17 September 2014
The Daily Mail
Scientists have undermined a central plank of the anti-fracking lobby’s case by showing that the controversial drilling process does not poison drinking water.
Vociferous protesters against hydraulic fracturing in Britain base much of their opposition on claims that the process poses an environmental danger.
Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale rock deep underground, releasing rich deposits of oil and natural gas trapped inside. It has transformed the US energy industry.
But green campaigners in Britain have brandished reports from America saying that methane from the drilling has frequently contaminated groundwater supplies.
Now, however, a study by researchers at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, shows that the contamination in these highly publicised cases was not due to the fracking but to leaky drilling wells.
The distinction is crucial, say industry experts, because it means that the environmental risks of fracking can be pretty much eliminated by ensuring the well is properly sealed with concrete and that there are no leaks in the steel pipes used to take the gas to the surface.
A separate report by the US government, published yesterday, provided further gloom for anti-fracking campaigners in the UK. The study at a Pennsylvania gas well found that the chemical-laced fluids used to free gas stayed about 5,000ft below drinking water supplies.
In the Duke study, researchers analysed 131 drinking water wells in Pennsylvania and Texas that had been contaminated by methane and other toxic gases.
They found no evidence that fracturing shale led to the water contamination and said their findings are also likely to apply to thousands more wells across the country.
Dr Thomas Darrah, one of the study’s authors, said: ‘In all cases, it basically showed well integrity was the problem. The good news is, improvements in well integrity can probably eliminate most of the environmental problems with gas leaks.’
Professor Avner Vengosh, who also worked on the study, said they could ‘say categorically’ that they had not seen gas escaping from the drilled shale rock and getting into aquifers [rock containing water].
Natural gas on its own is not poisonous but in high concentrations it can lead to explosions and fires.
Courtesy of The Daily Mail