Study reveals fracking pollution

Recent study by UTA scientists reveals high levels of carcinogens in some water-wells associated with unconventional oil and gas extraction.

Professor of Analytical Chemistry Dr. Schug and other UTA scientists published a peer-reviewed study of ground-water contamination in areas of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on Wednesday according to the UTA press release.

The scientists examined 550 water samples from wells in the Barnett Shale. The study, A Comprehensive Analysis of Groundwater Quality in the Barnett Shale Region, found high level of metals and traces of 19 hazardous chemical compounds associated with hydraulic fracturing according to the press release. The Barnett Shale is a 5,000 square mile area that stretches west and south, according to the Railroad Commission of Texas.

“This is the most comprehensive study of this kind today,” Schug said. “No one has looked at this large of a population of water wells all at once. The combination of chemicals that we find can be linked to unconventional drilling, but actually sourcing the particular events or a particular part of the process is not too straightforward.”

Benzene, a known carcinogen, was found in 34 water wells, according to the release. Benzene is part of the BTEX [Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzen and Xylene] group which are compounds generally associated with the unconventional drilling process, according to the release. In all 34 wells, the amount of benzene surpassed the Environmental Protection Agency enforceable limit, according to the study.

Hildenbrand said benzene could cause several types of leukemia, kidney and liver cancer and even neurogenic diseases.

“In the concentrations that we’re seeing, it is most likely that this is not naturally occurring, but it is used in the oil and gas industry,” Hildenbrand said. “BTEX compounds have been regarded as smoking gun evidence. So, if you find BTEX compounds in water, it’s the most indicative form of evidence that you would have of oil and gas contamination.”

When rock material is moved to the surface during the fracking process, it becomes radioactively unstable and is now exposed to the people, said Alisa Rich, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of North Texas, during a conference in Fort Worth.

“Those radiological isotopes are actually coming into our drinking water, and we’re ingesting and inhaling through our showers higher concentrations of radioactive material,” Rich said. “That’s why we’re seeing a lot of thyroid cancer, that’s why we’re seeing breast cancer, that’s why we’re seeing these cancers occur that are normally associated with radiation. And the question is: Where is it coming from? Now we have to back up, and prove that that’s where it’s coming from; which is actually not too hard to do.”

Typically, layers of cemented casing are placed on the holes of the wells to isolate drinking water from oil and gases that can move through the surface, according to the Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources by the EPA.

Drinking water resources can be impacted from sub-surface liquid and gas movement if casing or cement are inadequately designed for constructed, or fail, according to the study.

The number of cases where drinking water resources were affected by fracking is small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells, according to the study.

Hildenbrand said although the percentage of cases is small, it is still a large number. Hildenbrand quoted a study by Dr. Anthony R. Ingraffea from Cornell University, which reported that 12 percent of the casing on gas wells on the Marcellus Shale, is failing within the first year.

“If 12 percent of the wells are failing over the first year, that casing is only getting weaker over the years,” Hildenbrand said. “12 percent might not sound like a lot, but in the case of the Dallas Fort-Worth Metroplex, you’re looking at over 20,000 wells in the area.”


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