Initial Findings of the Department of Energy’s Study on Groundwater Contamination from Hydraulic Fracturing

Penn State

Governmental preliminary research indicates no groundwater contamination from one well’s analysis.

Last week, the Department of Energy (DOE) released preliminary findings on groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing studies. In 2012, the National Technology Lab (NETL), a branch of the DOE, began a monitoring study of groundwater. The limited statement released by NETL stated:

“NETL has been conducting a study to monitor for any signs of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing operations at a site on the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania. We are still in the early stages of collecting, analyzing, and validating data from this site. While nothing of concern has been found thus far, the results are far too preliminary to make any firm claims. We expect a final report on the results by the end of the calendar year.”

In one well located in Greene County, tracered drilling fluids were injected more than 8,000 feet below the surface at the gas well bore. No detection of the markers was found in a monitoring zone at a depth of 5,000 feet. The researchers also tracked the maximum extent of the man-made fractures, and all were at least 6,000 feet below the surface. These were about a mile away from surface drinking water supplies, which are usually at depths of less than 500 feet.

A separate series of older gas wells about 3,000 feet above the Marcellus were monitored to see if the fracking fluid reached up to them, and eight Marcellus wells were monitored seismically as well. In one well, seismic monitoring indicated one hydraulic fracture traveled 1,800 feet out from the well bore while most traveled just a few hundred feet. The fracture may have hit naturally occurring faults, something both industry and regulators don't want, although it was still over a mile from the surface.

What does all this mean? Preliminary results indicate that hydraulic fracturing fluids stay well below ground. Results from only one well is not conclusive, but this is the first time that industry has allowed governmental researchers to use and monitor tracers in hydraulic fracturing fluid. Preliminary research findings will be published in the next few months as studies continue.