Journalism in the Public Interest

Scientific Study Links Flammable Drinking Water to Fracking

For the first time, a peer-reviewed scientific study has linked natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing with a pattern of drinking water contamination so severe that some faucets can be lit on fire.

(Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

For the first time, a scientific study has linked natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing with a pattern of drinking water contamination so severe that some faucets can be lit on fire.

The peer-reviewed study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, stands to shape the contentious debate over whether drilling is safe and begins to fill an information gap that has made it difficult for lawmakers and the public to understand the risks.

The research was conducted by four scientists at Duke University. They found that levels of flammable methane gas in drinking water wells increased to dangerous levels when those water supplies were close to natural gas wells. They also found that the type of gas detected at high levels in the water was the same type of gas that energy companies were extracting from thousands of feet underground, strongly implying that the gas may be seeping underground through natural or manmade faults and fractures, or coming from cracks in the well structure itself.

“Our results show evidence for methane contamination of shallow drinking water systems in at least three areas of the region and suggest important environmental risks accompanying shale gas exploration worldwide,” the article states.

The group tested 68 drinking water wells in the Marcellus and Utica shale drilling areas in northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York State. Sixty of those wells were tested for dissolved gas. While most of the wells had some methane, the water samples taken closest to the gas wells had on average 17 times the levels detected in wells further from active drilling. The group defined an active drilling area as within one kilometer, or about six tenths of a mile, from a gas well.

The average concentration of the methane detected in the water wells near drilling sites fell squarely within a range that the U.S. Department of Interior says is dangerous and requires urgent “hazard mitigation” action, according to the study.

The researchers did not find evidence that the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing had contaminated any of the wells they tested, allaying for the time being some of the greatest fears among environmentalists and drilling opponents.

But they were alarmed by what they described as a clear correlation between drilling activity and the seepage of gas contaminants underground, a danger in itself and evidence that pathways do exist for contaminants to migrate deep within the earth.

“We certainly didn’t expect to see such a strong relationship between the concentration of methane in water and the nearest gas wells. That was a real surprise,” said Robert Jackson, a biology professor at Duke and one of the report’s authors.

Methane contamination of drinking water wells has been a common complaint among people living in gas drilling areas across the country. A 2009 investigation by ProPublica revealed that methane contamination from drilling was widespread, including in Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In several cases, homes blew up after gas seeped into their basements or water supplies. In Pennsylvania a 2004 accident killed three people, including a baby.

In Dimock, Pa., where part of the Duke study was performed, some residents’ water wells exploded, or their water could be lit on fire. In at least a dozen cases in Colorado, ProPublica’s investigation found, methane had infiltrated drinking water supplies that residents said were clean until hydraulic fracturing was performed nearby.

The drilling industry and some state regulators described some of these cases as “anecdotal” and said they were either unconnected to drilling activity or were an isolated problem. But the consistency of the Duke findings raises questions about how unusual and widespread such cases of methane contamination may be.

“It suggests that at least in the region we looked, this is a more general problem than people expected,” Jackson told ProPublica.

For those who live in the midst of this problem, the report serves as long-awaited vindication. “We weren’t just blowing smoke. What we were talking about was the truth,” said Ron Carter, a Dimock resident whose water went bad when drilling began there in 2008 and was later tested as part of the study. “Now I’m happy that at least something helps prove out our theory.”

Methane is not regulated in drinking water, and while research is limited, it is not currently believed to be harmful to drink. But the methane is dangerous because as it collects in enclosed spaces it can asphyxiate people nearby, or lead to an explosion.

To determine where the methane in the wells they tested came from, the researchers ran it through a molecular fingerprinting process called an isotopic analysis. Water samples furthest from gas drilling showed traces of biogenic methane—a type of methane that can naturally appear in water from biological decay. But samples taken closer to drilling had high concentrations of thermogenic methane, which comes from the same hydrocarbon layers where gas drilling is targeted. That—plus the proximity to the gas wells—told the researchers that the contamination was linked to the drilling processes.

In addition to the methane, other types of gases were also detected, providing further evidence that the gas originated with the hydrocarbon deposits miles beneath the earth and that it was unique to the active gas drilling areas. Ethane, another component of natural gas, and other hydrocarbons were detected in 81 percent of water wells near active gas drilling but in only 9 percent of water wells further away. Propane and butane were also detected in some drilling area wells.

The report noted that as much as a mile of rock separated the bottom of the shallow drinking water wells from the deep zones fractured for gas and identified several ways in which fluids or the gas contaminants could move underground: The substances could be displaced by the pressures underground; could travel through new fractures or connections to faults created by the hydraulic fracturing process; or could leak from the well casing itself somewhere closer to the surface.

The geology in Pennsylvania and New York, they said, is tectonically active with faults and other pathways through the rock. They noted that leaky well casings were the most likely cause of the contamination but couldn’t rule out long-range underground migration, which they said “might be possible due to both the extensive fracture systems reported for these formations and the many older, uncased wells drilled and abandoned.”

The water was also analyzed for signs that dangerous fluids from inside the gas wells might have escaped into water supplies. The group tested for salts, radium and other chemicals that, if detected, would have signaled that the produced water or natural fluids in the well’s target zone were making it to the aquifers. But those types of fluids were not found. The group did not test for fracking chemicals or hydrocarbons like benzene, relying instead on the saline or radioactive compounds like radium as indicators.

In an interview, Jackson said that gas was more likely to migrate underground than liquid chemicals. Based on his findings, he doesn’t believe the toxic chemicals pumped into the ground during fracturing are likely to end up in water supplies the same way the methane did. “I’m not ready to use the word impossible,” he said, “but unlikely.”

In a white paper the group issued along with the journal article, Jackson and the others acknowledged the uncertainty and called for more research. “Contamination is often stated to be impossible due to the distance between the well and the drinking water,” they wrote. “Although this seems reasonable in most (and possibly all) cases, field and modeling studies should be undertaken to confirm this assumption. ... Understanding any cases where this assumption is incorrect will be important—when, where, and why they occur—to limit problems with hydraulic fracturing operations.”

A hydrogeologist closely affiliated with the drilling industry raised questions about the study. "It's possible, assuming their measurements are accurate, that all they have done is document the natural conditions of the aquifer," said John Conrad, president of Conrad Geosciences in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Conrad spoke with ProPublica at the suggestion of Energy In Depth, a drilling industry advocacy group, but said that he did not work for EID.

He said that the thermogenic methane—which many scientists say comes from the same deep gas layers where drilling occurs—could be naturally occurring. He also said the researchers didn't test enough wells to support their conclusions, though he could not say how many wells would have been appropriate.

Conrad said the most likely cause for the contamination identified by the Duke researchers—that the gas was leaking out of faulty well casings—seemed implausible.

"For their assumptions to hold up there would have to be more than just the occasional bad cement job," he said. "They are implying that where you see hydraulic fracturing you should expect to see elevated methane. We are aware of faulty cement jobs. But we don't believe that it is common and we certainly don't believe that it is universal."

The Duke study precedes a national study by the Environmental Protection Agency into the dangers of hydraulic fracturing that is expected to be finished sometime next year. Last year the EPA found that some chemicals known to be used in fracturing were among the contaminants detected in 11 residential drinking water wells in Pavillion, Wy.—where more than 200 natural gas wells have been drilled in recent years—but that investigation is continuing and the scientists haven’t concluded that the contamination is linked with drilling or hydraulic fracturing.

The release of the Duke research could immediately shape the increasingly intense public debate over drilling and hydraulic fracturing, especially in some of the areas where the research was conducted. Pennsylvania, which holds drilling companies liable for drinking water contamination within 1,000 feet of a gas well, might consider the fact that the Duke researchers found the contamination extended to about 3,000 feet, Jackson said. New York State has a moratorium in place for hydraulic fracturing of horizontally drilled wells—which cover more area and require more chemicals—through the end of June to allow for more consideration of the risks. “I would extend that at least temporarily,” Jackson said.

Congress, too, is taking note.

"This study provides eye-opening scientific evidence about methane contamination and the risks that irresponsible natural gas drilling poses for drinking water supplies,” said Congressman Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y. “It provides yet another reason why more study of the environmental and health risks associated with hydraulic fracturing is needed."

Hinchey is one of several Democratic members of Congress who recently re-introduced the FRAC Act, which calls for public disclosure of the chemicals used underground. The bill, which is currently languishing in the House, would remove an exemption in federal law that prohibits the EPA from regulating hydraulic fracturing.

May 9: This story has been updated to include information from John Conrad that was received after publication.

So how long will it take for the slime machine to concoct some reason to slander the integrity and competence of the authors of this study? I’d imagine it’s already in the works, coming through some astroturf organization….....

call me a conspiracy theorist and I won’t argue. The serious conspiracies are right out in the open.

