UT Study: ‘No Evidence of Groundwater Contamination’ from HF
A new study from the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin has found "no evidence" of hydraulic fracturing leading to groundwater contamination. As lead author Charles Groat said: "We found no direct evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself -- the practice of fracturing the rocks -- had contaminated shallow groundwater."
A new study [PDF] from the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin has found “no evidence” of hydraulic fracturing leading to groundwater contamination. As lead author Charles Groat said: “We found no direct evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself — the practice of fracturing the rocks — had contaminated shallow groundwater.”
The study also notes that developing natural gas from shale is “essential to the energy security of the US and the world,” echoing the findings of a Baker Institute study from last year.
Interestingly, the UT study looked at media coverage of hydraulic fracturing and shale development, and let’s just say that America’s journalists have their work cut out for them. “For the nation as a whole,” the authors write, “the attitudes were found to be uniformly about two-thirds negative.” Here’s the accompanying chart:
Yikes. Such one-sided coverage is likely due to a failure to report what scientists and regulators have actually said about the process. The study further notes: “With respect to reference to scientific research, the search found that few articles referenced research on the topic of hydraulic fracturing.” Indeed, according to the authors only 18 percent of newspaper articles actually referenced scientific research in their pieces about hydraulic fracturing. Television scored a little higher, with 25 percent citing available research. The highest rated media source in terms of covering what the science says was online, which still only came in at 33 percent.
On the issue of media coverage and the public’s knowledge of hydraulic fracturing, the study concludes:
“The evidence that media coverage on hydraulic fracturing does influence knowledge acquisition should allow policy makers to better understand how to reach relevant publics on such a complicated topic. It also should alert policy makers to the fact that much of the information being reported is not based on, or at least referencing, scientific research and in many cases reports on the negative consequences associated with hydraulic fracturing. If the public is going to be able to accurately understand the impact, positive and negative, that fracturing has on society, it is imperative that media coverage represents the breadth of issues associated.” (p. 36, full report [PDF], emphasis added)
Proving UT’s findings instantaneously, here’s how two major news outlets chose to report on the study’s release:
EcoCentric (Time Magazine): “Shale Gas: It’s Not the Fracking That Might Be the Problem. It’s Everything Else“
(To be fair, many more news outlets, including the AP, characterized the report as confirming there is no water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.)
Here are some other key findings in the study, according to the Energy Institute’s overview of findings:
- Researchers found no evidence of aquifer contamination from hydraulic fracturing chemicals in the subsurface by fracturing operations, and observed no leakage from hydraulic fracturing at depth.
- Many reports of groundwater contamination occur in conventional oil and gas operations (e.g., failure of well-bore casing and cementing) and are not unique to hydraulic fracturing.
- Methane found in water wells within some shale gas areas (e.g., Marcellus) can most likely be traced to natural sources, and likely was present before the onset of shale gas operations.
- Surface spills of fracturing fluids appear to pose greater risks to groundwater sources than from hydraulic fracturing itself.
- Blowouts — uncontrolled fluid releases during construction or operation — are a rare occurrence, but subsurface blowouts appear to be under-reported.
Digging a little deeper, the study notes that emissions from shale gas development are “significantly less than the contributions from other sources” in urban drilling environments (p. 76, full report [PDF]), and that linkages between fracturing additives and health problems “have not been scientifically established” (p. 78, full report [PDF]). And with respect to safety and regulations, the authors note that, in many cases, “companies are implementing practices that exceed regulatory requirements” (p. 90, full report [PDF]).
Finally, the study looked at violations that have occurred and came to an interesting conclusion: By an overwhelming margin, most violations are procedural or minor without any environmental impacts, a far cry from the doomsday headlines that opponents conjure up. According to the study:
Generally, this information suggests that many of the violations are procedural and represent no environmental effects; are minor with no effect – meaning that an inspector noted a flaw in a pit or casing job, for example, but did not note any release of contaminant to the environment as a result of that flaw; or represent minor effects, such as small releases. (p. 50, full report [PDF], emphasis added)
In a release, Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA of NY), said the report validates what regulators and other scientists have long maintained: that hydraulic fracturing “is a proven and safe method for extracting natural gas and oil.”
And if you’re looking for others who have written about the study, be sure to check out this post from John Hanger, the former Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, who says that although the study is limited, it is nonetheless “objective” and “useful.” Be sure to also check out this post from Scott Anderson, senior policy advisor at Environmental Defense Fund, who writes: “As has been the case in other inquiries, the University of Texas study did not find any confirmed cases of drinking water contamination due to pathways created by hydraulic fracturing.”
*UPDATE* The President’s Big Shout Out to Shale
According to most geologists, shale has been a natural geological feature of the earth’s outermost crust for about two billion years now, give or take a couple hundred million. But would you believe it? In all that time, the word "shale" had never been mentioned in a State of the Union address...
UPDATE (Jan. 26, 10:26am ET): A document on the White House website (found here) entitled “Blueprint for an America Built to Last” reiterates the President’s support for natural gas development and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it will create. It is indeed telling (and little wonder) that developing natural gas from shale plays so prominently in a plan to create jobs while also reducing environmental impacts.
According to most geologists, shale has been a natural geological feature of the earth’s outermost crust for about two billion years now, give or take a couple hundred million. But would you believe it? In all that time, the word “shale” had never been mentioned in a State of the Union address delivered by an American president (in fairness, the office of U.S. president hasn’t been around quite that long).
Well, it had to happen eventually. And last night, that two-billion-year-long-no-mention streak finally came to an end, with President Obama devoting a significant segment of his nationally (and internationally) televised address to touting the promise and potential of developing America’s enormous natural gas resources — particularly those in “shale rock” — as the foundation for an energy policy that’s “cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.” From the speech:
“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,” the President stated, “And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.” The President went on to say that expanded natural gas development will “create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.”
