Study: Natural Methane To Blame For Tainted Water, Not Fracking

(REUTERS/Les Stone)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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New research found naturally-occurring methane contaminated water in two Texas counties where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) once investigated leaks from hydraulic fracturing operations.

University of Texas at Austin researchers said high levels of methane in well water was likely caused by naturally-occurring, shallow natural gas deposits, not leaks from fracking operations near Fort Worth. Researchers found no correlation between high-methane water and the distance to the nearest fracking site, but did find a strong correlation between the water and underground gas deposits.

“Over geologic time, methane has accumulated into these shallower reservoirs,” Dr. Jean-Philippe Nicot, a geologist at UT involved in the research, said in a press statement. “These fresh-water wells are very close to these shallower reservoirs and may be the source of the methane.”

The EPA issued a legal order against the natural gas company Range Resources operating in Parker County, Texas after activists unveiled a video of a man lighting the end of his garden hose on fire. A judge later ruled this “was not done for scientific study but to provide local and national media a deceptive video.”

“Shortly after the EPA issued its baseless endangerment order, numerous experts testified at a Texas Railroad Commission hearing that methane in Parker County groundwater was not due to drilling,” Steve Everley, a spokesman for pro-industry Texans for Natural Gas, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Data provided at that hearing showed extensive evidence of shallow gas in groundwater that existed prior to any nearby natural gas development. The EPA curiously refused to attend that hearing.”

“Data provided at that hearing showed extensive evidence of shallow gas in groundwater that existed prior to any nearby natural gas development. The EPA curiously refused to attend that hearing,” Everley said.

Environmentalists often cite Parker County as an example of how fracking contaminates groundwater.

Activists argued in an article published by DeSmogBlog that while “local geology plays a role in leaks,” methane contamination was “traced to natural gas wells with insufficient cement barriers to separate them from surrounding rock and water or to improperly installed steel casings that allow the gas to travel upward.”

EPA eventually dropped the case in 2012 and the Texas state government began an investigation. This is one of several examples where EPA had to backpedal after blaming natural gas drilling for water contamination.

“Since then, the state of Texas has investigated this case on several occasions, and determined that the most likely explanation is natural phenomena, not drilling,” Everley said. “Dr. Terry Engelder from Penn State University, one of the most well-respected experts on shale gas development in America, concluded in 2014 that there is ‘no link between fracking and groundwater contamination in the Fort Worth Basin.'”

Numerous other scientific studies from regulatory bodiesacademics, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and even the EPA all agree that fracking does not contaminate drinking water.

“There is a mountain of scientific data and analysis that confirms fracking is not what caused flaming water in Parker County,” Everley continued. “But the same groups who call other people ‘science deniers’ are themselves refusing to accept the truth. They continue to take their claims to friendly media outlets in the hope that no one will ask how they can deny what so many experts have concluded.”

Even studies financed by environmentalists found fracking had no effect on water quality. A three-year study by the University of Cincinnati, published last February and financed by environmentalists, found fracking couldn’t contaminate groundwater.

“Our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results,” Amy Townsend-Small, the study’s lead researcher, told Newsweek in April. “We haven’t seen anything to show that wells have been contaminated by fracking.”

Texas’ Permian Basin, which spans parts of western Texas and southeastern New Mexico, has become a fracking hot spot, and has played an increasingly important role since crude oil prices dropped in 2014. This region now has nearly as many active oil rigs as the rest of the U.S. combined, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Texas’s Barnett Shale is estimated to hold 172 million barrels of shale oil and 176 million barrels of natural gas liquids, twice as much natural gas and oil as expected, according to a December study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

To put those reserves in some context, Saudi Arabia’s total proven oil reserves are estimated to be 268 billion barrels, according to the CIA.

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