Fracking Does Not Contaminate Drinking Water, Says New Yale Study

Environmentalist opposition to fracking undeterred by data



Environmental activists continue to claim that fracking (the use of horizontal drilling with high-pressure water) to unlock vast stores of natural gas and oil from shale formations contaminates drinking water. They hint that natural gas and the constituents of fracking fluids migrate through cracks from the shale formations into drinking water wells. In fact, intensive research efforts have yet to confirm that any contamination that has occurred in this way, including at the contested gas field in Pavillion, Wyoming. 

The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report earlier this year that found that the minor amount of contamination that has occurred was the result of failed well casings and ground spills. The EPA reported that it "did not find that [fracking techniques] have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States."

A new report led by researchers from Yale University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has measured well water near fracked wells to see if they might be contaminated by methane and fracking fluids flowing upward from shale formations. What did the researchers find? No contamination due to fracking.

The PNAS summary reports:

Organic compounds found in drinking water aquifers above the Marcellus Shale and other shale plays could reflect natural geologic transport processes or contamination from anthropogenic activities, including enhanced natural gas production. Using analyses of organic compounds coupled with inorganic geochemical fingerprinting, estimates of groundwater residence time, and geospatial analyses of shale gas wells and disclosed safety violations, we determined that the dominant source of organic compounds to shallow aquifers was consistent with surface spills of disclosed chemical additives. There was no evidence of association with deeper brines or long-range migration of these compounds to the shallow aquifers (emphasis added). Encouragingly, drinking water sources affected by disclosed surface spills could be targeted for treatment and monitoring to protect public health.

So how dangerous was the contamination caused by surface spills? Lead investigator Brian Drollette noted that all the chemicals detected in the samples occurred in small concentrations, so they are "likely not a threat to human health."

It should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: Landowners harmed by contamination from spills or cracked well casings should be compensated by natural gas drilling companies for resulting damage. 

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  1. A new report by led by researchers from Yale University

    “by led by researchers” – sounds ominous!

    1. They were paid by Big Lead.

  2. Full disclosure: They fracked under my property.

    I haven’t drank the water from my well for 15 years. It’s full of iron and who knows what else (from previous strip mining), but so far the fracking hasn’t worsened it. The hydraulic fracturing takes place so far below the water table I can’t imagine it would.

    1. But you’re not a pants-shitting hysteric, unlike the anti-fracking people.

      1. Having to buy new underwear so frequently can’t be good for the environment.

    2. Frack me? Hey FoE, do you read lips? Frack you!

  3. I’m in my oil and gas law class right now. How relevant!

    1. PV=nRT: it’s not just ideal, it’s the law.

  4. Environmentalist opposition to fracking just about everything undeterred by data


    1. “Okay, fracking may not be poisoning wells as much as we have, but it frees up tons of cheap petroleum which is causing AGW and therefore must be stopped.”

      1. AGW = Increasing wealth, health and happiness of the human race, but most insidiously that wealth equates to power being spread across the economic spectrum instead of being concentrated in few hands.

  5. Corporate propaganda! Nothing more! Fracking is bad because it’s bad! I mean, how could it not be? We’ve got these corporations making all this money selling carbon based fuels that are killing the planet! How can that not be bad? Fucking libertarians are nothing but shills for the Koch brothers and their corporate profits!

    1. “Fracking is bad because it’s bad!”

      I wish this were hyperbole, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t.
      Greenpeace opposes Golden Rice, in spite of its benefits to those kids, because a good GMO food might lead to more GMO foods, totally ignoring that no one has found any issues with them at all.
      IOWs, they oppose GMO foods because they oppose GMO foods and you’re not going to talk them out of it!

      1. GMOs are unnatural products made by profit seeking corporations! That makes them bad! Bad, bad, bad! Bad!

        1. +1 Fuck the poor brown kids because… Monsanto! dammit.

          1. Once during the Occupy movement here in DC, one of the very loud, angry protesters informed me that Monsanto was selling a “suicide seed, look it up!” I didn’t stop to ask him how an evil kkkorporation would profit by selling a product designed to make its customers kill themselves, but I’m sure the answer would have been enlightening.

            1. They’re called “terminator seeds” and were originally thought up by.. the USDA.. The idea was to make GMOs sterile, so they won’t spread in the wild.

              Imagine having had that information during your encounter, and watch the person having to mentally contort their views 180 degrees on the spot?

              1. “Imagine having had that information during your encounter, and watch the person having to mentally contort their views 180 degrees on the spot?”

                That person wouldn’t even break stride; s/he’d be screaming at the next person about MONSANTO!

    2. Forget drinking water quality, won’t someone think of fracking and the (unborn) children!!??…..110550.htm

  6. If the drinking wells are contaminated by fracking fluid, then wouldn’t they have also been contaminated by the nearby oil?

