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Data indicate water pollution from shale gas operations in Pennsylvania

Amy Mall

Posted June 11, 2013

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A paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences investigated the potential impacts to surface water quality from shale gas development. The researchers used data from more than 20,000 surface water quality monitors in Pennsylvania and found evidence of impacts from two of the pathways tested.

The monitoring results suggest that:

(a) the treatment of shale gas waste by treatment plants in a watershed raises downstream chloride; and

(b) the presence of shale gas wells in a watershed raises downstream concentrations of total suspended solids.

You can read more about this study in a blog post from one of the researchers, Lucija Muehlenbachs of Resources for the Future.

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Michael BerndtsonJun 12 2013 01:18 PM

Interesting stuff. Assuming operations have changed and protective measures applied throughout Pennsylvania fracking areas, it would be interesting to see if surface water impacts reduce. I believe it was indicated in the blog by Lucija that PA has implemented many of these measures.

Anyway, thanks for linking me to RFF and its report on Shale Gas expert survey. Do you ever wonder when you're (me) freaking out about something and nobody else (NGOs, Govt. Industry, Academia) is - that maybe its you (me) being paranoid, ignorant and incredibly prescient? Nobody was worried too much about: 1) rogue fractures causing direct communication between the zone in play and the groundwater, 2) well abandonment not sealing fractures, and several other things. It's probably me. It is a nice report and interesting to see which matter freaks which group out the most or least.

Amy MallJun 12 2013 02:29 PM

Hi Michael: we share your concern about the risks of fractures communicating with groundwater, the topic of a recent research paper you can read about here:

We also share your concern about improperly plugged wells providing a pathway for contamination, as appears to have happened in Pennsylvania, as you can read about here:

Larry SchnapfJun 12 2013 02:31 PM

I would suggest that there are hundreds of abandoned oil wells from the early days of the oil industry that are probably causing more gw contamination than fracking. A compromise might be to require new permit holders to properly abandon old wells as a condition of their permit. sort of like a SEP.

Amy MallJun 12 2013 02:37 PM

Larry: we agree that, before fracking is permitted, an operator should have to identify all existing wells within an area of review and take corrective action if there are any wells that were improperly constructed, completed, plugged, or abandoned, to ensure that they will not become conduits for injected or formation fluids to migrate to aquifers.

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