Duke, Ohio State, Stanford, Dartmouth, Rochester scientists conclude that failed pipe and cement allowed gas to leak

The first peer-reviewed comprehensive studies testing drinking water quality and any links to nearby shale gas production have found that the well completion process known as hydraulic fracturing was not the cause of any migration of gas into contaminated wells. The study results pointed to the need for much stronger quality control measures for standard well construction procedures and the materials used in the drilling process.

Teams of highly qualified scientists from five of the nation’s most prestigious research universities found that leaking well shafts, not fracing, was the cause of fugitive methane contamination in water wells above the Marcellus and Barnett shale plays, two of North America’s most heavily fraced areas for shale gas.

“These results appear to rule out the possibility that methane has migrated up into drinking water aquifers because of horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing, as some people feared,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke.

The scientists evaluated more than 400 natural gas wells in northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York, 130 wells in central Arkansas, 100 wells in North Carolina, and 50 wells in West Virginia. The overall result published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that the contamination of well water around drill sites occurred because of failed casing and cementing.

“We found eight clusters of wells — seven in Pennsylvania and one in Texas — with contamination, including increased levels of natural gas from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania and from shallower, intermediate layers in both states,” said Thomas H. Darrah, assistant professor of earth science at Ohio State, who led the study while he was a research scientist at Duke.

“Our data clearly show that the contamination in these clusters stems from well-integrity problems such as poor casing and cementing,” Darrah said.

Duke University issued a press release announcing the results of the groundbreaking study.

To read the scientific publications coming out of studies on hydraulic fracturing and water quality, please click here.

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