UT study: No direct fracking-water contamination link

Preliminary results of a University of Texas study on hydraulic fracturing indicate the process itself does not appear to contaminate contaminating drinking water, but that fracturing sites may have a higher incidence of surface problems that can occur with any type of drilling.

Prior reports, investigations and data gathered throughout the country on claims that the process often called fracking contaminated ground water so far don’t make the direct link, said Chip Groat, a UT geologist who is leading the study.

Rather, it appears that shale drilling results in more problems on the surface than drilling that doesn’t involve fracking, including spills of drilling and fracking fluids, leaks from wastewater pits and other rule violations, said Groat, who is unveiling the preliminary results of the study in Fort Worth on Wednesday.

“Most of the violations that have been identified and processed appear to be procedural and not the kind that would lead to surface water or groundwater contamination,” said Groat.

The study also found regular reports of problems with surface casing — the steel pipe installed at the top of a well to keep the flow of hydrocarbons isolated from aquifers — and with cement jobs that hold the casing in place, Groat said.

But those problems could occur with any type of oil and gas drilling project, he said.

“While there have been casing/cement issues identified by regulators, we haven’t seen evidence in our preliminary review of the data that these have resulted in significant groundwater contamination,” Groat said.

The UT researchers are still gathering and analyzing data from a number of states, Groat said. Final results will be published in the coming months.

Hydraulic fracturing is used to produce natural gas and oil from dense shale and sand formations. The process injects millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, to break apart and hold open the dense shale formations, releasing the hydrocarbons.

The approximately 5 percent of the mix that isn’t water can contain a wide range of chemicals, including ones considered toxic or dangerous in some circumstances. Surface spills of the fracking fluids have killed livestock and fouled waterways. Across the country, homeowners near drill sites contend that natural gas or chemicals related to fracking have infiltrated drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency started a study of hydraulic fracturing safety this year, with an in-depth report expected in late 2012.

Groat, who served as head of the U.S. Geological Survey under the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, said the UT study was launched in response to hyperbole about the issue from both side.

“The goals is to simply separate fact from fiction,” Groat said. The Environmental Defense Fund is taking part in the study, in addition to a number of UT faculty.

Data kept by the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas operations in the state, show 311 complaints about possible contamination of drinking water wells from Jan. 1, 2006 to Sept. 28 of this year.

But commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said there has been no confirmed complaint of natural gas in drinking water associated with any failed cement job.

Quarterly data compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection indicates poor cement jobs are regularly reported as violations of state regulations. In May state officials fined Chesapeake Energy more than $1 million when improper well casing and cementing allowed gas from shallow, non-shale gas formations to migrate into the groundwater used by 16 homes.

Most state regulations related to monitoring and protecting groundwater from drilling and production were written before shale gas development was common, Groat says. That means the ability to assess the impact of shale drilling is somewhat limited.

Groat said the UT review discovered that the scientific community has done relatively few studies around the key issues that are in dispute, Groat said.

31 Comments

  1. Dollar

    WOW !! I bet this settles the issue once and for all, huh ????

    Not really.

    It will be fun to see how this gets spun by the anti-fossil fuel crowd.

    #1
  2. HoustonVoter

    Okay @Dollar, I’ll take a bite of your trollish post. You have to read articles like this critically. As a scientist, Groat is supposed to go out and test theories and try to disprove them. In this instance, the theory is that fracking fluids are contaminating drinking water supplies. Read what he wrote. He can find no evidence that fracking was responsible for contaminated drinking water supplies. He didn’t write that he found evidence to disprove that fracking was responsible, which is what a scientist is supposed to do. Do contaminated drinking water supplies exist? Yes! Did they exist prior to fracking operations beginning? No. Can we prove fracking was responsible? No. Can we prove fracking wasn’t responsible? No. So basically UT’s study has added absolutely nothing to the body of knowledge that we didn’t know already. Please don’t tell me that THE major university in an oil and gas-producing state that is funded from oil and gas tax revenues doesn’t have a vested interest in determing fracking is safe. Seriously.

    #2
  3. Juan Carlos

    WOW – the voice of reason coming from the east side of Campus!?!
    Don’t let the yokels from the west mall liberal crowd get a hold of this one or there will be protests on East Mall!!!

    #3
  4. WriterDude

    “The study also found regular reports of problems with surface casing — the steel pipe installed at the top of a well to keep the flow of hydrocarbons isolated from aquifers — and with cement jobs that hold the casing in place, Groat said.”

    So, it’s just “regular” reports of problems, not that anything actually happened??

    And, I bet the industry is about as prepared for handling aquifer problems as BP was for the Macondo blowout.

