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News About Fracking and Groundwater

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the demand on groundwater from its use to hydraulically fracture wells, and possible contamination of wells by hydraulic fracturing and improper completion of wells.

Air Products and Chemicals is promoting the use of nitrogen foam instead of water in fracking in shallower formations.

A second study of wells in the Marcellus Shale led by Rob Jackson of Duke Universty, published in the Prodceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found increased methane in water wells located close to recent shale wells. “Overall, our data suggest that some homeowners living < 1 km from gas wells have drinking water contaminated with stray gases," Jackson's team concluded. The study does not directly link the methane to the Marcellus wells because of the lack of data on the quality of the groundwater before the wells were drilled.

The EPA has abandoned its investigation into possible contamination of groundwater by fracking in Pavillion, Wyoming, saying that it would instead support the state’s investigation.  EPA released a draft report in 2011 that found frac fluids present in groundwater; its report was heavily criticized by the industry.

Scarcity of groundwater in the Permian Basin in West Texas has caused operators to turn to water recylcing and use of brackish (non-potable) groundwater. A recent study by UT Austin estimated that 20% of the frac water used in that area came from recycled or brackish water. The study found that in Dimmit, Webb and LaSalle Counties – all in the Eagle Ford Shale — more than 50% of total water use comes from mining, which includes fracking.

Barnhart, a small town in Irion County in West Texas, has run out of water. It’s well has run dry. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has listed 30 communities statewide that could run out of water by the end of the year.

A report by the Texas Water Development Board showed groundwater levels dropped significantly in Texas aquifers. In South Texas’ Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer, the principal source for frac water in the Eagle Ford, median groundwater levels dropped 4.4 feet in monitoring wells, and the average drop was 17.1 feet. One monitoring well in LaSalle County ropped some 136 feet.

Here is a good article on the relation between water resources and hydraulic fracturing:

Ceres, an environmental non-profit, has published a paper analyzing water use in fracking operations and efforts being made by industry to use alternatives to potable groundwater. It found that more than half of the wells drilled in Texas in 2011 were in areas with high or exremely high “water stress.”


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