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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Analysis: Hydraulic fracturing contaminates ground water: Critics vs. Experts



Talk to any environmental protestor and they will tell you that hydraulic fracturing contaminates ground water. Most, when asked, will offer no evidence. This post asks what is being said and what is the evidence?

Quotes from the critics

In the USA, critics of shale gas say quite clearly that hydraulic fracturing pollutes ground water:

  • Fracking is known to contaminate drinking water.” according to the Sierra Club.
  • Hydraulic fracturing “…threatens the air we breathe, the water we drink, the communities we love and the climate on which we all depend.” according to Food & Water Watch .
  • Contaminated water” says the Center for Biological Diversity is one of the main criticisms of hydraulic fracturing.
  • In his FAQ page, Gasland director Josh Fox says water contamination from fracking is “very serious.”

But when these same critics are asked to prove the claim, the evidence is far more elusive than their statements would suggest. At a major Senate hearing earlier this year, representatives from both the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, when pressed by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), could not name a single confirmed case of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater.

In the UK, a selection of the critics say:


  • In the United States shale gas drilling has been linked to water and air pollution.” Friends of the Earth UK (25th April 2013)
  • There is considerable evidence of contamination from both methane and fracking chemicals. One study of aquifers overlying the Marcellus and Utica shales in the north-eastern US found ‘systematic evidence of methane contamination of groundwater associated with shale gas extraction’. ” Friends of the Earth UK Briefing Report (May 2013)
  • In the USA, where fracking is an already established process, there have been reported surface, ground, and drinking water contamination due to fracking  The Diocese of Blackburn, Church of England in Lancashire (14th August 2013).
  • The time we spend thinking, praying and acting now to protect our drinking water, and the rest of God’s glorious creation cannot compare with the time succeeding generations could potentially spend trying to make good what will likely happen if we in the church remain uninformed and silent.” The Diocese of Blackburn, Church of England in Lancashire (14th August 2013).
  • Fracking has been linked to contamination of water supplies and atmospheric pollution…” Line from a suggested letter to your MP from the Greenpeace website. It’s wrong, and they are putting into the ‘mouths’ of those who sign-up to Greenpeace with no evidence.

When asked for evidence for their 25th April 2013 web-page claim, which was unsupported, their May 2013 briefing “Unconventional, unnecessary and unwanted” was pointed out. This briefing (quotation above) provides only one source for their claim that “There is considerable evidence of contamination from both methane and fracking chemicals”, which only concerns itself with methane, and suffers from the scientific flaw that there were no pre-drilling and pre-fracking measurements made. Hence, the paper cannot be used because it cannot conclude that hydraulic fracturing has caused the contamination with methane because the methane may have already been there naturally, thermogenic or not. See this post for a fuller analysis of two other papers suffering from the same flaws.



There are two quotations from a message to parishioners from the Church of England, who should know better than to peddle unsubstantiated scaremongering. The CofE do not support the first quotation by evidence, and would struggle to do so. There is nothing in their second quotation, which is by the way of a summary of the message, that one might take general exception to. I would particularly agree with the point about not “remaining uninformed and silent”. The trouble is, their message is badly uninformed - badly factually wrong again and again.

  1. It is wrong over the ground-water contamination for this reason.
  2. It is wrong over the amount of water required by hydraulic fracturing for this reason.
  3. It is wrong over the reinjection of waste water because that is no longer carried out in the USA and would not be allowed in the UK and is discussed in my post on earthquakes.
  4. It is badly wrong about the number and type of chemicals currently used by hydraulic fracturing, where the number of ingredients of a modern fracing fluid is about 12, of which two are water and sand.
  5. t is wrong about burning shale gas being more or equally toxic as coal for this reason.

 My evidence to support these points can be found by following the links and throughout the posts of this blog.



There are other examples; it is perhaps the most erroneous document on shale gas I have ever seen, but I will not go on. None of this bland sermonising is supported by evidence; the CofE does not attempt to provide any evidence. The bottom line is the CofE have dressed their uninformed and incorrect opinions and presented them to their trusting flock. I am not against the CofE and praise their attempts at helping to inform people, but they must get some proper scientific advice and ensure that what they say is clear, balanced and above all backed up by proper scientific evidence. When I gave this blog the name “All Gas and Gaiters” and explained its origin, little did I realise that we might actually drift towards ‘gas’ ex cathedra.



As for the line from the Greenpeace letter of complaint, I just hope that most people are open-minded and intelligent enough to do some research into what they send and assure themselves that they can really substantiate ‘their own’ views. Otherwise they will be the dupes of Greenpeace.



So what do experts say?



  • Most geologists are pretty convinced that it is extremely unlikely contamination would occur.” Professor Mike Stevenson, British Geological Survey.

