While environmental groups have been spreading the word that hydraulic fracturing -- or fracking -- of shale rock for natural gas extraction causes a slew of environmental problems including groundwater contamination, a new study released during the first day of the American Association for Advancement in Science's annual conference says the exact opposite.
New Scientist reports that research from the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, which evaluated violations in fracking regulations in Texas, Michigan, New Mexico and Louisiana, found that environmental problems associated with this method of obtaining natural gas was not from the fracking itself but other issues like "ruptured well casings that also affect conventional gas production, or surface spills of chemicals or wastewater":
"We found no direct evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself had contaminated groundwater," says [Charles] Groat, [the lead author]. "We found that most of the violations were at or near the surface."
Here are some of the main conclusions of the research:
- Natural gas found in water wells within some shale gas areas (e.g., Marcellus) can be traced to natural sources and probably was present before the onset of shale gas operations.
- Although some states have been proactive in overseeing shale gas development, most regulations were written before the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing.
- Media coverage of hydraulic fracturing is decidedly negative, and few news reports mention scientific research related to the practice.
- Overall, surface spills of fracturing fluids pose greater risks to groundwater sources than from hydraulic fracturing itself.
- The lack of baseline studies in areas of shale gas development makes it difficult to evaluate the long-‐ term, cumulative effects and risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.
“Our goal was to provide policymakers a foundation for developing sensible regulations that ensure responsible shale gas development,” Groat said in a statement. “What we’ve tried to do is separate fact from fiction.”
Listen to Groat speak about the study in an interview with BBC:
New Scientist points to the fact that it also reached a similar conclusion recently in piece stating that when fracking is conducted responsibly, the risks are small.