By Janet Fang
Posting in Energy
Can you light your water on fire? Researchers found potentially hazardous concentrations of combustible methane in well water near natural gas drilling sites.
Drinking water containing potentially hazardous concentrations of methane has been found near natural gas extraction sites, a new study shows.
In the northeastern US, it’s becoming increasingly common (though still controversial) to extract natural gas locked deep inside shale rock.
Called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, this involves injecting a huge amount of water and chemical-laced fluids to fracture underground rock formations at high pressures, releasing the tightly bound methane within.
The practice has only become economically viable in recent years. According to the Energy Information Administration, the amount of gas produced from deep shale formations doubled between 2009 and 2010; and by 2035 fracking is projected to account for some 47% of US gas production.
The team, led by Robert Jackson of Duke University, analyzed samples of drinking water from 60 private wells above the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and the Utica Shale in New York.
They discovered 17 times more methane, on average, in water from shallow wells within 1 km (or 3,000 feet) of active gas drilling areas than in water from other places.
Although methane concentrations in drinking water aren't regulated, says Jackson, the gas readily comes out of solution and is an asphyxiation and explosion hazard.
The higher levels are also in the flammable range. “I watched one homeowner light his water on fire,” Jackson says.
The chemical signatures of methane in the drinking water were consistent with the deep underground sources recovered by drilling and fracking.
The cause? The team suspects leaky well casings or fissures in the deep rock caused by the fracking process. However, they didn’t find any evidence of the fracking fluids themselves in any of the drinking water wells.
Industry groups are criticizing the study, noting that there is no "baseline" before-and-after data and no proof drilling wells caused the methane contamination.
Jackson found it “surprising how little peer-reviewed data there is” on well water contamination near shale gas drilling. And while he concedes that the study doesn’t have baseline data, he says the correlation between drilling and contamination is strong.
"It's pretty difficult to understand for me without that being the cause," he says. "There's not much difference between them except for drilling."
In a separate release, the team recommends more sampling before and after shale gas drilling over a broader area. They also suggest that governments require disclosure of chemicals in fracking fluid and that Congress should order federal regulation of fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
More news to come for sure… a moratorium on fracking operations in New York state is about to expire on 30 June.
The study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Image by heraldo via morgueFile
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- Toxic fracking fluids revealed in Congressional report
- Is natural gas fracking too dangerous for Europe?
- Fracking law vetoed in New York
- EPA digs deeper into fracking for natural gas
May 9, 2011
This is the way it's always been. Coal retention dams fail and wipe away whole town. Other towns catch on fire and slowly burn up from underneath and the ground beneath them, criss-crossed with exposed coal seams from mining, burns away releasing noxious and toxic fumes into the homes above. Look, here's how it works 50 million rural homes could be potentially impacted, perhaps a million will be impacted, but that's fine, because the people living in cities say, "I'm not going to have a nuclear reactor in my city." Not that nuclear has killed nearly as many people, you understand. The coal mines in China have killed more people than all the nuclear warheads ever. It's about who and where you are. The rural million take a 100% risk in exchange for eliminating the urban 200 million's .0001% risk. C'est la vie.
Fracking threatens the water supply of over 100 million Americans. It is a pending disaster that will make the recent Gulf spill look like a hiccup. It could ruin the ground water across large swaths of America - a disaster that would be permanent on a human scale. The frackers claim that their wells are much deeper than the aquifer, but all it takes is a problem with the casing going down into the well for their poisons and natural gas to leach into the water table. They can't promise that it won't happen, and it's almost guaranteed that it will, over and over again, as it already has happened many times. This issue should be at the top of everyone's list! See the documentary Gasland, and stop the gas companies before it's too late!
Of course the correlation is 'strong'. They only drill where there is natural gas. Where there is natural gas, there is methane. Since there is no fracking fluid in the water, it is clear the methane is a natural occurence in the area. Thus, the point that there is no before and after data is key. The methane was there before they started drilling for natural gas. The study is aptly termed junk science.
The people opposed to large scale fracking have been providing proof of this for the last 3 or 4 years. In some areas the gas companies are trying shallow wells near the homes to capture the methane. They see it as more revenue as a result of the fracking.
I was born and raised in NE Ohio on a farm with a 120' deep water well drilled in 1952. We always had methane in our water, and could touch a match to our water pump's bleed petcock and get a nice, foot-long blue flame. When our well was drilled and the driller tried to torch off the excess casing sticking out of the ground, he got a 20' blowtorch that killed a tree and almost set our house afire. Thee houses from ours down our dirt road, the neighbors installed a collection tank over their water well and ran their kitchen stove off the gas that filled it. Grandpa blew himself to kingdom come when he got drunk one night, leaned against the tank and tried to light his pipe. The gas lease boys came around in the early '50's and signed everybody up for a song. The drilling didn't start in our area until the early '60's, and now there are hundreds of capped wells scattered around in quiet meadows - all fractured, most full of gas, and gee-gosh-whiz, untapped while we import. So, two points: 1. It's entirely possible to have methane in the well water WITHOUT fracking if you're living in an area with shallow shale gas. Been there - drank that. 2. Don't for an instant believe that the price you pay for natural gas has anything to do with its availability or supply. It doesn't.