New Study Bolsters Shale Gas Industry Claims About Hydraulic Fracturing

The State Journal
17 February 2012
By Taylor Kuykendall, Reporter

A new study shows, based on evidence reviewed, there is no link between groundwater contamination and the shale gas drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing.

The study was conducted by the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. The study concluded that many problems associated with fracturing are actually problems that are common to all oil and gas drilling operations.

"These problems are not unique to hydraulic fracturing," said Charles Groat, associate director at the Energy Institute and leader of the project.

The most common causes of reports of contamination, the study concludes can be traced to spills on the surface or from mishandling of wastewater used to fracture the wells.

"Our goal was to provide policymakers a foundation for developing sensible regulations that ensure responsible shale gas development," Groat said. "What we've tried to do is separate facto from fiction."

"Separating Fact from Fiction" was the title of the study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday.

Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, was positive on the findings of the study.

"Entirely too often, the debate surrounding the responsible development of shale gas is clouded by rhetoric that is unsupported by the facts, proven data and substantiated science," Klaber said. "This new study, however, aims to objectively separate fact from fiction, and does so effectively."

The findings of the study are not likely to surprise many who follow the issue. While the process of fracturing the Earth miles underground has unsettled some, it has been widely accepted by most regulators and industry officials that surface concerns are more common than groundwater contamination.

"Protection of shallow aquifers in conventional oil and gas operations through such measures as surface casing and cementing and drilling mud pit liners needs to be a primary focus for shale gas wells," the authors of the report write. "For example, the use of additional chemicals and proponents for hydraulic fracturing and the potential for groundwater impacts by construction problems or failures in the upper part of the well bore require additional monitoring and protective measures. The focus of media attention specifically on the fracturing process has highlighted concern about potential groundwater impacts."

The Energy Institute will be examining two other issues that have been tied to hydraulic fracturing – seismic activity and lifecycle emissions.

Seismic activity has been pointed to as the cause for a number of earthquake activities across the country, and multiple studies have been published regarding gas emissions.

Studies from both sides have sparked discussion about the lifecycle emissions of natural gas.

In addition to absolving hydraulic fracturing of groundwater contamination, the group also concluded a number of other findings.

One was that in the Marcellus shale and other shale gas regions, methane contamination is often traced back to natural sources. The report also found overwhelmingly negative coverage of hydraulic fracturing in the media and a lack of baseline studies that would have been useful in assessing the effects of drilling.

For a copy of the full report and associated materials visit the Energy Institute website: