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Drinking Water Under Threat: New Study Predicts Frack Fluids Can Migrate to Aquifers Within Years

But the study concluded that natural faults and fractures in the Marcellus, exacerbated by the effects of fracking itself, could allow chemicals to reach the surface.

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Ground Water is the journal of the  National Ground Water Association, a non-profit group that represents scientists, engineers and businesses in the groundwater industry.

Several scientists called Myers' approach unsophisticated and said that the assumptions he used for his models didn't reflect what they knew about the geology of the Marcellus Shale. If fluids could flow as quickly as Myers asserts, said Terry Engelder, a professor of geosciences at Penn State University who has been a proponent of shale development, fracking wouldn't be necessary to open up the gas deposits.

"This would be a huge fracture porosity," Engelder said. "So I read this and I say, 'Golly, does this guy really understand anything about what these shales look like?' The concern then arises from using a model rather than observations."

Myers likened the shale to a cracked window, saying that samples showing it didn't contain fractures were small in size and were akin to only examining an intact section of glass, while a broader, scaled out view would capture the faults and fractures that could leak.

Both scientists agreed that direct evidence of fluid migration is needed, but little sampling has been done to analyze where fracking fluids go after being injected underground.

Myers says monitoring systems could be installed around gas well sites to measure for changes in water quality, a measure required for some gold mines, for example. Until that happens, Myers said, theoretical modeling has to substitute for hard data.

"We were trying to use the basic concepts of groundwater and hydrology and geology and say can this happen?" he said. "And that had basically never been done."

 

Abrahm Lustgarten is a former staff writer and contributor for Fortune, and has written for Salon, Esquire, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

 
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