When it comes to drilling for natural gas, the Obama administration is also exploring for answers. And it has concluded that the best way to ensure safer hydraulic fracturing is for the federal government to increase its oversight.
A big part of the president’s environmental agenda is to reduce carbon emissions, which has come by changing out coal plants for those that run on natural gas that is derived from unconventional shale gas. But as everyone knows by now, that natural gas is discovered by pumping a concoction of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to loosen up the shale from the rocks where it is embedded.
And the concern is over whether the “flow back” to the surface is getting into drinking water supplies. Indeed, Stanford University has updated its research and weighed in on this issue. In a formal release issued this week, the university poses the question of whether living near a fracking site affects drinking water:
“The answer to that question is usually ‘no,’ but there are exceptions,” said Stanford Professor Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and at the Precourt Institute for Energy.
“We have found a number of homes near active wells with very high levels of natural gas in the tap water,” Jackson continues. “Where the chemistry suggests contamination, the problem usually lies with the integrity of the well, either the cementing used to isolate it from the surrounding rock and water or the steel casing that allows gas and oil to flow upwards.”
Most of the wells with issues were those that were poorly constructed, he concludes. Others with problems were far shallower than the typical depths of a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Jackson points to a study that discovered 2,600 wells were drilled at depths of 3,000 feet or less.
Last summer, the US Environmental Protection Agency found that there is no “widespread” problem associated with fracking and potable water supplies. Still, it had wanted more of the power to oversee those drilling operations to be monitored at the federal level, as opposed to the state level where it fears that drillings and local regulators have too cozy of a relationship.
“While hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources, we did not find evidence,” the EPA report said, “that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” “The number of identified cases,” the EPA continued, was “small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”