Fourth Peer-Reviewed Study This Year Finds No Evidence of Groundwater Contamination From Fracking

For the fourth time in less than five months, a peer-reviewed study has been released that finds no evidence of groundwater contamination from fracking.

The latest gut punch to the “Keep It In the Ground” (KIITG) movement’s core fear-mongering claim came Monday in the form of a University of Texas at Austin report that was trumpeted by a press release headlined, “No Link Between Barnett Shale Natural Gas Production and Methane in Groundwater, Studies Conclude.” Not only is the study the 11th peer-reviewed report in the past five years to conclude fracking is not a major threat to groundwater, the fact that it focused on Parker County, Texas, could also finally put to rest the lingering controversy surrounding North Texas well water methane concentrations that began more than seven years ago.

The saga was initiated in 2010 when a video of a landowner igniting water from a garden hose spurred then U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6 Administrator and current Sierra Club staffer Al Armendariz to issue an unprecedented “endangerment order” against a local gas driller. But it turns out the landowner hooked the hose up to a gas vent, and the video was an equally dishonest ploy to get the EPA involved and stoke public fear.

Even after the EPA dropped its “endangerment order” in 2012, the landowner’s “flaming hose” farce became the signature scene in Gasland II, as the audience was led to believe it was a result of fracking.

Though a 2014 Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) investigation found that the methane was naturally occurring from the Strawn formation, which lies just below the water table and well above the Barnett Shale, activists continued to argue that the methane was linked to fracking. But this week’s Barnett Shale study – the final of five reports by this research team that have reached similar conclusions – confirms once and for all that the RRC’s conclusion was spot-on all along. From the study:

“After four years of studies, scientists have found no link between methane present in water wells outside of Fort Worth and nearby gas production activities in the Barnett Shale. The methane appears to have migrated naturally to the wells from the shallower Strawn formations and not from the Barnett Shale, where natural gas production and hydraulic fracturing are occurring.”

The report also notes that of the hundreds of well water samples taken from 450 water wells across the 12 counties in the study area, just 11 wells located near the Parker and Hood county borders had samples with significant amounts of methane. The researchers determined that the high levels of nitrogen found in this handful of samples with significant levels of methane strongly indicated that the methane was naturally occurring. From the study:

“In the latest study, researchers looked at the levels of nitrogen, which, in addition to being found in natural gas deposits, is found in the atmosphere and added to groundwater when it is recharged by rainfall. They found that the stray methane gas in the water wells had higher levels of nitrogen than found in the Barnett Shale, with levels being more typical of the levels measured in the Strawn Group. The findings are consistent with the other four studies. 

“The most likely scenario we envision for affected groundwater wells is localized transport of natural gas from the Strawn Group to the shallow groundwater aquifer that occurred during groundwater well drilling. Alternatively, isolated shallow natural gas reservoirs within the Strawn Group may be in contact with groundwater aquifers within the Trinity Group along the unconformable contact these rock units share.”

“… These results suggest that hydraulic fracturing has not affected shallow groundwater drinking sources in this area.”

Study co-author J.P. Nicot suggested the research team’s nitrogen fingerprinting model could be applied in similar research moving forward to determine the origin of methane in groundwater:

“Nitrogen is another line of investigation. This team has developed a method that can be used to monitor fugitive natural gas in groundwater.”

Notably, the EPA refused to use nitrogen fingerprinting to determine the source of the methane back in 2012.

Even though the claim that fracking contaminates groundwater continues to be a cornerstone of the “Keep It in the Ground” movement’s unrelenting campaign to undermine American energy production, this study further illustrates the fact that there is simply no credible scientific evidence to support the assertion.

No fewer than two-dozen studies examining thousands of water wells across virtually every major U.S. shale play have been released in the past decade, with each one concluding fracking is not a major threat to groundwater. Two of the past five peer-reviewed studies released in the last two years have even been partially funded by anti-fracking groups!

As the shale revolution enters its second decade, it is time to put the myth that fracking is systemically contaminating groundwater to rest.


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