The Exponent Telegram | Charles Young - Staff Writer | April 26, 2017
CLARKSBURG — Fracking has not contaminated groundwater in Northwestern West Virginia, according to a recently released study by scientists at Duke University.
“The study was able to measure a very wide range of chemical tracers in wells before and after fracking in West Virginia,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality in Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Vengosh was in charge of the project.
“Basically, the bottom line is that we do not see an effect of fracking on the groundwater quality,” he said.
The peer-reviewed study was published this month in Geochimca et Cosmochimica Acta, a European academic journal on geochemistry.
To conduct the study, Duke scientists worked with researchers from The Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University and the French Geological Survey. The researchers collected samples from 112 drinking wells in the northwestern region of the state over the course of three years.
Twenty wells were sampled before any drilling or fracking in order to serve as a control.
Vengosh said the researchers designed and built their own specialized tools to detect a vast array of contaminants, including salts, trace metals, methane and propane.
“We put a lot of efforts into building the tools,” Vengosh said. “They are kind of a forensic tracer to detect whether or not there is an impact of shale gas and fracking on groundwater quality.”
The analysis showed that methane and saline were present in both the pre-drilling and post-drilling wells, but that their chemistry was different than that of chemicals used in fracking fluids and shale gas, Vengosh said.
“We found a high level of natural gas and saline in groundwater, but we found that those were naturally occurring and not related to fracking,” he said.
This means that residents of the area could have been drinking potentially dangerous water for years without realizing it, long before any fracking began in the state, Vengosh said.
“People need to worry about the level of natural gas, even if it is naturally occurring,” Vengosh said. “That’s something you don’t want to have in your home.”
Anyone who is concerned about the quality of their well water should have it professionally tested, Vengosh said.
He said members of the research team have published more than 25 scholarly articles on fracking and have conducted similar studies in other parts of the country.
A test of Pennsylvania’s groundwater showed evidence of contamination as a result of fracking. That was due to how the particular wells were constructed, Vengosh said.
“The instillation of the wells was not done correctly,” he said. “Apparently they did a much better job in West Virginia.”
Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Gas Association, said the results of the study were encouraging to professionals in her field.
“The Duke study demonstrates that the fears surrounding the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on groundwater are unfounded,” she said. “These study results are important to refute the inaccurate information publicized about the oil and gas industry and its impact on groundwater.”