Syracuse University study: fracing does not affect methane levels in drinking water

In a new study that examined 11,309 drinking water wells, researchers at Syracuse University in New York discovered that background levels of methane in the water are unrelated to their proximity to wells using hydraulic fracturing. The finding suggests that fracing operations are not significantly contributing to the leakage of methane from deep rock formations up to the shallower aquifers where well water is drawn.

The new study contradicts previous studies conducted by researchers at Stanford University published in 2011 and 2013 that found methane migrated from hydraulically fractured wells into aquifers. “I would argue that [more than] 10,000 data points really tell a better story,” says hydrogeologist Donald Siegel, the lead of the Syracuse team. Siegel does not deny that additional methane can leak into water from unsound wells, but his research suggests this rarely occurs.

The research database was supplied and funded by Chesapeake Energy (ticker: CHK).

Controversy surrounds the various studies, with the methods both being questioned, reports Science Insider. Sigel believes that the 2011 and 2013 studies painted an inaccurate picture because the sample size was much smaller and skewed toward locations with known well-casing issues.

Critics of the new study, including Robert Jackson, the lead hydrogeologist for the Stanford studies, say it is unclear whether the CHK samples were measured at the water well itself or inside the houses, after the water may have had time to release its methane fumes. He also points out that the samples were collected using a method that is often avoided because it allows the methane to percolate out of the solution.

Siegel says he plans to publish three more studies using the Chesapeake data. One will examine the connections between background methane and the hydrogeological setting, and another will look at the other chemical constituents in ground water. A third will take a focused look at how methane levels vary over time in 12 homes in which water wells were instrumented and monitored around the clock for one to two years.

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