A new study suggests fluids used during the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process could migrate through underground fractures and contaminate water aquifers.
According to a Bloomberg report, the new study is published at the online journal Ground Water and indicates that after three years, drilling fluid not re-captured during the fracking process can infiltrate the chasms in underground rock caused by the energy exploration process and eventually make its way to underground aquifers. This can contaminated groundwater supplies and eventually lead to water contamination for people living within the vicinity of an active fracking well.
This study is just the latest to highlight the dangers of the fracking process as energy companies look to expand drilling and many residents and environmental activists seek to put an end to the process, or at least have it fall under more strict regulations.
The new research, funded by a pair of New York-based environmental advocacy groups, Catskill Mountainkeeper and The Park Foundation, suggests the amount of time it takes fracking fluid to migrate through aquifers – three years – is quicker than originally thought. The study’s results have already been questioned by a professor at Penn State University, according to the report, which believes the computer models used for the report “skewed” the results to present a more favorable outcome for the funders of the study.
The study was commissioned after regulators in New York state determined it was not possible for drilling fluids used in the fracking process to infiltrate shallow water aquifers. Researchers believe the state’s thinking is based on a view through rose-tinted lenses and that, essentially, less is known about what’s underground than what’s at the bottom of the oceans. The study found, through the use of computer models, that the naturally-occurring migration of water underground is hurried when the fracking process is employed nearby.
Fracking uses a high-pressure injection of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand, a drill, and mix of hundreds of chemicals into an underground well shaft until it reaches a bed of shale about two miles below the surface, well below the aquifers in question. When the mixture reaches the rock, the shale is blasted apart and natural gas is released and ushered to the surface where it is to be collected along with the waste drilling fluid.
The controversial and increasingly popular drilling technique has led to a boom in natural gas production but few safety studies have ever been conducted on fracking’s application in this way, leaving many people living nearest these wells to worry about their safety and health. People living closest to wells believe the fracking drilling has caused them to suffer contamination of their private water wells, groundwater on their property, and air pollution.
The federal government, via a 2005 energy bill, allows almost unregulated fracking drilling in an attempt to offset the need for foreign oil. This means drilling companies can conduct fracking without disclosing some of the most dangerous chemicals used in the process, seemingly putting thousands, if not millions of people at risk of drinking water contaminated by fracking. Despite growing evidence of fracking’s immediate and long-term dangers, drillers and natural gas companies have enjoyed few roadblocks on their way to opening thousands of new gas wells, particularly in New York and Pennsylvania, which sits atop the massive and wide-ranging Marcellus shale formation, believed to contain billions of dollars in natural gas reserves.
Local and state attempts to regulate the fracking process and to keep the companies conducting it in check have largely failed, forcing many residents already adversely impacted by drilling to seek legal action against the companies conducting drilling.