A recent study conducted in Pennsylvania discovered higher than usual concentrations of natural gas in well water samples taken from a collection of wells located near hydraulic fracturing activity. This research came on the heels of previous research which revealed elevated levels of methane and other ‘stray gases’ in water wells in the vicinity of hydraulic fracturing well pads.

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“The bottom line is strong evidence for gas leaking into drinking water in some cases,” Robert Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., told NBC News. “We think the likeliest explanation is leaky wells,” he added. ( source )

‘Leaky wells’… means what, exactly?

Fracking wells involve large amounts of concrete around metal casing that, if not poured properly, could contain small fissures and cracks where small amounts of natural gas, once liberated by the fracturing activity, could work its way through the concrete and into the surrounding ground. From there the gas could very easily find its way into local aquifers.

Does this mean we have a verdict on the safety of hydraulic fracturing?

OK, well that amounts to an open and shut case against hydraulic fracturing due to the contamination of drinking water wells with methane (and other gases), right? WRONG.

Experts in the gas industry responded to the study right away with three key points… and one of them our readers will recognize right away:

  1. Naturally occurring methane is “ubiquitous” in water wells throughout the study region, Steve Everley, with the natural gas industry group Energy-in-Depth, writes in a blog post that characterizes the new study as full of flaws. Chief among them, Everley argues that methane is ubiquitous in the region, and that the Duke University research team found methane in water wells “nowhere near natural gas wells.”( source )
  2. The Duke University researchers did not find evidence of hydraulic fracturing fluid in the water samples tested.
  3. While the testing did come up positive for natural gas and other stray gases, no one has baseline test results of water conditions before hydraulic fracturing began so how can anyone say hydraulic fracturing resulted in the gases entering the water supply?

We’ve said it numerous times in the past and we’ll keep saying it until we keel over: Before allowing ANY activity that COULD possibly threaten a water supply to begin, get as many data points for as many water quality parameters as you can! Otherwise test results after the fact may not have as much meaning and significance as they should.