But unlike the numerous throwaway lines in all too many political speeches and presidential statements, the president’s words about natural gas were clearly a major component of his address, and news outlets from across the country took notice. Below is a snapshot of what major media had to say about the speech, specifically the president’s endorsement of the responsible development of natural gas from shale:
- Reuters, “Obama backs shale gas drilling”
President Barack Obama on Tuesday pledged support for the U.S. shale gas boom, but said government must focus on safe development of the energy resource.
In his State of the Union address, Obama called for government to develop a roadmap for responsible shale gas production and said his administration would move forward with “common-sense” new rules to make sure drillers protect the public.
“America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk,” Obama said.
- UPI, “Obama heralds domestic natural gas”
Obama, in his State of the Union address Tuesday, said natural gas was one of the foundations for U.S. energy security. He said there’s enough natural gas in the country to meet domestic demand for 100 years but companies working to exploit those reserves must do so responsibly.
- Washington Post,”In State of the Union Address, Obama says he will push forward with fracking”
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama spoke optimistically about the bounty of unconventional natural gas under the eastern United States. “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,” Obama said, “and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.” This is good news, pretty much no matter where you land on the political spectrum.
- Bloomberg, “Obama Pushes Natural-Gas Fracking to Create 600,000 Jobs”
President Barack Obama pushed drilling for gas in shale rock and support for cleaner energy sources to boost the economy in his final State of the Union address before facing U.S. voters in November.
Hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to free gas trapped in rock, could create more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade, Obama said yesterday. The process, called fracking, is among a list of energy policies Obama said would fuel economic growth.
“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy,” Obama said.
- POLITICO, “Obama steals GOP’s ‘all of the above’ energy slogan”
Obama also highlighted the economic potential from tapping into the nation’s natural gas supplies, citing independent reports showing the industry could support about 600,000 jobs over the next decade…”This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy — a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs,” Obama said to rousing applause from Republicans in the House chamber.
Cleaner. Cheaper. More affordable. And insanely abundant. At a time when most folks on Capitol Hill today can’t even agree on what they disagree on, responsible development of American energy resources represents that rarest of ideas in Washington that appear to make sense to just about everyone across the political continuum. Heck, even Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), previously (and currently?) a critic of Marcellus development in his state, told reporters after the speech that he “was glad for the focus on natural gas. It’s a big benefit to Pennsylvania. We’ve got a great natural resource with lots of jobs.”
And he wasn’t the only one talking shale last night. Click around below to see what other folks had to say:
Virginia “Gigi” Lazenby, Chairman, Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA):
“Our industry, made up of mostly very small- and medium-sized businesses, applauds the president for his stated commitment to expanding the responsible development of job-creating American oil and natural gas. As the president made clear this evening, job creation and the restoration of the American dream is a shared goal that exceeds political boundaries. As the president underscored, our nation continues to increase its domestic oil and gas production, creating thousands of well-paying, private sector jobs, providing much-needed relief and savings for struggling consumers and stimulating an otherwise anemic economy.”
Jack Gerard, President and CEO, American Petroleum Institute:
“The administration has an opportunity to turn energy policy in a direction that could provide huge benefits to our economy. And if the President is sincere in this, our industry will work very hard with him to make it happen.” (NOTE: Gerard also added, “If the President is serious about creating more jobs and more energy, allow America’s oil and natural gas companies to produce more of our energy at home, and we’ll put people to work and deliver more revenue to the government. That’s what the American people want.”)
Statement from America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA):
“Tonight’s speech builds on the White House report earlier this month documenting the broad impact that natural gas production can have on investment and job creation across leading sectors of our economy. A range of U.S. industries and their workers are more competitive today thanks to our nation’s vast, affordable natural gas supplies. Along with these opportunities come lower energy costs for consumers and cleaner air.”
Kathryn Klaber, President, Marcellus Shale Coalition:
“We are encouraged that President Obama recognizes the tremendous energy security, environmental, and economic benefits associated with job-creating American shale gas development fueled overwhelmingly through private investment on privately-owned lands. And while presidents of both parties have made a clarion call for more American energy over the past four decades, it is our genuine hope that President Obama’s remarks tonight are reflected in his Administration’s policies that are rooted in sound science and move forward with an aim of leveraging our nation’s abundant natural gas resources on behalf of consumers, families, and small businesses. American natural gas will continue to make our nation stronger and more secure.”
Dave McCurdy, President and CEO, American Gas Association:
“If there was ever a fuel in the right place at the right time, it is natural gas in 2012 and beyond. We’re glad to see the President acknowledge the many benefits natural gas provides for our energy future, not just in the State of the Union Address but also in his latest jobs report…By continuing to increase the use of natural gas, we can make progress on our national priorities of helping to improve our economy, reduce environmental impacts and secure our nation’s energy future.”
Brad Gill, Executive Director, Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA of NY):
“In his State of the Union Address Tuesday, President Obama spoke of the important role domestic oil and natural gas will have in securing the nation’s energy future and economic recovery. Using newer technologies to harvest homegrown energy is a vital component in job creation and commerce by powering businesses and ‘factories that are cleaner and cheaper’… The President’s energy policy acknowledges the 600,000 jobs that natural gas production will help create over the next decade. His messages must be heard and considered in New York as the state moves toward allowing safe natural gas development in the Southern Tier.”
Dan Fitzsimmons, President, Joint Landowners Coalition of New York (JLCNY):
“In tonight’s SOTU address, President Obama affirmed that we don’t have to choose between our economy and the environment in developing shale gas. The president committed the Administration to taking ‘every possible action to safely develop this energy.’ The landowners of NY state stand ready to support this call to action.”