Jim, I’m sure the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the gas industry group with the name that makes you think it is a consumer group, is already working on it as we speak.  Penn. State has already been compromised with money.  This study came from North Carolina which does not have a dog in this fight—yet.  Let’s hope more studies follow so that the evidence is overwhelming.

Brady Russell

May 9, 2011, 3:28 p.m.

This is a really important story. When so many ‘anecdotal’ stories pile up, you already know the truth. Waiting for the science is just a way for the oligarchy to delay and make more money doing wrong in the interim. Still, when the proof comes, it is sweet.
Here’s a comic I did about some of the threats from fracking

lolll…I was going to say “What?  Duke hasn’t been compromised yet?”...but Ms. Smith said it better.

By the way:  You can’t hardly blame Penn State…the Wharton School of Business over at the University of Pennsylvania is a nexus of unrestrained capitalism…of cash before conscience.

Penn State is just keepin’ up with the Jones.

elisabeth Appy

May 9, 2011, 3:56 p.m.

In French départment Alpes de Haute Provence resistance against gaz prospection is thriving. The 10th of may a project for law is voted in French general assembly to prohibit hydraulic fracturing (anyway, at least for the moment).  We hope the french gouvernment will not be influenced by the intensif lobbying oilcompanys.

It is indeed thrilling to read a finely crafted article on such an important topic. I fear, though, that this is a tiny voice in a gale. Forward this article to your friends, Facebook and Twitter.

What was it they used to teach in statistics about correlation and causation?

The title and subsequent voice of this article is a farce.  While there may be a correlation between drilling and contamination, there is ZERO and I mean ZERO evidence that hydraulic fracturing is to be blamed.  I’ve read the report cover to cover, and Lustgarten even says in this article that:

“The researchers did not find evidence that the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing had contaminated any of the wells they tested”

The fault is squarely not with hydraulic fracturing, yet the title of his article says it is directly linked to it…which it is not.

The study even says that fracking is not the cause, since the fractures themselves do not extend anywhere near the drinking water supply, and cannot unless there is faulty casing.  This is backed by science too mind you.  (Research Darcy’s law please). 

So while Duke has stumbled upon a correlation between drilling, and what appears to be mass faulty casing, there is ZERO evidence and should not be correlated with hydraulic fracturing.  Investigation needs to occur whether or not this is truly the case, but for the mean time, Lustgarten, please get your facts straight before you go babbling.

No frackin’ well, water from spigot…drill frackin’ well, fire from spigot.

Take quite a statistician to explain that relationship away.  Betcha Fox has just such a creature on the bench, though, waitin’ for the coach to wave him into the game.

Brady Russell

May 9, 2011, 5:02 p.m.

@Travis Y - you must be somehow employed by the drilling industry. To everyone else, “hydrofracking” is EVERYTHING that relates to the process. The well pad. The casing. The trucks on the road.

The methane contamination wouldn’t have happened if not for fracking, so it did cause.

And I think the part where they talk about how they took a chemical fingerprint of the gas is pretty convincing.

It doesn’t matter how the contamination is getting there. It’s getting there and the contamination wouldn’t have happened if not for hydrofracking.

ONLY the drilling industry buys this silly idea that “hydrofracking” only means the last stages of the frack job where the well bore is perforated and then stimulated with water and toxins. The rest of us (reasonably) see it as that and everything that leads up to it.

This may be the best example yet of Lustgarten’s attempts to confuse the public.  Natural gas migration is a problem that can occur with drilling.  It’s not a problem attributable to hydraulic fracturing.  But Lustgarten chose to title the piece “Scientific Study Links Flammable Drinking Water to Fracking” – for one reason - to incite fear.

A layperson reading the article would reasonably conclude that hydraulic fracturing is the cause of fugitive natural gas. 

What is the motivating factor for Lustgarten to use “Fracking” in the title rather than “Drilling”?

@ Brady Russel

I actually employed by the industry, and I have been researching fracking for a good amount of time.  It comprises about 75% of my job.  I also take anything that is said about the industry in a very serious light, holding them accountable for anything that is proven.  I do not inflate nor distort the truths though, unlike this article.

And since it seems as though you have never been out to the field,  Fracking is not everything.  It is an entirely different process related to extraction.  I state it as it is, and since drilling seems to be the problem, then it is drilling we should assess, not falsely accusing a process that which is scientifically proven not to contaminate when done properly. 

You say hydrafracking is the cause of it all, but making a correlation as such is as ridiculous as saying that all plane crashes are the fault of people who want to get to a destination faster.  Since apparently you just blindly assume that the reason for being there is the cause of it all.  Just ludicrous.

