Review finds need for more water quality data in the Marcellus shale region

May 21, 2013

(Phys.org) —What to do with Marcellus shale wastewater is one of the biggest concerns in Pennsylvania, and few published studies have evaluated such wastewater effects on regional waters, according to a review co-authored by professors at the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State.

Published online today (May 17) in the journal Science, the review stresses the need for scientific data on caused by and cites a lack of monitoring stations and requirements concerning confidentiality as potential causes.

Susan Brantley, Distinguished Professor of at Penn State and co-author of the review, said the findings highlight the need for more thorough and consistent and more information about associated with the different parts of the region where deep horizontal drilling is taking place.

"Natural gas migration is a well-known in many areas of Pennsylvania even before gas well drilling," Brantley said. "When are drilled, sometimes the gas migrates around the well and into the groundwater. Though this is not common, more information is needed about the site-specific risk factors that contribute to those problems. Geological conditions can vary from one site to another, and without that information it will be difficult to definitively answer the question of whether through hydraulic fracturing is having an impact on water resources."

Intensive extraction of gas inside of the began in the eastern United States in 2005 and the Marcellus has quickly become one of the top five unconventional in the country. Previous studies have estimated this area could yield 489 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—an amount requiring high volumes of water used for what is often referred to as "slickwater fracturing."

Major concerns for the public have been whether stray methane can contaminate water supplies and whether the chemicals in the fluid used during the hydraulic fracturing process pose a threat to drinking water aquifers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently studying the risks to groundwater from hydraulic fracturing.

"While stray gas can be minor and easily remedied, there has been one case attributed to a Marcellus shale well in which stray gas accumulation in a private water well was associated with an explosion that blew a concrete lid off the well," said Brantley, director of Penn State's Earth and Environmental Systems Institute.

The main cause of stray gas in private water wells is not having an adequate cement seal around the well and to a sufficient depth, which can allow the natural gas to migrate up into the groundwater.

"However, there is no evidence for widespread increase in methane concentration in Pennsylvania groundwater," Brantley said. "Instead, levels are similar to those recorded in New York, which has a moratorium on large-volume hydraulic fracturing."

On average, about 10 percent of water injected during hydraulic fracturing is recovered over several weeks, while the remaining 90 percent is not. Radisav Vidic, lead author of the review and William Kepler Whiteford Professor and chair at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said that observation indicates the importance of documenting potential transport pathways and the ultimate disposition of the water that does return to the surface. In addition, "stray gas" or gas leakage is a concern for the region.

"Since the advent of hydraulic fracturing, more than one million treatments have been conducted with perhaps only one documented case of direct groundwater pollution resulting from the injection of chemicals," Vidic said. "There is no evidence of groundwater contamination—even if it does exist."

Vidic cited state regulations as a possible cause.

"This gaping hole is likely there because Pennsylvania is one of only two states in the entire United States that doesn't require monitoring for water quality in individual well supplies," he said.

Explore further: US proposes stricter ozone limits

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fracking risks to ground water assessed

May 17, 2013

(Phys.org) —Extraction of "unconventional" gas from sedimentary rocks such as shale could provide a clean energy source and help some regions to become energy independent, but concerns have been raised ...

Analysis of fracking wastewater yields some surprises

Jan 22, 2013

Hydraulically fractured natural gas wells are producing less wastewater per unit of gas recovered than conventional wells would. But the scale of fracking operations in the Marcellus shale region is so vast that the wastewater ...

Recommended for you

US proposes stricter ozone limits

4 hours ago

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced plans Wednesday to strengthen emission regulations for ozone, a smog-causing pollutant blamed for respiratory ailments affecting millions of Americans.

Deforestation drops 18 percent in Brazil's Amazon

6 hours ago

Deforestation in the Amazon rain forest dropped 18 percent over the past 12 months, falling to the second-lowest level in a quarter century, Brazil's environment minister said Wednesday.

The unbelievable underworld and its impact on us all

8 hours ago

A new study has pulled together research into the most diverse place on earth to demonstrate how the organisms below-ground could hold the key to understanding how the worlds ecosystems function and how they ...

Toolkit for ocean health

11 hours ago

The ocean is undergoing global changes at a remarkable pace and we must change with it to attain our best possible future ocean, warns the head of The University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute.

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

vlaaing peerd
4.4 / 5 (7) May 21, 2013
They should have researched how to properly drill for shale gas before even starting into it. I pity the people in that area. At the end of the day clean drinking water will always be more valuable than any fossil fuel will ever be.
Enviro Equipment Blog
5 / 5 (4) May 22, 2013
Too bad the Obama administration's new guidelines on hydraulic fracturing on federal lands do not include a provision for reliable data collection of groundwater monitoring near fracturing wells. This seems to me to be a no-brainer as far as easing public fears of the hydraulic fracturing process goes.
DruidDrudge
1 / 5 (9) May 22, 2013
it is very easy to monitor water quality. drop your sample off at the lab and they will test it for you. it sounds like they can´t find anything wrong with water quality but feel sure if they just try harder, something will show up. water quality, in general throughout the world has never been better, in the history of mankind.
deepsand
3.3 / 5 (14) May 23, 2013
it is very easy to monitor water quality. drop your sample off at the lab and they will test it for you. it sounds like they can´t find anything wrong with water quality but feel sure if they just try harder, something will show up. water quality, in general throughout the world has never been better, in the history of mankind.

If you lived in PA you would know that its Governor, House, Senate, and DEP are in bed with Big Energy.
Neinsense99
3.2 / 5 (9) May 28, 2013
it is very easy to monitor water quality. drop your sample off at the lab and they will test it for you. it sounds like they can´t find anything wrong with water quality but feel sure if they just try harder, something will show up. water quality, in general throughout the world has never been better, in the history of mankind.

If you lived in PA you would know that its Governor, House, Senate, and DEP are in bed with Big Energy.

Considering what some politicians have been caught doing, it might be more literal than you intended.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.