Appalachian Basin

Duke Study Misrepresented

I see from this article that Dr. Tom Jiunta, president and founder of the Luzerne County-based Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, says the Duke study “documented pathways from where they frack to drinking water supplies.” He also says a Cornell University scientist, Anthony Ingraffea, showed his group slides indicating that scientists believe the fractures are “unpredictable.”

Dr. Jiunta is wrong on the first account and distorts things with the second.

The Duke study says “Methane migration through the 1- to 2-km-thick geological formations that overlie the Marcellus and Utica shales is less likely as a mechanism for methane contamination than leaky well casings, but might be possible due to both the extensive fracture systems reported for these formations and the many older, uncased wells drilled and abandoned over the last century and a half in Pennsylvania and New York.” Where I come from, “less likely” and “might be possible” don’t qualify as evidence for anything.  I’d be laughed off the stand if I offered that kind of expert witness testimony in court.

Moreover, and most importantly, the study says “We found no evidence for contamination of drinking-water samples with deep saline brines or fracturing fluids.” That didn’t make the headline, of course, and the deliberate effort to imply hydraulic fracturing causes every problem by inserting the term “fracking” into every discussion, continues; as if methane migration and setting faucets on fire hadn’t been issues in the Northern Tier for decades before drilling was ever considered.  Check out the study for yourself and, especially, Energy In Depth’s “Durham Bull,” which exposes all the problems with the study.

Durham Bull
Durham Bull Ad

Finally, I was there a few months back at the Luzerne County Community College event in Nanticoke, when Tony Ingrafeea presented his slides at a GDAC event and I distinctly recall what he said about fracturing, because it surprised me. He said “I don’t stay awake nights worrying about fracturing fluids making their way up from a mile below through rock to the groundwater supplies.”

We don’t hear much from Dr. Jiunta about that remark, because it didn’t fit the template.  The room was rather quiet after that remark, in fact, because Ingraffea wasn’t saying what the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition wanted to hear.  But, never mind, Dr. Jiunta has found a way to reinterpret and use Ingrafeea’s remarks to achieve the intended effect.

There are numerous problems with the Duke study, not the least of which is its choice of sites to sample and authorship by known anti-gas special interests, but turning it inside out to suggest things that just aren’t so, and were never intended, takes irresponsibility to a whole new level.

UPDATE: Check out this additional take on the Duke study – well worth reading for further perspectives on the facts articulated in that article and the research methods employed by the researchers.

UPDATE-II: See a great round-up on what DEP and others have to say on the Duke study here.  Once again, John Hanger, former Pennsylvania DEP Secretary, lays it out well and provides special insight.

UPDATE-III: A keen observer and reader of this blog notes the Duke study used seven Lockhaven Formation wells as part of their active sample.  These wells gave the highest methane readings, and they contribute significantly to the bottom line average.   Yet, the researchers did not include any non-active Lockhaven Formation wells as control samples.  He asks “How could they include such a population in their study when they have no control samples?”  That’s a good question, to say the least!

UPDATE-IV: The headlines for articles reporting on the Duke study have been predictably shallow and misleading, as is the case with so much of the reporting on natural gas development by major media types who are inclined to be opposed to all development and love the readership producing hysteria that such negative reporting generates.  EID has examined this phenomena as it relates to the Duke story and it is very revealing.  Check it out here.

UPDATE-V: Dr. Michael Economides, one of our favorite experts and writers on the subject of oil and gas development, has still further insights on the Duke study and its failing to take the full range of factors into consideration before issuing its “sort of, maybe” conclusion that methane issues might possibly relate to hydraulic fracturing, among several other factors.

Note: Durham Bull Fertilizer advertisement from Advertising Ephemera Collection – Database #A0160, Emergence of Advertising On-Line Project, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library,


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