How you test a fracked well, anyway?  Pressure test it?  That would be tricky, since the natural gas is also compressible…suppose you could temporarily cork the bottom of the casing, and then pressure test the casing…

Don’t tell you squat about the impact of the fracking on the underlying rock strata, of course.  Unless the industry wants the public to believe that the entire gas-yielding formation is encompassed by the well casing?

Or maybe the industry guarantees their work ‘cuz they have never detected somebody’s dishwasher flowing back the other way?

This definition of fracking confusion has been a problem from the start. Many water wells have been contaminated before fracking occurred. The Susquehanna River is bubbling methane 3 miles from an unfracked horizonal well. The answer is that the danger of drilling is the whole process, including vertical wells.  But there would not be any drilling into the Marcellus if not for the new horizontal drilling / fracking combo. You can’t get gas out of shale without it. It doesn’t matter when or how the drilling process poisoned the water wells. Bad cement, like in the BP Gulf of Mexico debacle, old uncapped wells from decades ago, existing or newly created fissures. What is vital is that when drilling occurs, wells get poisoned. The “naturally occurring gas” they always bait us with might be in the aquifer from past wells. Fossil fuels may have always been dirtier than we were told. In future we should just say we oppose natural gas extraction because it can’t be done cleanly or safely and we are wasting precious time with it and not developing alternative, sustainable fuels.

“Pennsylvania Switches to Bottled Water”
(Who doesn’t expect Joe Barton to get into the act?)

Natural gas doesn’t melt down. It explodes.
Plus fracturing soil to get at it can cause
Fracturing fluids to enter the water, and
Earthquakes when everything’s not left as it was.

So it’s just a matter of time till Joe Barton
Advocates drilling for more natural gas:
“Fracture the soil underneath Pennsylvania.
Tap water be damned. Bottled water’s first class.”

Looks like a view shared by Governor Corbett,
Who’s sold his soul to C. Alan Walker,
Campaign contributor and “permit approver”
Where the gas drilling applicant’s an EPA blocker.

The Congress exempted the fracturing process
From blame for polluting our underground water.
Who’s paying them off? Who bought the Congress
So they won’t change the law the way that they oughter?

Why, the C. Alan Walkers who have fought regulations
For treating the polluted waste water they dump.
What makes them think the law shouldn’t affect them?
Do they owe the banks as much as The Donald Trump?

How many earthquakes do you think it will take
Until Governor Corbett faces recall?
Arkansas’s shaking but New Jersey is banning.
At least Poland Springs didn’t get to them all.

Bob Carlson
On Twitter @PBoondoggles
To ‘Scientific Study Links Flammable Drinking Water to Fracking’
To ‘Pennsylvania Limits Authority of Oil and Gas Inspectors’
To ‘PA Governor Gives Energy Executive
    Supreme Authority Over Environmental Permitting’
To ‘Broad Scope of EPA’s Fracturing Study
    Raises Ire of Gas Industry’
To ‘Former Bush EPA Official Says Fracking Exemption
    Went Too Far; Congress Should Revisit’
To ‘Politics Seen to Limit E.P.A.
    as It Sets Rules for Natural Gas’
To ‘Arkansas Quake Is Its Most Powerful in 35 Years’
To ‘Lawmakers Declare New Jersey a No-Fracking Zone’
To ‘Embattled EPA Verses’
To ‘Congress’s Nutjobs’
To ‘Fracking Chemicals Cited in Congressional Report
    Stay Underground’

I figure the universe gives away energy for free…might as well make the effort to capture it.

Be nice not to have greed messing up the economy and the lives of the American people at ever shorter intervals…standing between them and their future.

Kevin Newman

May 9, 2011, 5:51 p.m.

Abrahm Lustgarten, this is peer reviewed - the way you wrote the article it gives equal weight to the gas industry scientists - but that’s not how the scientific process works. Please check out how peer review process works, and specifically check if their arguments hold up - I’m sure it’s in the report. Company spokespeople should NOT be given equal weight against peer reviewed science - it’s not politics.

Travis Y… We all take this very seriously.  Semantics aside, the fact is that high volume, slick water, multi-stage hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling into shale and other tight formations and rock, results in a new type of process with requirements specific only to it.  That is the reason why it should not be compared to the “frac’ing” and drilling that was performed during the 20th century, especially in shallow, vertical wells.  What science has declared frac’ing safe?

The fact that you disagree with the descriptive use of the word “frac’ing”, does not mean those holding opposite conclusions to you are confused, or ignorant. 

