Preliminary DOE Study Finds No Migration of Fracking Chemicals in Drinking Water

The Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) announced the preliminary findings of a major study and analysis that traced the chemical agents used in the practice of hydraulic fracturing of oil and and natural gas wells and found no evidence that the wells it monitored had contaminated drinking water supplies in the Marcellus Shale region. The announcement was hailed by representatives from the oil and gas industry and met with some words of caution by academic researchers and environmental groups who noted that its findings are not yet finalized.

In a prepared statement released by the laboratory, "NETL has been conducting a study to monitor for any signs of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing operations at a site on the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania. We are still in the early stages of collecting, analyzing, and validating data from this site. While nothing of concern has been found thus far, the results are far too preliminary to make any firm claims. We expect a final report on the results by the end of the calendar year."

The federally study had been on-going for over year and it examined new and older wells in Greene County Pennsylvania, which is in the southwestern corner of the state bordering West Virginia. The chemicals and fluids used by drillers are injected with high pressure to fracture and break open shale formations found deep underground that then release natural gas or crude oil. The researchers at NETL injected chemicals with special traceable markers into wells 8,000 feet underground, and no signs of the fluids were found in a monitoring zone some 3,000 feet higher - or more than 1 mile below drinking water supplies. This finding comports with industry statements and contentions that the fracking process itself does not pose a threat to aquifers because most reside between 500 and 1,000 feet below the surface.

A scientist with Duke University, Rob Johnson, was quoted by the AP saying that the initial findings by the NETL were good news but he noted that water supplies can still be polluted by drilling operations if wells are poorly constructed or if fracking chemicals or flowback (fracking wastewater) are not properly controlled and managed causing spills into surface or groundwater. Another representative from the advocacy group, Environmental Defense, also alluded that the results of the study may have been successful due to the significant depths of the fluid injections. He said, ""Very few people think that fracking at significant depths routinely leads to water contamination. But the jury is still out on what the odds are that this might happen in special situations."