Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Duke study finds elevated methane near fracking wells

Duke doctoral student samples Pennsylvania well water.
A study by Duke University researchers has found high levels of leaked methane in well water collected near shale-gas drilling and hydrofracking sites.  The scientists collected and analyzed water samples from 68 private groundwater wells across five counties in northeastern Pennsylvania and New York. 

The news of the study was published yesterday in the university's Duke Today.

"At least some of the homeowners who claim that their wells were contaminated by shale-gas extraction appear to be right," says Robert B. Jackson, Nicholas Professor of Global Environmental Change and director of Duke's Center on Global Change.

Hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking or fracking, involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground into horizontal gas wells at high pressure to crack open hydrocarbon-rich shale and extract natural gas.

The study found no evidence of contamination from chemical-laden fracking fluids, which are injected into gas wells to help break up shale deposits, or from "produced water," wastewater that is extracted back out of the wells after the shale has been fractured.

The peer-reviewed study of well-water contamination from shale-gas drilling and hydrofracking appears this week in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We found measurable amounts of methane in 85 percent of the samples, but levels were 17 times higher on average in wells located within a kilometer of active hydrofracking sites," says Stephen Osborn, postdoctoral research associate at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. 

The contamination was observed primarily in Bradford and Susquehanna counties in Pennsylvania.Water wells farther from the gas wells contained lower levels of methane and had a different isotopic fingerprint

See the full story here.

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