Study: No connection between fracking and groundwater pollution





North Carolina is looking at a potentially enormous economic boom with fracking.  North Dakota is already booming. The energy industry believes that The Tar Heel State has great untapped energy resources and wants to start fracking to get them out of the ground.  Environmentalists are pulling out all of the scare tactics in their bag-o-tricks to prevent fracking in North Carolina — skyrocketing gas prices and disastrous economy be damned!

The Energy Institute at The University of Texas has released a study that really throws a monkeywrench into the agenda of radical environmentalists and their comrades in the mainstream media:

Hydraulic fracturing in shale formations “has no direct connection” to groundwater contamination, a study released Thursday concluded.

The study, conducted by the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, found that many problems attributed to hydraulic fracturing “are related to processes common to all oil and gas drilling operations,” such as drilling pipe inadequately cased in concrete.

Many reports of contamination can be traced to above-ground spills or other mishandling of wastewater produced from shale drilling and not from hydraulic fracturing, Charles “Chip” Groat, an Energy Institute associate director who led the project, said in a statement.

“These problems are not unique to hydraulic fracturing,” Groat said.

In hydraulic fracturing, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into a well under high pressure to help release natural gas and oil from shale rock.

The study was hailed by the energy industry, which long has said there’s no direct link between hydraulic fracturing and contamination of groundwater. But industry critics said the study needs to be vetted by independent experts. And critics were heartened that the study noted some aspects of drilling can lead to groundwater contamination.

The institute’s research team looked at reports of groundwater contamination in three shale plays: the Barnett Shale in North Texas; the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, New York and parts of Appalachia; and the Haynesville Shale in western Louisiana and northeastern Texas.

The study didn’t look at the Eagle Ford Shale formation south of San Antonio.

Justin Furnace, president of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, said the study “echoes what we as an association have been saying: the process is very safe and has been in place for 60 years.”

Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, said he hasn’t seen the study, but “the fact of the matter is there has not been one contaminated well from the hydraulic fracturing process, not one.”

Olson sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“It’s been over 50 years this thing has been going on, and there hasn’t been one documented case. This study seems to say just exactly what the record has said, basically it’s human error or something that’s common to all drilling operations,” he said.

The UT Energy Institute‘s report stands in stark contrast to a draft report released in December from the Environmental Protection Agency, which said its examination of a hydraulic fracturing site in Pavillion, Wyo., found hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals associated with natural gas production in deep water wells.

Critics of the new Energy Institute study were skeptical of its results and cited the EPA study.

“We need to know more about the study,” said Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger of Cuero, who has organized community meetings in DeWitt County because she’s concerned about the effects of hydraulic fracturing.

“It’s difficult for researchers to be objective if their university receives a lot of grants and funds from the industry,” she said. “How many grants does that university get from oil and gas operations?”

North Texas activist Sharon Wilson said that without baseline, or initial, testing of groundwater it’s hard to know if fracking causes contamination. She said she’d like baseline testing to be required nationwide.

Energy Institute spokesman Gary Rasp said no industry funds paid for the study, and that money for the study “comes from the university directly. That’s all kinds of different sources.”

The study was authored by an interdisciplinary team of experts, he said.

Rasp noted that the Environmental Defense Fund helped to develop the scope of work and methodology for the study.

Scott Anderson of the Austin office of the EDF wrote in a blog that although the study didn’t confirm any cases of drinking water contamination caused by fracking, that “does not mean such contamination is impossible or that hydraulic fracturing chemicals can’t get loose in the environment in other ways (such as through spills of produced water).”

The study mentions there are ways “natural gas development that can pose significant environmental risk,” he wrote.

The report said, for example, that surface spills in natural gas development pose greater risks to groundwater than does hydraulic fracturing, and that there are gaps in the regulation of well casing (pipe), water disposal and storage.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, said “it would be great” if the study could be submitted for peer review to the EPA and to independent scientists.

“But even with that said, the University of Texas doesn’t know every chemical that has been put into the water every place,” Markey said. “It’s nonpublic information in many instances, so it would be difficult to evaluate that.”

Rasp said the study hasn’t yet undergone peer review, but “it’s definitely going to be.”