About half of hydraulically fractured wells exist within 2 to 3 kilometers of domestic groundwater systems: study

November 27, 2017 by Julie Cohen, University of California - Santa Barbara
Hydraulically fractured wells in California's Central Valley. Credit: Debra Perrone

How safe is the water you drink? For the 45 million Americans who get their drinking water from private groundwater wells rather than a public utility, the answer is decidedly murky. The Environmental Protection Agency regulations that protect public drinking water systems don't apply to privately owned wells, leaving owners responsible for ensuring their water is safe from contaminants.

In assessing how frequently hydraulic fracturing takes place close to a , a 2016 EPA report said that drinking supplies located near are more likely to be impacted should a contamination event occur. How many privately owned wells could face a similar fate is undetermined.

Motivated by the EPA study, UC Santa Barbara researchers Scott Jasechko and Debra Perrone sought to change that.

The investigators amassed a large database of private wells and compared their locations to hydraulic fracturing sites. Conducting a scientific analysis of data that spanned 15 years, from 2000 to 2014, and covered nearly 27,000 wells in 14 states, they found that about half of all hydraulically fractured wells stimulated in 2014 existed within 2 to 3 kilometers of a domestic groundwater well. Their results appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This co-location emphasizes the need to determine the frequency that hydraulic fracturing activities impact groundwater well water quality. This knowledge is important to maintaining high-quality water in many domestic wells," said co-author Jasechko, an assistant professor at UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. "Our results underscore the importance of increased water monitoring efforts near both hydraulically fractured and conventional oil and in ascertaining the risk of contamination and in protecting water well quality."

Jasechko and Perrone charted the data on a variety of maps, one of which tracked hotspots. "These hotspots are areas where, in light of potential contamination mechanisms, limited resources for assessing spill frequency and well integrity could be used more effectively and efficiently," explained Perrone, an assistant professor in UCSB's environmental studies program.

Perrone noted that some hotspot areas include not only hydraulically fractured but also conventional oil and gas wells, which are more abundant. "We can use these hotspot analyses to focus resources, so that we can learn more about oil and gas contamination mechanisms: How often do they occur, and do they have an impact on groundwater?" she said.

"Our analysis underscores the need to increase monitoring efforts to maximize the probability that we can identify well waters that may be impacted, and do our best to remediate, contain and isolate potentially contaminated waters before they cause harm," Jasechko added. "We can consider stronger policies that include requirements for repeated groundwater quality testing of the many domestic self-supply wells that exist close to ."

Often, research can be limited by the amount of data available. In this case, the problem is a lack of consistent data across states as well as across industries. In fact, the scientists found vast differences in how states collect groundwater data.

"One policy recommendation would be to have a national standard for data collection on groundwater well construction," Perrone said. "On the energy side, a national standard for data collection for both unconventional and conventional oil and gas wells could provide opportunities for increased transparency across jurisdictional boundaries."

Explore further: Can fluids from fracking escape into groundwater

More information: Scott Jasechko el al., "Hydraulic fracturing near domestic groundwater wells," PNAS (2017). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1701682114

Related Stories

Groundwater is safe in potential N.Y. fracking area

July 30, 2014

Two Cornell hydrologists have completed a thorough groundwater examination of drinking water in a potential hydraulic fracturing area in New York's Southern Tier. They determined that drinking water in potable wells near ...

Recommended for you

Multiple stellar populations detected in the cluster Hodge 6

February 18, 2019

Using ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have found that the cluster Hodge 6 hosts multiple stellar populations. The detection could provide important hints on the formation and evolution of Hodge 6 and star clusters ...

Predicting sequence from structure

February 18, 2019

One way to probe intricate biological systems is to block their components from interacting and see what happens. This method allows researchers to better understand cellular processes and functions, augmenting everyday laboratory ...

Energetic particles can bombard exoplanets

February 18, 2019

TRAPPIST-1 is a system of seven Earth-sized worlds orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star about 120 light-years away. The star, and hence its system of planets, is thought to be between five-to-ten billion years old, up to twice ...

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (3) Nov 27, 2017
Most sewage treatment plants exist within 2 to 3 kilometers of domestic groundwater systems.

Whats your point?
5 / 5 (2) Nov 28, 2017
What??? Don't you get Mackita's point? We can't even find out what crap they are pouring down those holes. It only proofs that the petrol businesses have our elected officials by the short hairs.
not rated yet Nov 28, 2017
We can't even find out what crap they are pouring down those holes
We know what crap is being flushed down toilets and poured down sinks, part of which produces megatons of grit which is disposed in landfills.

"When landfill waste degrades and rain rinses the resulting products out, leachate is formed. The black liquid contains organic and inorganic chemicals, heavy metals as well as pathogens; it can pollute the groundwater and therefore represents a health risk."

- Of course. And most landfills "exist within 2 to 3 kilometers of domestic groundwater systems".

Leachant quantity is many orders of magnitude above that of fracking operations. And the poisons found in leachant are much worse than fracking fluids. And the trip down into water tables is much shorter and easier than the one up from fracking zones.

So you've got to ask yourselves what it is that tickles your fancy about fracking while polluting at far greater scales is going on.

Are you fashion whores?
5 / 5 (1) Nov 28, 2017
So you've got to ask yourselves what it is that tickles your fancy about fracking while polluting at far greater scales is going on.

Worse problems fallacy.

Both concerns need addressing - one doesn't excuse the other.
1 / 5 (1) Nov 28, 2017
Frankly I pity the common people of Texas for being so submissive to official corruption.

The paarable of the Ants and the Grasshopper comes to mind.

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.