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In this March 29, 2013 photo, technicians inside a trailer direct the pressure and mix of water and chemicals pumped into an Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. well during hydraulic fracturing, outside Rifle, in western Colorado. (Photo: AP) In this March 29, 2013 photo, technicians inside a trailer direct the pressure and mix of water and chemicals pumped into an Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. well during hydraulic fracturing, outside Rifle, in western Colorado. (Photo: AP)  

Energy Department: Fracking doesn’t contaminate groundwater

A landmark federal study found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking — contaminated drinking water in western Pennsylvania, the Energy Department told The Associated Press.

The National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh monitored wells for a year by injecting special tracers into fracking fluid to see whether any chemicals migrated up towards drinking water. Researchers found that the fracking fluid stayed nearly a mile below drinking water supplies.

“This is good news,” said Duke University scientist Rob Jackson, but warned that a single study does not prove fracking can’t ever pollute since industry drilling practices vary widely throughout Pennsylvania and the country.

These are only preliminary results of an ongoing study, but so far it supports the industry’s argument that fracking can be done safely.

Fracking involves injecting fluids into cracks in rock formations to widen them and allow more oil and gas to escape, increasing the amounts that can be recovered. The process occurs at about 8,000 feet below ground.

Environmentalists opposed to fracking claim that it can contaminate groundwater sources and releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but so far, these claims are largely unfounded.

The AP also notes: “While the lack of contamination is encouraging, Jackson said he wondered whether the unidentified drilling company might have consciously or unconsciously taken extra care with the research site, since it was being watched.”

Jackson also noted that researchers at Duke have conducted numerous fracking studies with mixed results, though none of them have found chemical contamination in water supplies. However, there was some evidence that natural gas escaped some wells in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The Environmental Protection Agency has also failed to find evidence of drinking water contamination in three separate studies. The agency is currently in the process of conducting a larger national study that will be done in 2016.

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