WVU Researchers Publish Fracking Study

Morgantown Dominion Post 27 June 2014
By David Beard

Three WVU researchers developed recommendations for reducing the environmental and human health effects associated with the fracking industry.

The recommendations, the result of a study recently accepted by the prestigious British Royal Society of Chemistry, address air, noise and light pollution; water management; and engineering flaws associated with horizontal gas well development and completion, a WVU release says. They are based on WVU studies performed for the state Department of Environmental Protection in response to a legislative mandate.

"We wanted to share our findings with not only the people of West Virginia, but also within a broader community of scientists through this current publication," co-author Michael McCawley said, "with hopes that there will be further discussion of the ideas we present as well as possible suggestions for alternative strategies."

The study is called "Practical measures for reducing the risk of environmental contamination in shale energy production." It was written by Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute; John Quaranta, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources; and McCawley, interim chairman of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health.

The authors discussed some of the issues raised by that horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing process that helped spur the shale gas boom.

"While most shale gas wells are completed with little or no environmental contamination, " Ziemkiewicz said, "we found that many of the problems associated with shale gas development resulted from inattention to accepted engineering practices such as impoundment construction, improper liner installation and a lack of institutional controls."

Ideally and usually, liquid solid and gaseous wastes are contained, they said. "However, the care exercised by the various production companies and their contractors also varies, " the study said. "As a result, contaminant leakage occurs at some undetermined rate across the [Marcellus] basin."

Also, as production increases, they said, well pads move closer to communities, increasing the potential for exposure to hazards and pollution.

Shallow wells are subject to contamination. "As a result, many of the public's concerns focus on air and groundwater pollution as well as light and noise associated with drilling and well completion," the study said.

The debate about self-regulation versus government regulation continues, they said.

"The industry recognizes the need to maintain its social license; and the unconventional gas industry's Marcellus Shale Coalition has developed an exhaustive listing of recommended practices," the study said.

"Needed are objective measures of compliance and environmental performance so that weaknesses can be identified and appropriate regulatory schemes implemented that encouraged innovation and productivity without compromising the environment or public health."

The study will be included in the Royal Society of Chemistry's "Journal of Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts" special collection on the topic of hydraulic fracturing for the July issue.

The study is part of WVU's Mountains of Excellence research emphasis on utilizing shale gas responsibly.

Many of the recommendations are familiar in West Virginia and nearby fracking areas as they have been presented to the state Legislature or have been in discussion among the region's stakeholder groups, or both.