Department of Energy study: Fracking chemicals didn't taint water
Kathryn Klaber, CEO of the industry-led Marcellus Shale Coalition, called the study "great news."
"It's important that we continue to seek partnerships that can study these issues and inform the public of the findings," Klaber said.
While the lack of contamination is encouraging, Jackson said he wondered whether the unidentified drilling company might have consciously or unconsciously taken extra care with the research site, since it was being watched. He also noted that other aspects of the drilling process can cause pollution, such as poor well construction, surface spills of chemicals and wastewater.
Jackson and his colleagues at Duke have done numerous studies over the last few years that looked at whether gas drilling is contaminating nearby drinking water, with mixed results. None has found chemical contamination but they did find evidence that natural gas escaped from some wells near the surface and polluted drinking water in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Scott Anderson, a drilling expert with the Environment Defense Fund, said the results sound very interesting.
"Very few people think that fracking at significant depths routinely leads to water contamination. But the jury is still out on what the odds are that this might happen in special situations," Anderson said.
One finding surprised the researchers: Seismic monitoring determined one hydraulic fracture traveled 1,800 feet out from the well bore; most traveled just a few hundred feet. That's significant because some environmental groups have questioned whether the fractures could go all the way to the surface.
The researchers believe that fracture may have hit naturally occurring faults, and that's something both industry and regulators don't want.
"We would like to be able to predict those areas" with natural faults and avoid them, Hammack said.
Jackson said the 1,800-foot fracture was interesting but noted it is still a mile from the surface.
The DOE team will start to publish full results of the tests over the next few months, said Hammack, who called the large amount of field data from the study "the real deal."
"People probably will be looking at the data for years to come," he said.
On Friday, DOE spokesman David Anna added that while nothing of concern has been found thus far, "the results are far too preliminary to make any firm claims."
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