UT Scientists: No Direct Link on Fracking, Contamination

The early word from UT scientists on so-called “fracking” is that there is no direct link between the drilling technique and groundwater contamination.

Hydraulic fracturing is a method for extracting natural gas and oil from dense shale seams. Fracking injects millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into the rock, causing it to shatter and release the hydrocarbons.

Fracking has been employed for decades, but in recent years, environmentalists and others have raised questions about its safety—particularly about water contamination near the drilling sites.

UT’s study was launched in response to “hyperbole” from both sides, project leader Charles Groat said. Groat is a UT geology professor and associate director of the Energy Institute.

“What we’re trying to do is separate fact from fiction,” he said. “Our goal is to inject science into what has become an emotional debate and provide policymakers a foundation to develop sound rules and regulations.”

So far, Groat said, it appears to scientists that many of the problems associated with hydraulic fracturing are related to other aspects of drilling operations, such as poor casing or cement jobs, rather than to the fracking itself.

The Environmental Defense Fund is taking part in the study, along with a number of UT scientists.

But expect much more to come on the issue—the Environmental Protection Agency launched a study of hydraulic fracturing safety this year and is expected to release an in-depth report in late 2012.

For more on the UT team’s findings, click here.

Natural gas drilling equipment at Dimock, Pa. Creative Commons photo by Helen Slotje.

 

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