Yes, drilling an 8,000 foot deep hole in the ground, especially in the Appalachian Basin which is riddled with brittle structures and existing faults, is a terrible risk in itself.  It creates migration of gas as we have seen multiple times in Bradford County and Susquehanna County alone. 

But the fact is that on a 5,000 foot lateral the driller/frac’ers are using a minimum of 5 million gallons of fresh water plus tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals and sand, injected under pressure of up to 15,000 psi per well, whereas, the old wells only used up to 75,000 gallons of fluid to drill and frac, under much less pressure.  This is a hugely important difference, both on the surface pad, and underground.

This new, entire, process of drilling and shale hydrofrac’ing, is loosely referred to as hydraulic fracturing, by many.  Whether I agree with that description or not, I’m not confused about what people are referring to.  We are no longer drilling and frac’ing in the 20th century technology and process, no matter how much the industry would like us to believe.

Also, although the article does not identify the wells, and the cases of migration of gas that were studied, I can’t imagine that the vast majority, if not all the cases studied, had not been both drilled, and frac’ed.

You can not produce commercial gas from rock without this type of multi-stage hydraulic fracturing, as you well know, and the article clearly identifies the migration of production, thermogenic gas, and the relationship to extraction wells within 3,000 feet of the contamination.  It was concluded that there is a direct correlation between the wells that have been drilled and frac’ed in this process, and the migration and contamination.  Call it what you will.

If so much methane is detected in this new industry in its early stage, imagine how much will be released with aging well. The industry extract only a smal proportion of the gas (20-25%). The geologic process that is started, will last for centuries. I explain that in my own study on the Utica, but its conclusions applies also to other shales. My papers and a 10 minutes video on that subject:

Marc Durand, honorary prof. of engineering geology
Earth Sciences Dept, Univ. Quebec

Bottom line is,  drilling for gas is not proven to be safe for property owners in close proximity to the well site.  I own rural property that is within the range described in the article with three gas wells and have tested positive for benzene in my well water.  These wells have constant odor, noise,  tanker truck traffic, decreased my property value, and made my property less enjoyable.  We can debate the cause of of the methane or benzene, but if the wells were never drilled near me, I know I would have safe drinking water, odor free air, peace and quiet, and a higher property value.

where are the wells they tested?  from the map in the study, it looks like the PA wells they tested are all around Dimock, which doesn’t tell you much: everyone knows Cabot screwed up a cement job there and made a mess of the aquifer.  but if that’s your “17x” location, then this study is meaningless, because Dimock is not the standard.

didn’t they test around Pittsburgh, where the majority of the oil companies’ money is going?  if not, why not? 

i’m no moonbat lefty, but i’m no corporate stooge either.  can’t somebody in the pro-/anti-fracking debate just come up with an objective, non-advocating study?  here’s hoping the EPA does.

I agree with David Stein,sort of, I think pollution caused by drilling gets lumped in pollution from fracking ,leaving the public with the erroneous notion that fracking alone is bad and drilling is fine.
What Travis Y and David Stein say makes it clear that the it really isn’t about the technology,it’s simply inherent in the system, as the oil and gas industry are discovering,natural systems are far more complex than their mechanistic thinking suggests. Would Encana inject fracking materials in a well, if they expected to the materials to pop up in other gas wells 670meters away ? Simplistic thinking is good for getting a job done fast,and when oil and gas lay in huge pools under the surface,it was fairly straight forward getting them out,but fracking, combined with slick water,directional drilling ,multi-staging, places pressures on poorly understood strata,where we know that toxic elements from the Earths early evolution,( arsenic,radioactive materials, heavy metal etc,) are stored. We know those elements return to the surface in back flow.The risks posed by drilling and fracking are clear.There is no science on how these frictionless fluids will behave over time.
Even industry wouldn’t deny that fracking is an Earth shattering experience ,which we have a very limited capability of “seeing”
It may turn out the the worst consequences of shale gas development ,is in the delay to developing reliable clean energy sources,in deference the broken promises of the wonders of clean fuel , unless ofcourse you can burn your water

Well since big oil and gas have all the lawmakers and politicians in their hip pockets, bought and paid for, rest assured nothing will ever happen.

Mary Sweeney

May 9, 2011, 8:59 p.m.

It’s time to stop allowing the gas industry to treat people as if they were lab animals.

Careful, controlled, non-industry-funded, peer-reviewed studies of the effects of shale gas extraction should have taken place BEFORE any state allowed the shale gas industry to drill on a commercial scale.

North Carolina does have a big dog in this fight. The industry is lobbying hard as I write to get our legislators to make horizontal drilling and fracking legal in NC…..and they are getting a lot of support because there are significant shale deposits in Lee, Chatham and other counties near the Chapel Hill, Raleigh. Legislation has already been introduced that will open the door with the sponsors promising that NC will get it right by increasing oversight and fines—at the same time that the General Assembly is de-funding and gutting our Dept of Environment and Nat’l Resources. The gas companies have already begun to purchase leases from uninformed landowners and the “gold rush” mentality has set in. This is extremely troubling. Like selling your blood to get your next hit of heroin. Water for gas.

This is not a good development.

This study claims that they found no evidence of fracking fluids in the aquifer.

Also, it is already documented that natural gas seeps occur in the water table - and has done so for millions of years.  Saying that wells cause gas in the ground is like saying the presence of fire trucks causes fires.

Daniel Robert Snodgrass

May 9, 2011, 9:40 p.m.

From my base station in New Hampshire, I was monitoring skip on CB radio when this “Green Frac® Program” ( Green Frac® ) said something about Chesapeake Energy. 

Hard tellin’ if he was in, or around @Chesapeake, because he mentioned Oklahoma City… any who, he pinned my needle.


“Allows a delayed break down of the gel”

“Reacts with the “crosslinker” and “gel” once in the formation, making it easier for the fluid to flow to the borehole.”

“Reaction produces ammonia and sulfate salts which are returned in produced water.”

“Used in hair coloring, as a disinfectant and in the manufacture of common household plastics.”

I hope the FCC nails this guy.

sing with me now…..
“Old School fossil fuels Makes a Few Rich and the Rest of Us Fools”

Call it all what you will. The DRBC offering permits to drill on protected waters warrants an investigation of the directors concerning their being bribed by the industry. This area is a National Park and Protected River, isn’t it obvious that people are being bought?
Lets talk about the whole deal here. Having pristine, rural zoned land turned into an industrial park is incredible. I can’t build a deck without permits, put in a factory on my land, but they can put lights which blot out the stars, generators that whine and scream 24/7 and emit noxious diesel fumes, they generate horrible truck traffic which erodes the dirt roads, causes jams, more pollution, etc. I would love to know how much benzene, tolulene come seeping out of the compressors and condensers? If you think its not dangerous, go sniff it for a few hours and let me know, The deforestation and erosion caused, The changing of a country landscape into an industrial zone. All for a quick buck. I am all for peoples mineral rights, but not with these consequences pushed onto the community. I haven’t even spoken to the open pits with ridiculous liners that seep chemicals into the earth, or the radioactive “produced water that is being silently dumped into streams along with the chemicals. That which isn’t being dumped can’t be treated so where do you think that goes. It is incredulous.

this article is fake

Daniel Robert Snodgrass

May 10, 2011, 5:21 a.m.

From my base station in New Hampshire, I was monitoring skip on CB radio when this “Green Frac® Program” said something about Chesapeake Energy. 

Hard tellin’ if he was in, or around @Chesapeake, because he mentioned Oklahoma City… any who, he pinned my needle.


“Allows a delayed break down of the gel”

“Reacts with the “crosslinker” and “gel” once in the formation, making it easier for the fluid to flow to the borehole.”

“Reaction produces ammonia and sulfate salts which are returned in produced water.”

“Used in hair coloring, as a disinfectant and in the manufacture of common household plastics.”

I hope the FCC nails this guy.

Hydraulic Fracking is not the “clean” energy the Natural Gas Companies advertise it to be, but the “dirty” energy!

As a scientist I do not concur with John Conrad statement that the gas in the wells are naturally occurring for the following reasons.
First if this was naturally occurring the concentrations should be about the same for all wells regardless of their distance from the gas well. There should be random variation regardless of the distance to the actual well.

I am assuming they used mass spectral information to determine the isotopic fingerprints of the methane in all samples,  if that is the case the unless their MS was out of tune or badly malfunctioning then the data is absolute, you can’t change the information from the mass spectrometer.  Again if the fingerprints match then this is conclusive evidence that the gas is coming from the same source

I would figure that the gasses would be the first thing detected from a recent gas drilling-hydrofracture as the gasses would diffuse the fastest being relatively low molecular weight materials and with relatively low solubility in water. It would be interesting to monitor the same wells for the other compounds over time to see if there is an increase in such items as TDS, organic volatiles and other key metals used in the drilling/fracking process.

