Marcellus Shale Water Contamination Study

Written By Brianna Panzica

Posted July 10, 2012

Fracking is bad, fracking is good. Fracking will help the economy, fracking will hurt the environment.

The arguments have been tossed back and forth in the U.S. since the fracking boom began and while companies try to drill where environmentalists stand strong.

Some argue that the fluids from hydraulic fracturing, which consists of injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand, and chemicals into horizontal wells, contaminates drinking water.

But others have said this is not the case, and drinking water is safe.

The problem is, very few studies have been completed to prove who is right.

Of course, the Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of completing an extensive study on the effects of fracking, but that won’t be ready for a while.

In the meantime, a number of other smaller-scale studies are being done, and one by scientists from Duke University and California State Polytechnic University at Pomona investigating the water question was released yesterday.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study zeroed in on the Marcellus Shale, a formation stretching from New York to Tennessee.

Scientists used 426 groundwater samples from areas across the Marcellus and 83 samples of brines from underground.

They discovered that the brine from underneath had seeped into the groundwater, often in highly diluted and benign quantities, but occasionally with high levels of metals.

But this brine was not a direct result of fracking, they said. It was a natural substance that had seeped into water from natural passageways. And they were unable to determine whether this had been over a matter of a few years or thousands of years.

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From Bloomberg:

“The good news is that the researchers make it crystal clear that the phenomena they observed had nothing to do with shale development,” Chris Tucker, a spokesman for the industry-backed group Energy In Depth in Washington, said in an email.

But others disagree that the matter is settled. First off, this only applies to the Marcellus region. And secondly, it could be used as an argument for both sides. That’s what Terry Engelder, a geologist at Penn State University, believes.

From the Huffington Post:

“There is a question of time scale and what length of time matters,” Engelder wrote in his review. In a subsequent letter to the Academy’s editors protesting the study, he wrote that “the implication is that the Marcellus is leaking now, naturally without any human assistance, and that if water-based fluid is injected into these cross-formational pathways, that leakage, which is already ‘contaminating’ the aquifers with salt, could be made much worse.”

And though the study did not indicate what fracking might do to enhance this leakage, both sides could draw conclusions from the study.

Of course, the very first thing derived from the study is that the drinking water contamination would have occurred naturally, with or without fracking.

But opponents of the process could easily assume that the fractures will enhance this leakage, even if the study did not include that as part of the research and no instances have been recorded.

Rather than ease the battle of fracking, as some may have hoped, this study will most likely just fuel the fire.

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