Initial findings from a study on hydraulic fracturing in
shale gas development suggest no direct link to reports of
groundwater contamination, according to the project leader at
Energy Institute for the The University of Texas at Austin.
From what weve seen so far, many of the problems
appear to be related to other aspects of drilling operations,
such as poor casing or cement jobs, rather than to hydraulic
fracturing, per se, said Dr. Charles Chip
Groat, a university geology professor and Energy Institute
associate director who is leading the project.
Groat offered early observations from the study, which the
Energy Institute is funding, at a briefing in Fort Worth,
Texas, attended by local government officials, regulators,
energy company executives and representatives of community
The final report, expected to be released in early 2012,
will include an analysis of reports of groundwater
contamination ascribed to hydraulic fracturing within North
Texas Barnett Shale, as well as the Haynesville Shale in
East Texas and Northwest Louisiana, and the Marcellus Shale,
which includes portions of New York, Pennsylvania and several
Researchers are also expected to include an evaluation of
allegations of fugitive air emissions attributed to equipment
leaks, evaporative losses from surface impoundments and spills,
according to the university.
What were trying to do is separate fact from
fiction, Groat said.
The Energy Institute team includes experts from the
universitys Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, Bureau of Economic Geology,
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, School of Law and
College of Communication.
Representatives of the Environmental Defense Fund will
review and comment on any recommendations included in the final
report prior to its publication. A peer group also will review
the teams findings.
Groat said the final report will identify existing
regulations related to shale gas development and evaluate
individual states capacity to enforce regulations.
Researchers also will provide an analysis of public
perceptions of hydraulic fracturing, as derived from popular
media, scientific studies and interviews with local
Our goal is to inject science into what has become an
emotional debate and provide policymakers a foundation to develop
sound rules and regulations, Groat said.
Hydraulic fracturing has been in use for decades but
recently has come under scrutiny from environmentalists and others who
fear it poses a threat to public health through groundwater
contamination and air pollution.
Other preliminary findings from the
Many allegations of groundwater contamination appear to be
related to above-ground spills or other mishandling of
wastewater produced from shale gas drilling, rather 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. Groat said researchers could recommend additional
baseline studies, depending on final evaluation of data yet
to be compiled.
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 of the
At the briefing, Groat also discussed two other Energy
Institute initiatives related to hydraulic fracturing for shale
The first project would evaluate claims of
groundwater contamination within the Barnett Shale in North
As proposed, the research would entail an examination of
various aspects of shale gas development, including site
preparation, drilling, production, and handling and disposal of
Researchers also would identify and document activities
unrelated to shale gas development that have resulted in water
A second project, designed to be an extension of the current
study, would involve a detailed field and laboratory
investigation of whether hydrological connectivity exists
between shallow groundwater aquifers and fractures created by
hydraulic fracturing during shale gas development.
The project calls for university
researchers to conduct field sampling of hydraulic fracturing
fluid, flow-back water, produced water, and water from aquifers
and other geologic units within the Barnett Shale.
details on the study, visit the University of Texas' Energy
Institute website by clicking