Brady Russell

May 10, 2011, 8:35 a.m.

@Travis Y—not that I really think it matters but if it gives me more credibility with you, then, yes… I have been to gas drilling sites. I’ve been visiting them since early 2009, tho I’m on the other side of the aisle. I’m an environmental advocate.

The point here is that it doesn’t matter how the methane contamination happens. Is it shaken out as the drilling happens. Did the casing fail. Did it come up from a mile underground… who knows and who cares? What matters is that because these deep shale formations are being tapped the contamination IS happening. Drop this correlation causation rhetoric. Scientists aren’t finding the deep shale gas (see the part about the fingerprinting) in places where there isn’t drilling. That’s enough for anyone.

What matters is that without fracking, methane does not reach dangerous levels. With hydrofracking, it does.

Further, groundwater contamination happens all the time: And I know what you are going to say, “that isn’t fracking. Those are spills.” But what I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter. The spills only happen because people are fracking. If there were no fracking, there would be nothing to spill. So the fracking does lead to spills. That is the beginning and the end of the story.

The thing people have to keep in the back of their minds is the way capitalism works against the American people as a consequence of the monstrous individual liquidity resulting from “flood-up/trickle-down” economics.  That is, what used to require many, many Americans working together to effect can now be effected by a few individuals because of the concentration of wealth.

There are those who view water as the golden ring…the holy grail of commodities.  There are both individuals and collections of those aforementioned individuals buying water; I give you the Carlyle Group or T. Boone Pickens as examples.

That creates a scenario where the pollution - the destruction, effectively - of “somebody else’s” water makes their water more valuable and further causes other HNWIs to look at water as an “investment” (although in reality as with energy water simply offers a platform from which the HNWI can levy a private tax…albeit they use the term “profit”). 

I.e., with fracking we have an instrument that not only yields profits from the gas produced, but if enough wells are fracked in enough places with enough negative consequences upon water quality, it will yield immense profits to water monopolies.

So you might consider using the purchase of water rights as an indicator…should such purchases increase, that might suggest that fracking/energy industry insiders expect water to increase in value dramatically in the near term.  And if the same corporations, individual, or group of individuals (acting as a “private investor group”, hedge fund etc.) who are principles in the fracking effort start buying water within pipeline distance of the population in the area being fracked…that should light up your “Ruh-roh!” lamp.

Remember that it is always near-term thinking with the HNWIs…and in general their greed ensures that their interests are exclusive of yours.

Methane leaking from casing near the ground, which is what this article discusses, has nothing - NOTHING - to do with fracking.

An analogy: blaming this on fracking is a bit like if your garden hose is leaking at the joint where the hose connects with the spray nozzle, and blaming the municipal water pumps, several miles upstream of your hose. The well is leaking at the end of the wellbore, not the beginning.

Leaky casings can exist on any well, horizontal, vertical, fracked, unfracked, oil gas, whatever. Leaky casing are a serious issue that needs to be addressed, but to conflate them with fracking is spurious and disingenuous.

I am 77 years old.  My family has a farm that has been in the family since the 1860’s.  The farm has a shallow well dug over a hundred years ago. The well is about twenty five feet deep with about ten feet of water.  We water the cows from this well.  In about 1950, the well was contaminated with what my parents thought was gasoline.  You could throw a lighted match down the well and get a “poof” of flame.  About five hundred feet away, a neighbor also had a shallow well.  That well did not have the gas smell and no “poof” of flame.  All the neighbors came by to throw a match in the well.  I don’t know how long it took for the gas to build up to a flameable level, but you could not get more that one flame a day.

Everyone in the general area, several miles, checked their wells.  No “poofs”

We quit watering the cows form the well, although the cows had no trouble drinking the water.  We don’t know when, but several months later, the problem went away.  There was never any answer as to why the gas appeared.  Since I have been farming the place, I continue to water the cows from the well.  It has never gone dry.

I should add that there seems to be a strain of thought here and in the enviro community that gas drilling and production should be banned.

While this is unlikely, the inevitable result will be a steep increase in energy costs for everybody, and a continuation of dollar flows into the pockets of Wahabbists. So, the question is, are those costs greater than the costs of allowing drilling to continue, especially considering that 40,000 wells are drilled in the US every year and there are no more than a handful of contamination reports.

If the drilling industry is 99.9% effective at drilling safe, non-leaky wells, is that good enough? How many industries, or how many people, can claim to get it right 99.9% of the time, with only a one in a thousand (or maybe one in ten thousand) failure rate, for a task as complicated as drilling and completing a oil or gas well?

