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Steptoe & Johnson PLLC: DOE Study: Fracking Didn't Contaminate Water

By Brian J. Pulito

A landmark federal study on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) shows no evidence that chemicals from the natural gas drilling process moved up to contaminate drinking water aquifers at a Western Pennsylvania drilling site.

Richard Hammack, a geologist with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Pittsburgh, Pa., said that, after a year of monitoring a Greene County drilling site, researchers found that the concoction of fluids used to free gas trapped deep below the surface stayed thousands of feet below the shallower areas that supply drinking water.

The study, the first of its kind, consisted of tagging drilling fluids with unique markers which were injected more than 8,000 feet below the surface, but were not subsequently detected in a monitoring zone 3,000 feet higher. The report reveals that “potentially dangerous substances stayed about a mile away from drinking water supplies.”

Eight new Marcellus Shale horizontal wells were monitored seismically and one was injected with four different artificial tracers at different stages of the fracking process. The NETL scientists also monitored a separate series of older gas wells that are about 3,000 feet above the Marcellus to see if the fluid reached up to them.

While the results of the DOE/NETL study are preliminary, they are a boost to a natural gas industry that has fought complaints from environmental groups and property owners who contend fracking is dangerous. The DOE/NETL team will soon publish full results of the tests.

Brian Pulito focuses his practice in the areas of civil litigation, construction litigation, oil, gas and mineral law litigation, and intellectual property law litigation.

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