    I’d rather have frack fluid than crude oil in my drinking water. So in a way, the frackers ARE the real environmentalists.

    1. Pennsylvania has had methane in its wells since the white man dug the first one. In some places you could like your drinking water on fire decades before fracking was even invented.

    2. Conceivably fracking could widen cracks in the bedrock between the layer your well gets water from and the layer that has the hydrocarbons. It’s not an implausible concern.

      In reality this don’t seem to happen very often, if at all.

  7. You would have to be completely illiterate both scientifically and about actual fracking to have ever thought the fracking itself could affect the water table.

    Fracking is done very deep. There are hundreds, if not thousands of yards, of rock between the fracked layers and any water table we would ever use. You’d have to be fracking with nukes to contaminate the water table.

    Now, busted casings are a problem regardless of whether the well was fracked or not. And those can fuck up the water, no question. Regardless of whether the well was fracked or not.

    1. Sure. But faulty well casings is a merely a technical and regulatory problem that can be overcome, which is why anti-frackers don’t like it.

      They prefer the argument that fracked gas will migrate up if you drill a hole, which makes it a fundamental problem that can’t be solved, so we shouldn’t frack.

  8. Time was, about twenty years ago, that environmental activists advocated substitution of natural gas for coal as a transition to a low-carbon economy.

    Then a bunch of upstart natural gas drillers figured out how to exploit vast non-conventional natural gas deposits.

    At first, the environmentalists seemed to support the development. Then, they realized that fracking might actually work and began to campaign against it in earnest.

    Environmentalists don’t want energy solutions that support a modern standard of living. They live in a fantasy world: the same sort that thought Obama would end the wars, shut down Guantanamo, and cause the oceans to recede.

  9. “Environmentalists” are just another form of animist. The Earth ™ is the supernatural totem for good, as are “natural” things like rain forests and spotted owls. Fracking, oil drilling, etc are the supernatural totems for evil and destroy everything they touch, and must be stopped at all costs because their slightest existence contaminates the good.

    Data doesn’t matter. Research doesn’t matter. Proof doesn’t matter. For the evil things are evil, and that is all they can and will ever be.

  10. “The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report earlier this year that found that the minor amount of contamination that has occurred was the result of failed well casings and ground spills.”

    Isn’t that the issue, though?

    It isn’t the fracking, it’s that fracking makes well casings crack and the holding areas for the water used are both like a spill and likely to facilitate ground spills?

    It wasn’t the airplanes that took down the World Trade Center; it’s that the World Trade Center was insufficiently engineered to withstand the impact of commercial airplanes?

    I have two problems with the EPA. One is that their stupid regulations make it hard for average people and businesses to do things with their own property that don’t really harm the environment. The second is that they provide regulatory cover for industries (with which they become quite cozy) to pollute and harm other people’s property.

    When I read a draft report like this from the EPA, the first thing that comes to my mind isn’t, “Ah, so the science is settled!”. The first thing I think is that if people with polluted water or broken wells can prove by a preponderance of the evidence to a civil jury that any particular company’s well damaged their property, then they should seek counsel and sue the hell out of them. That’s why the courts are there.

    1. If a company follows regulations, doesn’t that make it immune from lawsuits?

      1. Not necessarily, though it could use them as a defense.

      2. If a company follows regulations and people are still harmed, it means the regulations were insufficient and the company should have known that!

    2. Pretty sure the issue here is that there are a lot of people who claim that fracking is inherently unsafe, and is guaranteed to produce contaminated drinking water. This report debunks environmentalist lunacy.

      1. The environmentalists may be loony on the subject, but if that’s what the EPA report says, it isn’t debunking anything.

        Those holding pool areas can be environmentally disastrous–regardless of whether the environmentalists are loonies.

        Cracked well casings are a problem–regardless of whether the environmentalists are loonies.

        And the EPA saying that fracking isn’t the problem–it’s the holding pools, spills, and cracked well casings that are either a part of or caused by fracking? That’s just hand waving. And it’s still hand waving even if the environmentalists are a bunch of loonies.

        1. And the EPA saying that fracking isn’t the problem–it’s the holding pools, spills, and cracked well casings that are either a part of or caused by fracking? That’s just hand waving.

          No, it’s not. Saying fracking is the problem when a company does something irresponsible while fracking is like saying that coal mining is the problem when a coal company spills runoff in a river. The company’s negligence is the problem.

          1. You can’t go swimming without getting wet.

            Saying that fracking isn’t the problem, it’s all the things that fracking does, that’s just silly to the average person.

            Never mind the environmentalists. No one should support fracking on the basis that fracking doesn’t cause water contamination–it’s the well casings that fracking cracks that are the problem.

            There are lots of excellent reasons to support fracking. I support fracking for those reasons.

            I once got sent to the principal’s office for fighting. I claimed that the kid furiously smashed my fists with his face. He’s the one that should have been suspended, not me?

            1. I once got sent to the principal’s office for fighting. I claimed that the kid furiously smashed my fists with his face. He’s the one that should have been suspended, not me?

              Poor analogy. It’s more like claiming that since some people fight in inappropriate places, or against non-consenting people, that all fighting is the problem, including boxing and MMA.

              1. That’s what the environmentalists are saying–not the EPA. The EPA is saying it wasn’t my fist–it was the kid’s face that was the problem.

                And let’s be clear, one of the main reasons why the environmentalists oppose fracking is because they want to make it as difficult and expensive as possible for people to get and use fossil fuels. And that is because their primary concern is global warming.

                But we can’t make any headway against that by quoting the EPA and saying that fracking isn’t the problem–it’s all the things that fracking does in terms of well casings and holding pools. And there are serious concerns about that stuff.

                In the recent bust, as the drilling industry has contracted (I think we’ve cut production by some 30% or more since 2014), it’s left a lot of broke smaller drillers out there, who’ve abandoned sites. If a driller goes bankrupt, who cleans up the holding pool? Who fixes the well casings?

                I suppose it goes into litigation with various insurance companies. Meanwhile, what’s happening to the holding pool? So, environmentalists have some serious questions to ask that need answers. And the answers to those questions can’t be that it wasn’t the fracking, it was the holding pool and the well casings that fracking cracked. That’s just inviting the public to support more regulation.

            2. “You can’t go swimming without getting wet.”

              Dry suit, Ken. Try a dry suit.


    3. Fuck, Ken.

      The EPA is cozy with business? I’m writing that down for later.

      1. That shouldn’t be surprising to hear. We live in a pluralistic democracy. Our politicians and bureaucracies serve the interests of different constituencies, some of which are in direct opposition.

        The purpose of the EPA is to protect the public from polluters–and to protect polluters from the public.

        The purpose of the BLM is to protect wildlife from ranchers–and to protect ranchers from wildlife. It’s actually an inter-agency effort. The BLM rounds up wild mustangs and sells them off (ultimately winding up in Mexican slaughterhouses), so they won’t graze on land rented out to ranchers. The National Park Service is there to protect wildlife like wild Bison in Yellowstone. It also kills wild Bison every year to keep them from wandering onto federal land that is leased to local ranches for grazing.

        The federal Fish and Wildlife Service is there to protect endangered species, like the California Sea Otter, from commercial interests. It’s also there to protect the local sea urchin/sushi industry from sea otters, which is why they put up and enforced a “No Sea Otter Zone” from Santa Barbara all the way south to the border of Mexico. When otters move into the area, they relocated them–killing dozens of them!

      2. Yes, the EPA works this way, too. Why wouldn’t it work that way in a pluralistic democracy with competing interests for natural resources?

        This is why government is a terrible protector of our natural resources. If ANWR really does need to be protected? Don’t depend on the government to protect it. The government is just as likely to be under the control of people who don’t care about the environment as people who do.

        Much better for private individuals and organizations who care to bid on the important areas. Much better to depend on individuals to protect their own rights in the courts, as well. Much better than depending on a colonized bureaucracy like the EPA.

        It really shouldn’t be surprising to hear that the EPA shits on little people while selling short the things its supposed to protect–not to a libertarian. We know that’s the way government works, and we know why. There are two excellent reasons to oppose the EPA. One is that it makes things unnecessarily difficult for regular people, and the other is that it does a terrible job of protecting the environment. It just ends up providing cover for the polluters.

        Environmentalists often are–and should be–as mad at the EPA and other conservation related agencies as anyone else. They are terribly misguided to think that government is the solution to environmental problems.

  11. This is my surprised look. See?

    1. A slack-jawed blank stare is your surprised look?

      1. Why, yes!

        /People always play along with a bully. Especially one from California.


    Fracking will kill you deader than Elvis. Case closed.

    1. But Elvis isn’t dead! I saw him singing on a street corner last week.

  13. But it still causes earthquakes, right?

    1. I hope so. That’s my favorite thing about fracking.

    2. That is actually true. I live in OK and we’ve had 700 earthquakes so far this hear. The thing is it’s caused by injecting the waste water back into the ground and not the extraction fracking.

  14. Just frac’ed a shallow vertical well in PA yesterday. We frac’ed at just 600′ below surface, just like tens of thousands of shallow oil wells in PA frac’ed since the 1960’s. The fractures can’t migrate up into the ground water zone because of simple physics- the rocks will always break normal to the direction of least principal stress. This means once you get above 2000′ or so the fracs turn horizontal- like a bunch of pancakes stabbed with a pencil (well bore being pencil). In PA at least it’s physically impossible to frac up into a water bearing zone.

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