Bombshell Study Finds Drinking Water Near Fracking Wells Contaminated With Methane

Ray Kemble pumps water from a truck into his neighbor's tank in Dimock, Pa. (Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Wells used for drinking water near the Marcellus Shale in northeast Pennsylvania have methane concentrations six times higher than wells farther away. That is the finding of a Duke University study published on June 24th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers analyzed 141 drinking water wells (combining data from a previous study of 60 sampled wells in 2011) from the Alluvium, Catskill, and Lock Haven aquifers and a few drinking water wells from the Genesee Formation in Otsego County of New York. Methane was detected in 82 percent of drinking water samples for homes within a kilometer (0.62 miles or 1,093 yards) of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, wells.

Robert Jackson from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment wrote the report and confirmed that, “the methane, ethane and propane data, and new evidence from hydrocarbon and helium isotopes, all suggest that drilling has affected some homeowners’ water.”

The natural gas boom is happening all across the country. Gas constitutes about 25 percent of total energy consumption. Pennsylvania saw natural gas production increase by 69 percent in 2012.

But this boom has also created many issues: earthquakes, water contamination and scarcity, and leakage. 65 percent of Americans already say more regulations of fracking are needed, despite only a few studies having been conducted on the topic of possible water contamination. This makes the recent Duke study a significant contribution to the ongoing fracking debate.

The study states “the two simplest explanations” for the contamination in drinking water are faulty or inadequate steel casings and imperfections in cement sealings.

Natural gas companies will hopefully work to develop ways to fix the problem of well integrity, but the Duke study shows just how much additional research and investigation into the fracking process is needed, especially by the federal government.

Unfortunately the EPA has decided to drop their investigation of probable water contamination due to fracking in Pavilion, Wyoming. Instead, the agency will support the state’s own investigation into water quality in the area even though EPA originally concluded that “the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing.” Wyoming’s version of the report is set to be released by September 30, 2014.

Even worse, the Bureau of Land Management’s draft rules released in May fail to protect people from harm and instead protect the oil and gas industry from having to follow strong environmental standards. DeSmogBlog also notes that BLM adopted the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill written by ExxonMobil.

Even if the engineering problems were fixed, fracking will still allow greenhouse gases to pump into our atmosphere, which is bad for public health and drives global warming.

21 Responses to Bombshell Study Finds Drinking Water Near Fracking Wells Contaminated With Methane

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Mandatory action = Ban fracking

  2. prokaryotes says:

    There has never been a better time to go full force clean tech, size the chance and size market share – WHILE YOU STILL CAN!

  3. prokaryotes says:

    GASLAND Part II Official Trailer, Premieres July 8th 2013 on HBO #ActOnClimate

  4. Millicent says:

    “the two simplest explanations for the contamination in drinking water are faulty or inadequate steel casings and imperfections in cement sealings.”

    For fracking to not contaminate the environment these things must be unique: being the only structures built by humans that will remain 100% intact forever. They are miraculous.

  5. rollin says:

    Just take a look at the geology of the Marcellus, it’s a sandbox with no really solid rock between the aquifer and the horizontal fractured hole. All the sandstones and shales are easily fractured and probably have fractures already.

  6. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    How soon before we realize the clean water was more valuable than the gas produced?

  7. Mike Roddy says:

    It will be very interesting to see how Koch and Exxon spin this. Predictions:

    1. Methane isn’t really bad for you, so what’s the problem?
    2. The studies were flawed, managed by grant seeking pointy headed scientists. We need further study, the results to be released in 2016.
    3. The methane was already there, and they are just finding better ways to measure it.
    4. Instruct friends in the six major media companies to ignore this study (Hint: this is already happening. Sciency knowledge is for geeks, not real men, and certainly not for media consumers).

    #4 is what will ensure that people don’t find out, and that it doesn’t become a political issue. There are precedents, with tobacco, toxins in food, etc.

  8. Joy Hughes says:

    This means that Obama’s climate plan would actually make things worse.

  9. squidboy6 says:

    The gases are not too difficult to treat and not too expensive either – when they’re low in concentration, but the other products used in fracking, benzene, toluene, and similar compounds are not far behind. That’s where the long term damage will be.

    Plenty of people have been warning of this (other than having gas come out of your faucet) and it’s only a matter of time that fracking chemicals will begin to appear as well as methane.

    I’m pretty sure that people signed agreements that screwed them for a long time but people who didn’t allow fracking and get methane, then benzene/toluene in their water supply will have standing to sue. Even so it will be 20 yrs before they settle.

    I drove through the Permian Basin in Texas last March and it’s a drought there with burned scrub forests and brown, dry grasses. The only water was from temporary fracking ponds and they were everywhere. Another one of Dick Cheney’s legacies and this will be the one with the longest lasting.

  10. Sailesh Rao says:


  11. Sasparilla says:

    Long after the money was pocketed for the natural gas / oil.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s your clean water being fouled, but their bank accounts swelling. Owing to the laws of Rightwing psychopathy, your loss, being their gain, is of no importance whatsoever.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    MSM suppression of news is a vastly greater crime than their mere lying and disinformation. However, even worse is the deliberate fomenting of and pushing of various fear and hate campaigns, designed to vilify enemies of the rich rulers, and to divide societies against themselves, making them easier for tiny elites to totally dominate.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The word Permian takes on an eerie resonance here, between a scene of the current intensifying mass extinction to which we are being driven by the omnicidal Right, and the geological age in which, at its end, the great mass extinction, so far, occurred.

  15. Lou Grinzo says:

    I don’t think you could concoct a better, more enlightening and more disturbing example of the war between the short-term economic gains of a few large corporations and the health and environmental impacts on thousands to millions to billions of human beings, aided by prostiticians and a pathetically lame media.

    I often travel through the portion of PA where there’s considerable fracking activity, and it breaks my heart to see what’s happened there compared to decades ago.

    While I am NOT suggesting that the CEOs and others from these corporations should be put on trial for crimes against humanity, making that drive and seeing the impacts and reading articles like this one get me quite close to settling on that conclusion….

  16. Superman1 says:

    In the War on Drugs, we exact penalties on cartels and addicts alike. In the War on Climate Change, we focus on penalizing only one group of culprits: the cartel-equivalent energy companies. What about the other side of the equation? Unless we solve both sides of the equation, the problem doesn’t get solved.

  17. Superman1 says:

    That ‘plan’ is such a small fraction of what is required to avoid the cliff that it doesn’t matter very much whether its impact is positive or negative. The end result either way will be the same; we are getting more spin on this issue than in a high-speed centrifuge!

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Well, I am, Lou. Crimes against Life, against human posterity and against living human beings ought not go unpunished. It is an absolute moral responsibility, in my opinion, not to allow certain individuals to get away with inflicting hideous damage on multitudes of innocents, just because they are rich and powerful.

  19. S. B. says:

    Actually, the fact that we spend so much time and money on punishing the addicts, rather then attempting to address some of the underlying socioeconomic and mental health problems that can lead to or at least exacerbate drug problems, is one of the big reasons the “war on drugs” is a huge failure.

    Also should the CEOs and energy big-wigs be put on trial? Maybe. But what we need to do is enact legislation to make sure what they are doing illegal from now on; that way they can be held legally accountable for their careless disregard for the safety of the environment. These sort of “money now, screw the consequences” types are murdering our planet. They need to be stopped, but the only way to do it is to force their hands, which usually only happens when comprehensive laws get passed to do so.