Seems like - since fracking is safe - the drillers wouldn’t have a problem buying the insurance required to provide water to all residences and businesses now in existence in a 30-mile radius of any well and also indemnify existing landowners against future loss of income they might have derived from selling their land as typical 1/4 acre home plots.

Since the insurance corporations will undoubtedly be overwhelmed by the frackers’ frackin’ arguments and scientific evidence, I’m sure the premiums would be a pittance…say, a few pennies per million BTU?

No reason at all for the frackers AND those who intend to market or otherwise take possession of the gas shouldn’t be willing to carry such insurance…ad infinitum.

No logical reason not to buy that insurance, at all…

This study is a classic example of a spurrious correlation.
A)  There are water wells everywhere.
B)  Gas exists only in some places and contaminates the water table where it does exist.
C)  Gas wells exist where there is gas, therefore gas wells exist where there is contaminated water.

These gas seeps occur naturally - in fact they are tourist attractions as they sometimes come right out of water falls.

Yes, Steve, requiring gas producers to buy insurance against groundwater contamination isn’t such a bad idea. Since insurance companies are heavily data driven, we can look forward to a much better delineation of both rates of contamination per well and costs of control, abatement or adaptation to incidents of contamination.

An actual, rational, assessment of costs and benefits can only be helpful to everyone, much more useful that misleading “news” stories and hyperbolic comment from authors who feel the need to say “frack” five times in every sentence. It’s almost like you’re trying harder to convince yourself of something than anybody else. 

Since both the rate of incidence is very low, and the costs of dealing with spills in thinly-populated rural areas is low, it shouldn’t be a problem, and wil likely not add material costs to drilling and operating a well. Given that a well costs close to $10 million, and generates revenues of $3-$5 million per year for several years, it is unlikely that insurance costs will be material.

And, of course, if everybody has to do it, it qill raise costs across the board, which will raise prices, which means that basically its Joe Consumer picking up the tab for this insurance.

But I imagine that isn’t the outcome you’re looking for.

Bart Johnson emoted:  “And, of course, if everybody has to do it, it qill raise costs across the board, which will raise prices, which means that basically its Joe Consumer picking up the tab for this insurance.  But I imagine that isn’t the outcome you’re looking for.”

No, but it was the response I was anticipating.

Insurance is already in place and is the way that business manages risk.

If you have one out of a thousand chances of damaging someones well, then you pay a dollar for a policy that will pay out about $1000.

Naturally, the land owner has to prove that the gas was not seeping there naturally and so far, none of the deep fracking wells has had their signature in the methane in the water wells in question.  This in conjuction with the fact that this study found no contamination from fracking fluid means that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

This means jobs, money for the govt to keep state and local budgets solvent and less blood money being paid for foreign energy.

Naturally, there are many who wish to keep fighting in the Middle East but it is hard to imagine why we would want to do that.  We have thousands dying there every year compared to zero dead from fracking.

Is that all you got, Steve? Snark?

Do you have any actual, substantive disagreement with anything I said? Any type of rebuttal other than “nyah-nyah, I can’t hear you!!!” I directly addressed your notion of insurance, but all I get in response is not-quite-half-wittery. Are you interested in actually discussing this issue, or simply chanting your slogans (which you don’t really believe) over and over and over again?

Simply put, the benefits of gas drilling outweigh the costs, by a wide margin. Are there costs and downsides? Yes. Are they manageable? Sure. Are these costs greater than the benefits of cheap, reliable, relatively clean, domestically sourced heating fuel? No way.

The more scrutiny that drilling gets, the starker this fact will become to the people that actually make decisions, as opposed to those waving signs and tittering amongst themselves as they repeat almost-naughty-sounding words ad infinitum. So, thanks for helping out.

What about those folks that can light their water on fire that don’t have drilling activity in their area?  Fracking as well?

Have a look at this:

Interviews with people who are directly impacted by this process.  They talk about (and show you) the before and after.

Ever notice how the energy industry types are ever willing to threaten American blood?

Even if the industry has a 99.9% safety recorded with drilling/fracking (the real numbers about 95%) the problem is that there is an estimated 30,000 to 90,000 wells projected to be drilled in the PA portion of the Marcellus shale.  using the most conservative numbers of 30,000 and a 99.9% safety record it would still mean that 300 wells would have an environmental problem.

No one can predict where those 300 will be and to what extent the environmental damage those 300 wells would cause! That that is the real risk based problem.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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