  • The risk of fractures propagating to reach overlying aquifers is very low provided that shale gas extraction takes place at depths of many hundreds of metres or several kilometres. Even if fractures reached overlying aquifers, the necessary pressure conditions for contaminants to flow are very unlikely to be met given the UK’s shale gas hydrogeological environments.Royal Society report, 29th June 2012.  

  •  The jury is out on there being a direct and causal link on environmental effects.”  Prof Kevin Anderson, a shale gas expert at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

  •  In fact, fracking is not new and has been used without previous controversy since the 1940s. A spokesman for Cuadrilla said that an existing gas well at Elswick, near one of its sites in Lancashire, was fracked 20 years ago by its then owners, British Gas, in “almost exactly the same way” as at Cuadrilla’s shale sites now.” Andrew Gilligan, The Daily Telegraph.

  • The Elswick site has been producing conventional gas without controversy since 1996. The spokesman accused Frack Off of using “misleading information” to scare people. Frack Off insisted that shale gas fracking was new and different because it would have to be done more often and at greater pressures.” Andrew Gilligan, The Daily Telegraph.

  • Wytch Farm has been fracked - see Royal Soc report p.17. Obv it didn't 'destroy' it.” Tweet (expanded) from Corin Taylor, Senior Economic Adviser at the Institute of Directors (19th August 2013).

  • A landmark federal study on hydraulic fracturing, or 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” the Department of Energy told The Associated Press…. “Drilling fluids tagged with unique markers were injected more than 8,000 feet below the surface at the gas well bore but weren't detected in a monitoring zone at a depth of 5,000 feet. The researchers also tracked the maximum extent of the man-made fractures, and all were at least 6,000 feet below the surface.”. “This is good news," said Duke University scientist Rob Jackson, who was not involved with the study. He called it a "useful and important approach" to monitoring fracking.

  • To my knowledge, I still have not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater.”  Ernest Moniz, Secretary of U.S. Dept. of Energy (Aug. 2013).

  • This new study is important in terms of finding no significant effects on groundwater quality from shale gas development within the area of sampling.” U.S. Geological Survey (January 2013).

  • [R]egulatory officials we met with from eight states – Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas – told us that, based on state investigations, the hydraulic fracturing process has not been identified as a cause of groundwater contamination within their states.  US Govt. Accountability Office  (September 2012).

  • In no case have we made a definitive determination that [hydraulic fracturing] has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”  Lisa Jackson, former EPA Administrator (April 2012).

  • I’m not aware of any proven case where [hydraulic fracturing] itself has affected water.” Lisa Jackson, former EPA Administrator (May 2011).

  • I have been working in hydraulic fracturing for 40+ years and there is absolutely no evidence hydraulic fractures can grow from miles below the surface to the fresh water aquifers.  Dr. Stephen Holditch, Dept. of Petroleum Engineering, Texas A&M University; member of DOE’s SEAB Shale Gas Production Subcommittee (October 2011).

  • In this study, statistical analyses of post-drilling versus pre-drilling water chemistry did not suggest major influences from gas well drilling or hydrofracturing (fracking) on nearby water wells, when considering changes in potential pollutants that are most prominent in drilling waste fluids.”  Center for Rural Pennsylvania (October 2011).

  • Fracturing fluids have not contaminated any water supply and with that much distance to an aquifer, it is very unlikely they could.” Dr. Mark Zoback, Professor of Geophysics, Stanford University; member of DOE’s SEAB Shale Gas Production Sub-committee (August 2011).

  • Although an estimated 80,000 wells have been fractured in Ohio, state agencies have not identified a single instance where groundwater has been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing operations.” State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (January 2011).

  • A supporting study for this dSGEIS concludes that it is highly unlikely that groundwater contamination would occur by fluids escaping from the wellbore for hydraulic fracturing. The 2009 dSGEIS further observes that regulatory officials from 15 states recently testified that groundwater contamination as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process in the tight formation itself has not occurred.” N.Y. Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) (2011).

  • In the studies surveyed, no incidents are reported which conclusively demonstrate contaminationof shallow water zones with fracture fluids.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2010).

  • [B]ased on over sixty years of practical application and a lack of evidence to the contrary, there is nothing to indicate that when coupled with appropriate well construction; the practice of hydraulic fracturing in deep formations endangers ground water. There is also a lack of demonstrated evidence that hydraulic fracturing conducted in many shallower formations presents a substantial risk of endangerment to ground water.” U.S. Dept. of Energy and Ground Water Protection Council (May 2009).

  • Although thousands of CBM wells are fractured annually, EPA did not find confirmed evidence that drinking water wells have been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing fluid injection into CBM wells.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2004).


In this case, I prefer the experts view.


However, as a safety valve I always remember a quotation, though I cannot remember where it comes from - 

Experts! When the world is destroyed, it will be destroyed by experts”. 

I fancy it is something from John Le Carre.

1 comment:

  1. Michael Roberts (Rev)7 January 2014 at 16:43

    There are some in the Church of England who DO understand shale gas :)

    ReplyDelete