    #4
  5. Collin

    Overall, it’s good to hear this report. I am in Cuero, TX and there has been a hub of activity for over a year now. I’ve heard of a well or two being contaminated, but that is it. Roadside trash and heavy road usage are big issues now for the community. Anyhow, we have a hundred acres and hope to get a lease out of it one of these days!

    #5
  6. Trail Trash

    Now comes all the smears that UT is being bought off by greedy big oil. Liberals are all supportive of “scientific fact” unless it conflicts with their fantasy dream world.

    #6
  7. Robert

    With proper well design and diligent construction oversight, the risks of fracking are more than manageable and acceptable. Study after study after study come to the same conclusion. We can continue to waste huge sums of money on the same types of studies and arrive at the same conclusions. For some “voters” posting on this board, there seem to be conspiracies behind every tree. In no way, shape or form do I believe that the UT study was a foregone conclusion in favor of the oil companies. For the uninformed, UT is one of the most left-wing institutions in the country, so I SERIOUSLY doubt they are jumping at the chance to help the oil industry, regardless of where they are located. Let’s get past this foolishness and get on with it already.

    #7
  8. AnimuX

    WOW, my kitchen water faucet is on fire!

    Don’t worry, a Republican initiative out of Texas says there is no evidence linking this strange event to the new gas well over yonder. Guess I’ll just have to forfeit my life and property now. Aw shucks.

    #8
  9. bigfishh

    Unfortunately, the people opposed to fracing are also opposed to every other type of fossil fuel. The common element is oppositon to fossil fuel; fracing is only the issue of the day and when it dies down the search continues for another bogey man. Of course, when some pople don’t like the facts they attack the character of the person presenting the facts.

    #9
  10. HaHA

    Facts are facts, just like idiots with blind agendas are idiots…

    “Quarterly data compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection indicates poor cement jobs are regularly reported as violations of state regulations. In May state officials fined Chesapeake Energy more than $1 million when improper well casing and cementing allowed gas from shallow, non-shale gas formations to migrate into the groundwater used by 16 homes.”

    “The study also found regular reports of problems with surface casing — the steel pipe installed at the top of a well to keep the flow of hydrocarbons isolated from aquifers — and with cement jobs that hold the casing in place, Groat said.”

    OK?!
    So, this has been going on with all oil and gas drilling, and industry continues to pretend like these problems don’t exist (DOLLAR).
    I-D-I-O-T=Dollar, Trail Trash, and like-minded, blind simpletons

    #10
  11. Dollar

    @Houston Voter

    ” The Environmental Defense Fund is taking part in the study, in addition to a number of UT faculty. ”

    You said exactly what I thought we would here.

    #11
  12. jukester

    Over 50,000 wells drilled and fraced in the past 60+ years, and not one documented case of groundwater contamination from the frac operation.

    But, there are those who say ‘wait, the industry isn’t prepared to protect the groundwater zones, we need to stop and study more’?

    This is real life, children. Please don’t use your parent’s computer while they are away. Leave the serious decisions for the adults, OK?

    #12
  13. Dollar

    Hey Tom, how long you gonna let this kid call everybody in this forum , who disagrees with him , names ?

    Bout time to clean up his act ?

    #13
  14. Tom Fowler

    Dollar
    He’s been warned. We’ve been a bit too lose letting people throw out the insults lately, so I’m going to try to reel people in a bit more. Sorry for letting it get out of hand.

    #14
  15. HaHA

    Oh, ok, hold on Dollar… you can trash talk ANYBODY who disagrees with you’re one-sided posts, but I can’t use the word “idiot”?
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/idiotic
    You’ve used so many of the synonyms for that word in referring to anyone who doesn’t vote like you or think like you, yet I’m not allowed to use it?
    More of the pot calling the kettle black…
    If they are going to censure my opinions, I would suggest they censure yours and your compadres’ rants on tree-lovin, left leaning, “socialist” as well.
    Takes two to tango.

    #15
  16. HaHA

    in case anyone missed me schooling dollar on the FACTS…
    http://fuelfix.com/blog/2011/10/27/democrats-profitable-industries-tax-big-oil-earnings/#comments

    I won’t use insults anymore; I’ll just post the facts and let everyone draw their own conclusions about who knows what.

    #16
  17. HaHA

    AND jukester…
    “not one documented case of groundwater contamination from the frac operation. ”

    FROM THE FRAC OPERATION… ok, so how about all of the other parts of the process, that would not even be going on were it not for fracing+horizontal drilling.

    That would be like saying, “The have been ZERO incidents of people getting run over by others… well, it’s actually the cars, driven by people, that run people over”

    Logical fallacies, all over the place. It is an indisputable fact that drilling in one form or another has threatened human and environmental health. To say that isn’t the case is simply ignoring the facts (call that whatever you like).

    Personally, if industry is planning on drilling 100s of thousands of more wells in this country, I would like to see the address the CONTINUING well integrity issues, not just say, “Oh, Well that doesn’t have to do with fracing. We’ve always had environmental impacts. Old news.”

    Guess what, now that there is the internet, facebook, ect, people are as connected as ever, and they won’t put up with slipshod operations running over our rights to safe and relatively clean energy, natural gas included.

    I don’t have a problem with gas, but I do with people living in fantasy land.

    There are 1000s of documented cases of environmental and personal harm from drilling. Face it. We need to raise the standards and hold people accountable.

    If I get in the car drunk and hit someone, regardless of whether or not I could have avoided it/my fault, I am going to JAIL. Who goes to jail when wells, tanks, and other infrastructure explode and kill people? contaminate our wells?
    NOONE; that’s who. I would like to see the law applied fairly and evenly. If corporations have the right to free speech (buying our politicians with unlimited donations and gifts), their leadership should also have the right to GO TO JAIL.

    #17
  18. HaHA

    http://fuelfix.com/blog/2011/11/08/feds-roll-out-five-year-plan-for-offshore-drilling/#comments

    Instead of “HaHA” (to honor Nelson in the Simpsons; look him up if you don’t know), I think I shall go with “TheBubbleBurster” or “FantasyLandDestroyer” or “ThinkYaKnow-WellYaDont”

    I’m taking a stand against simpleminded political speech everywhere. And FuelFix is my new home…

    #18
  19. HaHA

    “It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong.”
    Thomas Jefferson

    So these guy’s can refer to people with similar beliefs as eco-terrorist and socialist, but I can’t assert that their political speech is meaningless?
    http://fuelfix.com/blog/2011/11/08/experts-say-okla-quakes-too-powerful-to-be-man-made/#comments

    I hope that if I am going to be censured, that censure would apply equally to all commentator and not just the minority who dissent from such thoughts

    #19
  20. HaHA

    My apologies for being so rude, but I feel like predetermined political talking points are TAKING OVER THIS COUNTRY, and this 24 year old is tired of it. Exhausted from growing up in world where people can’t seem to think for themselves.

    Don’t like fossil? Do you drive a car? Use power? Well then don’t use the energy and then say we don’t need it. Otherwise, go live in the woods and live off the land; I’m not going to stop you.

    Don’t think fossil pollutes? Put your mouth on your tailpipe and see how it tastes. Look at an EIA map with all of the wells and infrastructure noted. No affect on the environment? And bears don’t — in the woods, right?

    Don’t like taxes? Don’t use the roads, go to school, eat safe food.

    Think we can replace all fuel with corn? Think again.

    The 2+2=5-because-I-said-it-does must stop.
    It takes one to make up a lie, and another to believe it.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/pamela_meyer_how_to_spot_a_liar.html

    http://www.cracked.com/article_19468_5-logical-fallacies-that-make-you-wrong-more-than-you-think.html

    I’ve been wrong plenty of times; I’m not afraid to admit it. I can be a jerk, an emotional idiot (just ask my ex)… I can also be a lot of other things.

    Just because someone isn’t perfect (even discussing our current or former presidents), doesn’t mean we should discount everything they do or say.

    We should think critically, and elect politicians who have WE THE PEOPLE in their minds, not just “we, the MY PEOPLE, who agree with me, or donated to me”

    I can’t believe that industry is doing its best to minimize risk when I see a serious repeat offender like BP out there drilling again. The types of accidents they have had should have forced them from the market and allowed someone else to take their place. But unfortunately, the market isn’t that free (remember how people protested buying fuel from the BP stations?… too bad that had next to nothing to do with the E&P side)

    #20
  21. matt

    HaHa…the rest of your lunacy aside, statements from Pennsylvania only go to further Groat’s study and refute your “point”, assuming you have such a thing. Fracking, the act of fracturing shale rock to extract hydrocarbons, in and of itself, has not led to the contamination of ground water. What has led to contamination are poor cement jobs, pipe issues, etc….not fracking. Thanks for substantiating the study though.

    I hope your mother laid off the booze if she chose to procreate following your birth. How far apart are your eyes?

    #21
  22. Laughing

    Wow, you sure do have a funny definition of scientist. I think most people consider geologists to be scientists. And you have an oddly narrow definition of science. This article really doesn’t provide enough information to understand what was done, but scientists don’t always study direct relationships. Often that isn’t possible because of limited data, etc, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t draw some conclusions from such research. Your comment that this research adds nothing is ridiculous and indicative of your intent to attack any research and scientist whose conclusions don’t match your preconceived beliefs.

    And questioning the University of Texas study based on where the university is located is a fallacy. Last time I looked, UT was ranked in the top 25 in the nation in just about every subject. The school didn’t get so highly ranked by hiring professors who publish bogus politically motivated studies in the sciences. And UT is located in Austin, the most left-wing area in Texas and very very environmentally conscious. Do you know anything? I’d say definitely not.

    #22
  23. Laughing

    And questioning the University of Texas study based on where the university is located is a fallacy. Last time I looked, UT was ranked in the top 25 in the nation in just about every subject. The school didn’t get so highly ranked by hiring professors who publish bogus politically motivated studies in the sciences. And UT is located in Austin, the most left-wing area in Texas and very very environmentally conscious. Do you know anything? I’d say definitely not.

    #23
  24. OCD

    Dr. Groat was the Director of the USGS….the U.S. Geological Survey (not Society), in the Interior Dept. Except for mentioning the Clinton & Bush 43 Admins, that made it sound like a civilian org.

    #24
  25. HaHA

    Matt… my apologies for not making my point clearer. Obviously, you missed it.
    If the risks aren’t as related to fracing as they are to drilling generally, then why is the industry and public not having a discussion of these issues that are related to all drilling? It is well past time to address such issues.

    While I do appreciate you insulting me and my mother (who died of cancer a few years ago… and who never drank or smoke… who taught Sunday school, among other things; real classy), I’m disappointed with the fact that industry reps continue to assert that it is a matter of misinformation and misplaced fear by the public, when in reality, it is the industry and gov’t failure to address the issues described below that lead us to where we are now…

    UT Study Finds No Direct Link Between Fracking And Water Contamination. The Fort Worth Star Telegram (11/10, Smith) reports, “Preliminary findings from a study of hydraulic fracturing and shale-gas development show no direct link between the controversial process and groundwater contamination, the leader of the project at the Energy Institute of the University of Texas at Austin said Wednesday.” Charles Groat, UT geology professor said, “Problems that have occurred in shale fields appear to be related to issues such as poor casing or cementing of wells.” Groat further noted the role of Texas’ Barnett Shale as the “post child for shale-gas development,” and said that the final report “is expected to be issued within the next two months.” He also said, the Energy Institute “likely would examine a headline-making controversy in which the US Environmental Protection Agency issued an enforcement order against Fort Worth-based Range Resources, claiming two of its Barnett Shale gas wells caused or contributed to contamination of two residential water wells in Parker County.”

    Platts.com (11/10) reports, Charles Groat, a university geology professor and Energy Institute associate director, who is leading the project, said in a statement, “From what we’ve seen so far, many of the problems appear to be related to other aspects of drilling operations, such as poor casing or cement jobs, rather than to hydraulic fracturing, per se.” Groat also said, “What we’re trying to do is separate fact from fiction.”

    The Houston Chronicle (11/10, Fowler, 342K) reports that the Energy Institute’s preliminary findings seem to indicate “that shale drilling results in more problems on the surface than drilling that doesn’t involve fracking, including spills of drilling and fracking fluids, leaks from wastewater pits and other rule violation.” Groat’s discussion at a Wednesday conference also found “regular reports of problems with surface casing – the steel pipe installed at the top of a well to keep the flow of hydrocarbons isolated from aquifers – and with cement jobs that hold the casing in place.” He astutely added, “Those problems could occur with any type of oil and gas drilling project.”

    #25
  26. Matt

    HaHA, You’re right.
    My mother was a first rate you-know-what; I’m just mad because I am too simple to try to understand anyone else aside from myself.
    I’m sorry.

    #26
  27. HaHA

    http://johnhanger.blogspot.com/2011/11/doe-shale-gas-committee-unhappy-with.html

    “The SEAB means business, saying “that progress to date is less than the subcommittee hoped” on implementing 20 recommendations in the August 18th Initial Report. At page 4 of the Second Report released today, the SEAB states: “Absent action there will little credible progress in toward reducing the environmental impact of shale gas production, placing at risk the benefits of this domestic energy source.”

    #27
  28. matt

    wow genius using my own name to apologize to yourself. I was clearly too generous by alluding to something as basic as alcohol abuse…needles were involved.

    #28
  29. PipelinePete

    HaHa – If I agreed with everything you have said, then we would both be wrong.

    #29
  30. AnimuX

    I guess the UT study missed this interesting bit of news…

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45246260/ns/us_news-environment/#.Trx9V3KsGCk

    –’Fracking’ chemical found in town’s aquifer–

    #30
  31. Tom Fowler

    AnimuX
    The results in Wyoming were released Wednesday. The UT study preliminary results released on Wednesday were based on data collected prior to then. So they couldn’t exactly include data that didn’t exist at the time.

    #31