Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas among underground shale beds is putting Pennsylvania’s fresh water supply at even greater risk of contamination.
New research from Duke University has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, according to Bloomberg report this week, “a chemical analysis of 426 shallow groundwater samples found matches with brine found in rock more than one mile (1.2 kilometers) deep.”
Fracking is typically conducted at depths of two miles below the surface and Duke researchers believe the presence of brine at shallower depths shows that fracking creates fissures and cracks which could allow the more dangerous elements of the drilling to escape as well, especially after drilling has been conducted. The study stopped short of blaming fracking for the flows of briny groundwater collected at 426 different sites for its analysis.
That analysis counters the fracking and natural gas industry claims that the drilling process is generally safe and can not possibly lead to fluids used in the process flowing into groundwater supplies.
Thousands of wells have been opened in Pennsylvania in recent years as natural gas companies and those involved in the construction and operation of fracking wells have taken advantage of lax environmental regulations and created a boom in energy production. Though production has fallen off somewhat recently due to a drop in natural gas prices, many companies are still actively seeking new well permits and fracking continuously.
The process uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water daily per site. While it is all supposed to be returned to the surface through the fracking process, fracking waste water is contaminated with umpteen hazardous chemicals used in drilling and few facilities exist that can properly treat the water to remove them. In addition, the Duke study points to another fault of the fracking process, literally the risk of creating faults, cracks, and fissures under the surface that can cause the dangerous toxins in fracking to seep directly into groundwater supplies.
While the Duke study is being hailed as some sort of victory among the natural gas and fracking industries in their continued fight to allow fracking expansion, in Pennsylvania specifically, because the study does not blame fracking. However, the study did find that homes and properties which lie above a “pre-existing network of cross-formational pathways that has enhanced hydraulic connectivity to deeper geological formations” in the northeastern Pennsylvania region are at a greater risk of suffering water contamination because of fracking.
This is just the latest study in a growing pile of research on the dangers and potential benefits to fracking drilling. Pennsylvania sits atop much of the massive Marcellus shale formation and it is there where the fracking debate has been most heated. Recent studies previously published have suggested that homes and properties within a mile of an active fracking well face the greatest risk of suffering water contamination. In fact, more homeowners in Pennsylvania have been forced to close their drinking water wells and find alternative sources of fresh water due to an accumulation of methane gas and other dangerous toxins they believe is to blame on fracking.