A new study reveals water pollution near sites where natural gas production is taking place.
The study, which was conducted by a research team from the University of Texas at Arlington, found high metal levels in drinking water supplies near hydraulic fracturing—fracking—sites, which the team says calls for additional study into oil production, according to WVGazette.com. Drinking water near natural gas extracting sites tested with high levels of arsenic, selenium, and strontium.
“This study alone can’t conclusively identify the exact causes of elevated levels of contaminants in areas near natural gas drilling, but it does provide a powerful argument for continued research,” lead author Brian Fontenot, a UT Arlington graduate who works for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told the WVGazette.com. The study was published online by the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The study looked at Barnett Shale’s water quality. The shale encompasses a 5,000 square mile area in northern Texas and encompasses some 17 counties in that state, WVGazette.com reported. The team sampled 100 water wells from the Trinity and Woodbine aquifers and so-called “reference sites” from the Nacatoch aquifer east of the Barnett Shale. While BTEX chemicals—benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and zylenes—were not detected in the drinking water, researchers detected the highest levels of metal contamination within three kilometers of fracking wells. Some samples tested with arsenic and selenium in amounts exceeding what the EPA considers safe. “At minimum, these data suggest that private wells located over natural gas wells may be a higher risk for elevated levels of constituents than those located further from natural gas wells,” the study concluded, according to WVGazette.com.
While industry maintains that fracking is safe, this new study reveals concern in the scientific community about the dearth of meaningful data on the environmental effects of fracking. “Despite a number of recent investigations, the impact of natural gas extraction on groundwater quality remains poorly understood,” the Texas study said, according to WVGazette.com. Between 2003 and 2011, West Virginia’s natural gas production increased more than two-fold to almost 400 million cubic feet.
Meanwhile, we recently wrote that another team of researchers found that disposing of fracking wastewater might be associated with an increase in earthquakes. Fracking drilling for natural gas involves horizontally injecting tons of silica sand, a massive mix of more than 600 chemicals, and water at least one mile underground into a concrete well that extends to a bed of shale rock deep beneath the earth’s surface. When this combination reaches the rock, it is blasted apart and natural gas is released and supposed to be returned to the surface and captured; most of the water remains underground. Industry has injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic fracking wastewater deep into the earth.
Underground injection wells for disposing fracking wastewater have been used since the 1960s but only recently has more and more fluid been used in the process. This has created a massive amount of wastewater and a need for more disposal sites. Prior studies suggest the briny, salty nature of the drilling fluid causes lubrication of underground rock. If the site of the underground well is near a natural fault line, the wastewater may eventually cause the rocks to move.