An incredibly detailed study examining groundwater was published this month in the trade journal Environmental Science and Technology. It found some disturbing and potentially dangerous information about the current state of groundwater and its potential future. The test was performed in the Barnett Shale in North Texas over a period of 2 years. This area of Texas is known as one of the most abundant areas of natural gas in the United States.
For a long period of time, the natural gas present in the Barnett Shale area was not accessible. It was locked within enormous rock structures that made it almost impossible to obtain until recently. Gas and oil companies have started to use a system known as hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as “fracking,” to retrieve the natural gas from deep inside these rocks.
Fracking allows natural gas companies to acquire gas from areas that were once thought to be inaccessible. These companies have argued that because of the great economic benefit that fracking presents, it is a useful practice that should be continued. Opponents to fracking believe that it presents many dangers. One such danger is the potential pollution of groundwater around the area that fracking takes place.
The recent groundwater study sought to examine the ways in which fracking may be damaging or changing the groundwater. The study examined water samples from 550 wells throughout 13 counties in Texas around the Barnett Shale. The study found that the groundwater is these counties was contaminated with various volatile organic carbon-based compounds, different types of alcohols, and a range of compounds containing chlorine.
Dr. Zac Hildenbrand of the University of Texas at Arlington was one of the main people involved in the study. Dr. Hildenbrand stated that the chemicals found within the wells were “pretty shocking evidence that there’s been a problem.” The only industries that use all of the chemicals that were found in the groundwater are the oil and natural gas industries.
While the study does make it seem as though fracking may have a role in this pollution, those responsible for the study are quick to point out that the results of the study do not allow for any conclusions to be made about whether or not fracking is the culprit. The only thing the study can say without doubt is that where drilling and fracking are occurring, there are more chemical abnormalities found in the groundwater.
Oil and natural gas companies have responded to the study. They do not believe that fracking can be held responsible for these chemicals in the water. “The authors specifically say that they cannot link contamination to unconventional oil and gas activity. Activist groups and some media are trying to manufacture a fracking link that the data don’t definitively support,” said Dave Quast, a member of a group called Energy in Depth that advocates for large oil and natural gas companies.
Those in the surrounding community have begun to voice their concerns about the potential dangers these chemicals in the water may pose. Earthworks, a North Texas nonprofit organization that seeks to protect the environment, believes that the water in the areas surrounding the Barnett Shale are potentially unsafe for human consumption and use.
While there have been no conclusions made about the whether or not fracking was responsible, those in opposition to the practice will continue to point to this study as a source of evidence that fracking is dangerous. More studies will need to be conducted into the potential long-term dangers that the chemicals found in the water around Barnett Shale present. Regardless, major oil and natural gas companies in the region will no longer be able to deny that in the areas where fracking is prevalent, more groundwater pollution occurs.