Wednesday, July 24, 2013

DOE Fracking Study Reveals "Nothing of Concern"

Last week, the Department of Energy released some preliminary results from a study conducted on a Marcellus Shale gas well in Pennsylvania that revealed that hydraulic fracturing fluids did not come close to contaminating ground water.  This DOE study is one of several important studies nationwide to try to determine if there is any impact on groundwater from fracking.

In the Marcellus study, an unnamed producer drilling a well in Greene County, southwest of Pittsburgh, allowed the DOE research team to tag the well's drilling fluids with unique markers that were tracked.  The study also looked at how far the fractures migrated.  The well was drilled to 8,000 feet, and the researchers found that the fluids did not get into the study's monitoring zone at 5,000 feet below the surface.  Since ground water seldom lies deeper than 500 feet, this is good news for fracking proponents.

The results are preliminary, but the oil and gas industry is already taking a victory lap.

Environmentalists and anti-fracking types are quick to point out that the study didn't look at potential issues with casing and the handling of chemicals at the surface (which are pretty much the only way for fracking of shale formations to impact groundwater), but those concepts are difficult to analyze, especially in this kind of real-time empirical study.

Another interesting result is that one of the fractures traveled 1,800 feet, while most of the others traveled only a few hundred feet.  Researchers speculated that the fracture may have traveled along an existing fault line.  Unfortunately, this likely will only fan the flames of certain anti-fracking groups that believe fractures can travel to the surface.  While the 1,800 feet fracture is an anomaly, it still stopped more than a mile below the surface.

On the whole, this is good news for the oil and gas industry, but I doubt it will change many minds of those with hardened opinions.

No comments: