New research is providing some of the first scientific evidence that natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica Shale Formations could be causing methane contamination of private drinking water well. The study by four researchers at the Center on Global Change at Duke University found that methane levels at water wells located within 1,000 feet of a deep natural gas well were on average 17 times higher than from areas where there is not active drilling. The Duke researchers found methane in 85% of the 68 water wells they tested in Northeastern Pennsylvania and New York. The researchers, Stephen Osborn, Avner Vengosh, Nathaniel Warner and Robert Jackson, found in 3 of the water wells the chemical signature of the methane found matched that of the methane in the deep gas wells nearby. However, they admit that they only had the chemical makeup data for three of the gas wells.
The study did not find contamination of water wells from the chemically treated fracking liquid that is used to break up the shale and release the gas.
An industry group says the research doesn't prove fracking is to blame for the methane levels. Methane is not known to be toxic, but in high concentrations it can be explosive and dangerous.
The researchers say more study is needed....
"Based on our groundwater results and the litigious nature of shale-gas extraction, we believe that long-term, coordinated sampling and monitoring of industry and private homeowner is needed. Compared to other forms of fossil fuel extraction, hydraulic fracturing is relatively poorly regulated at the federal level."
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.