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How Duke University Plays Ball Outside the Park

delaware riverkeeper - Jim Willis reports

Jim Willis
Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)

 

Duke University plays differently when the Park Foundation isn’t paying the bill. They sound almost pro-fracking when the facts are all that matters. 

For years now, the radical Park Park Foundation has been buying its research from a few select professors at a few select universities. One of the scientists for sale is Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment (see Duke Hit Piece on Shale Water Usage from Same Park-Sponsored Prof and Latest Case of Duke U Bought & Paid “Research” by Park Foundation).

Here’s how it works: Park funds Dr. Vengosh’s “research,” and he conveniently “discovers” all sorts of nasty things about shale fracking, publishing his “research” in obscure, peer reviewed journals. Mainstream media picks it up and runs it. Readers who only scan headlines get the impression fracking is evil. Mission accomplished for Park (another hit on fracking) and for Vengosh (another buck in his pocket). That’s how it works in the world of bought-and-paid-for fractivism.

duke university avner-vengosh-2013-07-06-2

Avner Vengosh

But when the Park Foundation doesn’t pay the bill for the research, Vengosh turns in research that doesn’t slam fracking. Case in point: Vengosh has just published yet another study, this time in the journal Science of The Total Environment, funded by the National Science Foundation. Vengosh’s new research finds there’s really nothing to worry about after all when it comes to Marcellus Shale wastewater. He goes so far as to say with proper treatment, shale wastewater “potentially could have beneficial reuses.” Imagine that? From the same guy who previously bashed fracking as one of the world’s evil activities (emphasis added):

Naturally occurring brines, not man-made fracking fluids, account for most of the wastewater coming from hydraulically fractured unconventional oil and gas wells, a new Duke University study finds.

“Much of the public fear about fracking has centered on the chemical-laden fracking fluids — which are injected into wells at the start of production — and the potential harm they could cause if they spill or are disposed of improperly into the environment,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“Our new analysis, however, shows that these fluids only account for between 4 and 8 percent of wastewater being generated over the productive lifetime of fracked wells in the major U.S. unconventional oil and gas basins,” Vengosh said. “Most of the fracking fluids injected into these wells do not return to the surface; they are retained in the shale deep underground.

“This means that the probability of having environmental impacts from the man-made chemicals in fracking fluids is low, unless a direct spill of the chemicals occurs before the actual fracking,” he said.

More than 92 percent of the flowback and produced water — or wastewater — coming from the wells is derived from naturally occurring brines that are extracted along with the gas and oil.

These brines carry their own risks, Vengosh stressed. They contain varying levels of salts, heavy metals and naturally occurring radioactive elements, and their sheer volume makes disposing of them a challenge.

“But with proper treatment, they potentially could have beneficial reuses,” he said, “especially out West, where our study shows most brines being produced by fracked wells are much less saline than those in the East. These Western brines, which are similar in salinity to sea water, could possibly be treated and re-used for agricultural irrigation or other useful purposes, especially in areas where freshwater is scarce and drought is persistent.”

The Duke team published its findings Oct. 14 in the peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment.

The researchers used three statistical techniques to quantify the volume of wastewater generated from unconventional oil and gas wells in six basins nationwide: the Bakken formation in North Dakota; the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania; the Barnett and Eagle Ford formations in Texas; the Haynesville formation in Arkansas, Louisiana and East Texas; and the Niobrara field in Colorado and Wyoming.

Using multiple statistical techniques “helped us more accurately account for changes in each well’s wastewater volume and salinity over time, and provide a more complete overview of the differences from region to region,” said Andrew J. Kondash, a doctoral student in Vengosh’s lab at Duke’s Nicholas School, who led the study.

“This makes our findings much more useful, not just for scientists but for industry and regulatory agencies as well,” he said.

Among other findings, the new study shows that the median volume of wastewater produced by an unconventional oil or gas well ranges from 1.7 to 14.3 million liters per year over the first five to 10 years of production. The volume of produced water coming from these wells declines over time, while its salinity increases.

“The salt levels rise much faster than the volume declines, resulting in a high volume of saline wastewater during the first six months of production,” Vengosh said. After that, the volume of wastewater produced by a well typically drops, along with its hydrocarbon output.

Elizabeth Albright, assistant professor of the practice of environmental science and policy methods at the Nicholas School, co-authored the study with Kondash and Vengosh.

Funding came from the National Science Foundation…and the Duke University Energy Initiative.

Here’s the abstract from the newly published study:

The management and disposal of flowback and produced waters (FP water) is one of the greatest challenges associated with unconventional oil and gas development. The development and production of unconventional natural gas and oil is projected to increase in the coming years, and a better understanding of the volume and quality of FP water is crucial for the safe management of the associated wastewater. We analyzed production data using multiple statistical methods to estimate the total FP water generated per well from six of the major unconventional oil and gas formations in the United States. The estimated median volume ranges from 1.7 to 14.3 million L (0.5 to 3.8 million gal) of FP per well over the first 5–10 years of production. Using temporal volume production and water quality data, we show a rapid increase of the salinity associated with a decrease of FP production rates during the first months of unconventional oil and gas production. Based on mass-balance calculations, we estimate that only 4–8% of FP water is composed of returned hydraulic fracturing fluids, while the remaining 92–96% of FP water is derived from naturally occurring formation brines that is extracted together with oil and gas. The salinity and chemical composition of the formation brines are therefore the main limiting factors for beneficial reuse of unconventional oil and gas wastewater.

Can there be any clearer example that money buys outcomes in fractivist research?

Editor’s Note: It would seem to be no coincidence that the Park Foundation’s last grant to the Nicholas School at Duke University was a $70,000 one in 2014 for “research into the environmental and health risks of oil and gas wastewater disposal in the Marcellus Shale region.” This was the same amount Park gave the school in 2013 for a “study of the environmental effects of gas drilling wastewater production and disposal.” This was on top of $50,000 in 2011 for a “the completion of a study of the impact of gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing on water quality and to promote policy safeguards.” When the money stopped the research apparently changed directions, or was it the other way around?

duke university

Duke University Environmental Hall 

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5 thoughts on “How Duke University Plays Ball Outside the Park

  1. Please see excerpt from my Article

    Goodwin, R.W. “COMMENTARY: EPA and Peer Review Science – Environmental Evaluation Hydraulic Fracturing [Part II]”; Oil Pro, Sept. 14, 2016

    A review [analysis and evaluation] of regulatory and governmental scientific peer reviews shows that Hydraulic Fracturing [HF[ does not pose an environmental and/or health threat – when practiced according to sound engineering principles.

    http://oilpro.com/post/27282/commentary-epa-and-peer-review-science-environmental-evaluation-h

    In an examination of 130 wells, the researchers [Duke – NSF study] found that, when properly conducted, no groundwater or aquifer pollution resulted from the practice of fracking itself. Among the 130 wells studied, the researchers found only a subset of cases, including seven in Pennsylvania and one in Texas, in which faulty well construction or cementing was to blame for the seepage of gases into groundwater

    Thomas H. et. al. “Noble gases identify the mechanisms of fugitive gas contamination in drinking-water wells overlying the Marcellus and Barnett Shales “Duke and NSF STUDY August 14, 2012

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