Appalachian Basin

University of Cincinnati Study Finds No Water Contamination from Fracking

An ongoing study conducted by researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) has found that water quality has not been impacted by natural gas drilling, or fracking.  While the study itself has not yet been released, at a February 4th Carroll County Concerned Citizens meeting, the study’s head researcher, University of Cincinnati Assistant Professor Amy Townsend-Small, explained the results this way,

“The good news is that our study did not document that fracking was directly linked to water contamination.”

The study is the first of its kind in Ohio, and was originally inspired by the now discredited 2011 peer-reviewed study from Duke University to answer the question, “Tapping a Valuable Resource or Invading the Environment? Research Examines the Start of Fracking in Ohio?” To do so, the researchers set out to collect baseline samples over the course of three years.  These samples were taken four-times per year from five Ohio shale counties. They focused on the most active area in the Utica, Carroll County, sampling from 23 water wells from 2012 to 2015, with a total of 191 samples.

The samples were taken from voluntary participants, many of whom are connected with anti-fracking groups such as the Carroll County Concerned Citizens. Although the University of Cincinnati claimed it did not receive funding from groups opposed to fracking, Dr. Townsend recently was reported as stating,

“I’m really sad to say this but some of our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results. They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping our data could point to a reason to ban it.” (emphasis added)

It is “really sad” that these groups found this news to be disappointing because it shows that they are not fighting to defend and promote health and safety issues but are more driven by a political campaign to find “a reason to ban” oil and gas development altogether.

After the 2011 Duke University study failed to draw connection to ground water contamination and hydraulic fracturing, the UC Department of Geology was awarded a $400,000, 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation (EAR-1229114) for an isotope ratio mass spectrometer, which is a scientific instrument that measures the composition of methane and can determine its root source.  In other words, it allows us to tell where the methane is coming from and whether the methane is related to natural gas drilling or not.  So, not only did the multi-year study tell us that groundwater contamination was not linked to hydraulic fracturing, it also identified no connection whatsoever to any natural gas source.

As is evident by the legitimate water contamination findings in Flint, Michigan, and most recently in Sebring, Ohio – and in the conclusions found in this three-year study – it’s clear that efforts to tackle water pollution should be directed at ageing infrastructure issues and pre-existing water quality issues from naturally occurring methane, rather than from fracking, which is clearly not causing the contamination.

If these Ohio environmentalists were truly concerned about the environment and the importance of water quality issues, they would focus their funding, campaigns, politics, public relations efforts on these real concerns, as opposed to trying to find “a reason to ban” fracking.

  • paul taylor
    Posted at 07:52h, 10 February Reply

    Dracula was and is a fictional character and the story is entertainment based on some fears by people. Water contamination due to fracking is starting to look like a similar fairy tale.

  • Ken Marx
    Posted at 21:19h, 10 February Reply

    The Greens are not trying to ban “fracking”. They are using the bogeyman term “fracking” to ban all drilling which has always been the objective.
    Fracking is just a technique.

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    Posted at 09:19h, 17 February Reply

    […] of impacting underground sources of drinking water. In just the last few weeks, the results of an ongoing University of Cincinnati (UC) study in Ohio’s top shale counties, which included baseline […]

  • Paul Heckbert
    Posted at 15:41h, 02 March Reply

    Jackie Stewart has mis-reported the conclusions of the study. Referring to water contamination by all pollutants nationwide, Stewart writes that “efforts to tackle water pollution should be directed at ageing infrastructure issues and pre-existing water quality issues from naturally occurring methane, rather than from fracking, which is clearly not causing the contamination”. But that is not what the University of Cincinnati (UC) researchers concluded.

    Stewart’s first sentence, “water quality has not been impacted by natural gas drilling or fracking“, leaves out the appropriate qualifiers: by contamination we mean the presence of thermogenic (deep underground) methane; we only measured methane, pH, and conductivity; we did not test for contamination by other pollutants; the region we’re talking about is the Utica Shale of Eastern Ohio; the time period is the past two years.

    Stewart didn’t cite any writings of the UC scientists other than their FAQ, so apparently she hasn’t read their studies.

    The research results are available in Elizabeth Botner’s UC master’s thesis, from 2015, titled “Elevated Methane Levels from Biogenic Coalbed Gas in Ohio Drinking Water Wells near Shale Gas Extraction”.

    Excerpts of Botner’s thesis:

    “Based on the carbon and hydrogen stable isotope data along with the relatively consistent measurements within individuals wells over the study period, we have found no evidence for natural gas contamination from shale oil and gas mining in any of the sampled groundwater wells of our study.

    … past studies have found evidence for Marcellus Shale-derived natural gas contamination in Pennsylvanian drinking water wells due to improper well construction and maintenance

    … the status of water quality in the region may change at any time. When unconventional gas well casings age, the integrity of the well structure may become compromised, causing leaks to develop. Although no evidence for natural gas contamination from shale gas extraction activities was found in this study, continual monitoring of groundwater quality, CH4 concentration, and CH4 sources is needed to assess the longer-term impacts of hydraulic fracturing on groundwater resources.”

    So the UC scientists concluded not that researchers should look elsewhere to monitor pollution, as Stewart suggests, but that we should do more monitoring of water quality near gas wells.

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    Posted at 15:44h, 07 July Reply

    […] University of Cincinnati (UC) has yet to publish the results of a now year-old study that foundno water contamination from hydraulic fracturing in a scientific journal, despite scrutiny, media attention, and numerous […]

  • Amy Hyde
    Posted at 09:26h, 19 November Reply

    Those injection wells will leak! Your living in a biased dream world if you think that this will not have negative implications in the future.

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