Quantcast
Energy

Stanford Scientist Finds People Living Near Shallow Fracking Wells at Risk of Drinking Water Contaminated With Methane

By Padma Nagappan

A Stanford University scientist has found that people who live near shallowly drilled oil and natural gas wells risk drinking water contaminated with methane. A potent greenhouse gas, methane is highly flammable.

A Stanford researcher found the highest risk of methane leaks was from shallow natural gas wells drilled in California, Pennsylvania and Texas.

“The main risk is from chemical spills and poorly constructed wells that leak," said Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth System Science at Stanford, who presented his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, DC, last week. “Our research shows that most problems typically occur within half a mile.

“In Parker County, Texas, we found homes with very high levels of methane when their water bubbled due to gas. The biggest risk from methane in water is explosions, which could happen in a basement or sheds where gas builds up. Also, a well that leaks methane could be leaking other things into the groundwater."

The government does not classify methane dissolved in drinking water as a health hazard.

Such contamination was typically traced to natural gas wells with insufficient cement barriers to separate them from surrounding rock and water or to improperly installed steel casings that allow the gas to travel upward.

Hydraulic fracturing wells that were installed at depths of 3,000 feet or less posed a risk for groundwater contamination. Jackson found there were at least 2,600 such shallow fracking wells in the U.S., many of which were drilled directly into freshwater aquifers.

In California, Jackson discovered hundreds of wells drilled into aquifers fewer than 2,000 feet from the surface.

“There are a lot of pockets of natural gas and oil that are found in shallow levels, plus we don't do very deep drilling because of seismic activity,"Jackson said.

Regions of the U.S. with the highest risk for groundwater contamination from fracking include California as well as parts of Pennsylvania and Texas where bedrock is naturally fractured. Millions of abandoned oil and gas wells in California, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and other gas-producing states also pose a threat.

Local geology plays a role in leaks. For instance, when Jackson sampled groundwater in Arkansas, he didn't encounter contamination because rock formations provided a seal against potential leaks.

But fracking has led to significant increases in groundwater contamination in Pennsylvania and Texas. He found high levels of methane, ethane and propane in the drinking water of homeowners living within half a mile of wells in northeastern Pennsylvania, near the Marcellus shale gas field.

“Fracking can be and is done safely much of the time," Jackson said. “Occasionally, though, companies make mistakes. We need to understand why they occur and how to prevent them from happening elsewhere."

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Climate Experts to American Geophysical Union: Reject Exxon Sponsorship

Why Would the New York Post Plug Climate Denier Profiteers?

Bill McKibben: It's Not Just What Exxon Did, It's What It's Doing

Harvard Study: U.S. 'Likely Culprit' of Global Spike in Methane Emissions

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Energy
Mackinac Bridge from Straits of Mackinac. Gregory Varnum / Wikimedia Commons

Michigan Gov. Signs Bill to Keep Line 5 Pipeline Flowing

Michigan's outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation on Wednesday that creates a new government authority to oversee a proposed oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac to effectively allow Canadian oil to keep flowing through the Great Lakes.

The controversial tunnel will encase a replacement segment for Enbridge Energy's aging Line 5 pipelines that run along the bottom of the Straits, a narrow waterway that connects Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The illegal La Pampa gold mine, seen here in 2017, has devastated the Peruvian Amazon and spread poisonous mercury. Planet Labs

Unprecedented New Map Unveils Illegal Mining Destroying Amazon

A first-of-its-kind map has unveiled widespread environmental damage and contamination of the Amazon rainforest caused by the rise illegal mining.

The survey, released Monday by the Amazon Socio-Environmental Geo-Referenced Information Project (RAISG), identifies at least 2,312 sites and 245 areas of prospecting or extraction of minerals such as gold, diamonds and coltan in six Amazonian countries—Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. It also identified 30 rivers affected by mining and related activities.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Mako sharks killed at the South Jersey Shark Tournament in June 2017. Lewis Pugh

Shark Fishing Tournaments Devalue Ocean Wildlife and Harm Marine Conservation Efforts

By Rick Stafford

Just over three years ago, I was clinging to a rock in 20 meters of water, trying to stop the current from pulling me out to sea. I peered out into the gloom of the Pacific. Suddenly, three big dark shapes came into view, moving in a jerky, yet somehow smooth and majestic manner. I looked directly into the left eyes of hammerhead sharks as they swam past, maybe 10 meters from me. I could see the gill slits, the brown skin. But most of all, what struck me was just how big these animals are—far from the biggest sharks in the seas, but incredibly powerfully built and solid. These are truly magnificent creatures.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Sen. Joe Manchin and United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts held a press conference on Oct. 3, 2017. Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call

Coal-Friendly Manchin Named Top Dem on Senate Energy Panel

After weeks of discord over the potential appointment, Sen. Joe Manchin, the pro-coal Democrat of West Virginia, was named the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sen. Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday.

Many Democrats and environmental groups were adamantly opposed to Manchin serving as the top Democrat on the committee that oversees policies on climate change, public lands and fossil fuel production.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Hikers on the Mt. Hollywood Trail in Griffin Park, Calif. while a brush fire burned in the Angeles National Forest on Aug. 26, 2009. Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Major Health Study Shows Benefits of Combating Climate Change

During the holiday season, people often drink toasts to health. There's something more we can do to ensure that we and others will enjoy good health now and into the future: combat climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Employees of Rural Renewable Energy Alliance working together with students and faculty of Leech Lake Tribal Collage to construct solar panels, 2017. Ryan James White

A Tribe in Northern Minnesota Shows the Country How to Do Community Solar

By Susan Cosier

Last summer on a reservation in northern Minnesota, students from Leech Lake Tribal College earned their solar installation licenses while they dug, drilled and connected five photovoltaic arrays. The panels shine blue on the plain, reflecting the sky as they generate roughly 235 megawatts of electricity a year, enough to help 100 families pay their energy bills. This is community solar in action.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
Arches National Park. Chris Dodds / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trump Auctions Off 150,000 Acres of Public Lands for Fracking Near Utah National Parks

On Tuesday the Trump administration offered more than 150,000 acres of public lands for fossil-fuel extraction near some of Utah's most iconic landscapes, including Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
The Vanderford glacier in East Antarctica is one of four that is beginning to melt, according to NASA. Angela Wylie / Fairfax Media / Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Melting Discovered in East Antarctic Region Holding Ice 'Equivalent to Four Greenlands'

Ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica have been melting at alarming rates in recent years, but at least the glaciers of East Antarctica were believed to be relatively stable. Until now. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists have discovered that glaciers covering one-eighth of Antarctica's eastern coast have lost ice in the past 10 years. If the region keeps melting, it has enough ice in its drainage basins to add 28 meters (approximately 92 feet) to global sea level rise, BBC News reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!