a shame.  I think natural gas is a really good idea.  I just think that fracking has always been a stopgap, and pushing it into another half-century by explaining that “most of it is fine, and it was good enough for your parents” is the wrong way of going about it.

Michael S. Knapp

May 2, 2012, 2:40 p.m.

It’s not a strange argument if you understand the science behind it.  Most scientists do, which is why we’ve been safely injecting contaminated water deep into the earth for decades with no ill effects because of it.

Kevin Schmidt

May 2, 2012, 3:12 p.m.

I have yet to see any scientific proof that injecting harmful chemicals deep into the earth for decades has produced no ill effects because of it.
The whole notion of it flies against common sense!

Meanwhile, there is a growing body of credible, scientific evidence to prove the exact opposite of what you are claiming.

Again, stop trying to dishonestly assert your completely unscientific opinions as facts.

Kevin Schmidt

May 2, 2012, 3:52 p.m.

Harmful fracking chemicals even frack houses!

http://addon.100searchengines.com/texis/open/video?q=tap+water+fire

Michael S. Knapp

May 2, 2012, 4:14 p.m.

John:

I’m sorry I should have been more specific.  I wasn’t trying to argue whether said chemicals would interact with anything while they’re down there.  We were speaking in the context of “we don’t know what they are, so even if they were to show up in aquifers we wouldn’t be able to identify them.”  Out of the dozen or so chemicals that are used on any one well, only one or two are protected under trade secret laws, and they are usually one of the smallest constituents of the 0.5% of the mix which is chemicals.  My point being that enough of the chemicals in the mix are known, so we do in fact know what to look for. 

Hydrochloric acid, water balancers, and biocides while scary sounding,  are very commonly used in the swimming pool industry.  Millions of kids swim around in them every day.  In fact, the hydrochloric acid used in pools is twice the concentration as that which is used in the gas industry.  I have personally poured thousands of gallons of the stuff into pools (used to own a pool management company).  It may be one of the most undesirable things one would want to deal with in its concentrated form (it burns the skin almost instantly, and if you catch a whiff of it you’ll be rolling on the ground gasping for air), but once it’s diluted it’s harmless. 

I struggle to find a way to explain the intricacies of it without sounding too technical, but while also not insulting anyone’s intelligence.  There’s far more study and science behind the practice beyond “most of its fine, and it didn’t hurt your parents”.  Microseismic testing maps out exactly where the fractures go during a frac job, well bond logs and pressure tests are done on the well to verify bore integrity prior to fracing…  I could go on and on, but I don’t want to bore. 

But I will admit, for a portion of the population it’s been very hard to get good information out to the public in a form which they care to digest.  It seems as though any time I try to talk to someone who has an unfavorable view of the industry, I’m treated with Upton Sinclair quotes and told that I’m an evil corporate fat cat who would drill through his grandmother’s grave for a buck. It’s a ridiculous stereotype (not to mention wildly inaccurate, especially with me).  It’s tough to reach that audience.

Michael S. Knapp

May 2, 2012, 4:16 p.m.

Kevin:

The proof is in the pudding.  And there’s plenty of study that has been done.  There’s millions of case studies all over the country.  If you haven’t seen them, you’re not looking hard enough.

Kevin Schmidt

May 2, 2012, 4:18 p.m.

Harmful fracking chemicals even frack houses!

addon.100searchengines D O T C O M /texis/open/video?q=tap+water+fire

h.m.

May 2, 2012, 4:50 p.m.

No kidding!  Good grief, this has been known for some time but the greedy petro guys have been massively spinning crap against it.  Let’s get on with stopping this polluting nonsense and let the greedheads whimper.  That would be a nice sound to hear!

Marge

May 2, 2012, 5:17 p.m.

I can do fine without gas and oil. I cannot survive without water…  but it is OK, since the Corporate Devil will make a buck, right?

BB

May 2, 2012, 5:38 p.m.

As planned, aquifers will become toxic, the government will have to spend billions of tax dollars to contract with private companies to supply drinking waters to the municipalities affected. It is all part of the corporate plan to privatize water for profits.

Michael S. Knapp

May 2, 2012, 5:53 p.m.

It sure would be nice if we could have this discussion without the conspiracy theories, and the “oil companies and everyone that works for them are greedy soulless corporate devils ” nonsense.  These are publicly traded companies, owned mostly by mutual funds, pension plans and retirement funds.  There’s no evil oil baron for people to rage against. 

It’s beyond counterproductive.

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