EPA Fracking Study – The Pennsylvania Picture

PennEast - Jim Willis reports

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


The EPA fracking study is even better than reported if one looks into the details for Northeast and Southwest Pennsylvania – two prime shale regions.

Last Friday Marcellus Drilling News reported the good news that the EPA is finally winding down a years-long study of the potential impacts of fracking on groundwater supplies. The upshot? Fracking doesn’t pollute water supplies .

This is the result of a process that began in 2009 when Congress asked the EPA to study fracking and water, with an eye toward regulating fracking using the federal Clean Water Act. The EPA eventually designed a study and began their research in 2011. The final report was due in 2014 but was later moved to 2016. This draft report is the prelude to the final report. Weighing in at 998 pages long, the report says there’s lots you can be scared about–but in fact none of the nightmare scenarios about fracking and water have come true. This was a hard report to file for the Obama EPA–we’re sure of that.

Tucked in the bowels of the report are details that the EPA themselves conducted 17 research projects and published 20 scientific papers as a result. Two of those projects looked at shale drilling in the Pennsylvania Marcellus region–one study in the northeast (full study embedded below), and one in the southwest (full study embedded below). What did they find?

The study for the northeast, largely conducted in Bradford County, PA (with a few locations in Susquehanna County), tested and sampled water from 36 private wells, 2 springs used as a source of drinking water, and 2 surface water sources (or ponds). The EPA tested these 40 water sources because their owners had complained that nearby fracking had somehow contaminated or negatively affected their water. So the EPA went right to the problem spots. Collectively the 40 wells/sources were located within one mile of 100 fracked shale wells.

EPA Fracking Study

And what did the EPA find in NEPA? Well, check out the full study and/or the EPA fact sheet but here’s the self-explanatory bottom line in the form of key findings from the research:

  • No evidence of impacts on homeowner wells and springs from flowback water, produced water or injected hydraulic fracturing fluids was found in the study.
  • Background data showed that methane is naturally occurring in the study area; however, using multiple lines of evidence EPA concluded that up to nine of the 36 drinking water wells are impacted by stray gas (methane and ethane) associated with nearby hydraulic fracturing activities.
  • EPA detected elevated levels of chloride and total dissolved solids in a pond in the study area. This pond is adjacent to a well pad that had reported releases of fluids and solids in 2009. This pond is not used as drinking water source.

Some of the wells had high levels of methane in them, but the EPA couldn’t or wouldn’t say the methane had migrated from fracked wells. There is, according to EPA scientists, no evidence to support it. There was precisely one well where the methane isotope can “likely” be traced to a nearby shale well–out of the 40 wells/sources tested. One. And that was methane (i.e. natural gas), an eminently fixable problem.

What about in the southwest part of the state? For the SWPA study (fact sheet here), the EPA tested and measured 16 water wells, 3 springs, and 3 surface water locations (ponds, including wastewater impoundments). They included tests for radioactivity.

EPA Fracking Study

Once again, the locations were selected because of complaints about water quality. The EPA zeroed right in on the complainers and didn’t bother with a wider sampling of non-complainers. What did they find?

  • EPA found increased levels of chloride in ground water at locations near an impoundment site which contained hydraulic fracturing wastewaters and drilling waste. The chloride contamination likely originates from the impoundment site based on multiple lines of evidence.
  • Background data showed that methane is naturally occurring in this area and was detected in 24% of the samples collected from domestic wells. The isotopic signature of the methane present in domestic wells was not similar to that of gas produced from the shale being hydraulically fractured.

The EPA found an increase in some nasty chemicals near a leaky wastewater impoundment. We already knew about that and in fact such impoundments will likely be phased out in PA soon.

Also, in some cases, water turbidity may be affected by drilling activity. Particles like manganese and iron are naturally occurring in the area–in large amounts. When the ground gets vibrated, the EPA theorizes it shakes loose the manganese and iron and it enters the water. While it may not look all that great, it’s not a big deal and certainly won’t kill you to drink “hard water.” (No, we’re not trying to minimize that some landowners may be affected for a period of time–we’re pointing out lack of case that “fracking pollutes water” when it does not.)

There was plenty of dissolved methane in the water (24% of the samples collected had it)–none of it due to Marcellus drilling. It’s naturally occurring.

In other words – no smoking gun in SWPA, just like NEPA. Fracking is safe, when done right. When things aren’t done right (like the leaky wastewater impoundment), there’s problems. This is as it is with any industrial process.

EPA Fracking Study Smoking Gun

Sorry fractivists – No smoking gun!

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15 thoughts on “EPA Fracking Study – The Pennsylvania Picture

  1. Pingback: Josh Fox Implodes on FOXNatural Gas Now

  2. From the EPA report …..( CONCLUSIONS ) ….read it read the conclusion not only the part you want ! and even though widespread affects are not recognized local issues do occur ….Conclusion Conclusions
    Through this national-level assessment, we have identified potential mechanisms by which
    hydraulic fracturing could affect drinking water resources. Above ground mechanisms can affect
    surface and ground water resources and include water withdrawals at times or in locations of low
    water availability, spills of hydraulic fracturing fluid and chemicals or produced water, and
    inadequate treatment and discharge of hydraulic fracturing wastewater. Below ground mechanisms
    include movement of liquids and gases via the production well into underground drinking water
    resources and movement of liquids and gases from the fracture zone to these resources via
    pathways in subsurface rock formations.
    We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on
    drinking water resources in the United States. Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report,
    we found specific instances where one or more of these mechanisms led to impacts on drinking
    water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The cases occurred during both
    routine activities and accidents and have resulted in impacts to surface or ground water. Spills of
    hydraulic fracturing fluid and produced water in certain cases have reached drinking water
    resources, both surface and ground water. Discharge of treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater has
    increased contaminant concentrations in receiving surface waters. Below ground movement of
    fluids, including gas, most likely via the production well, have contaminated drinking water
    resources. In some cases, hydraulic fracturing fluids have also been directly injected into drinking
    water resources, as defined in this assessment, to produce oil or gas that co-exists in those
    formations……….also word games of No evidence of impacts on homeowner wells and springs from flowback water, produced water or injected hydraulic fracturing fluids was found in the study.
    Background data showed that methane is naturally occurring in the study area; however, using multiple lines of evidence EPA concluded that up to nine of the 36 drinking water wells are impacted by stray gas (methane and ethane) associated with nearby hydraulic fracturing activities.
    EPA detected elevated levels of chloride and total dissolved solids in a pond in the study area. This pond is adjacent to a well pad that had reported releases of fluids and solids in 2009. This pond is not used as drinking water source…..ARE JUST THAT ……since the fracing process is just one cause of issues related .Natural methane is usually shallow and has been at low levels ( and No nuisance for years ) until drilling occurred .What about spills,venting ,flaring ,fumes ,silica dust ,continous VOC’s from facilities ( compressors,leaks,drill sites ….!!! just Cherry picking what you want to here again .

      • NO you read the conclusion .This gets directly to the point….I find fault with the EPA for the way they have constructed this report .I;m sure they had influences from other sources ….

    • OK Bill, I see you can cut and paste. Now look at the prefatory words throughout their “conclusions.” Remember, this is an outfit that has greatly exceeded their legislative intent in every way possible, and are solidly behind solar incinerator panels and Cuisinart spinning mills, and every one of their statements are “may,” “might,” “could,” “possible,” Now, for the actual screw-ups that spilled over their pits or something else either stupid or from acts of God, I would have thought the EPA, whom some of their enforcers carry side-arms, would have found dozens of instances of pollution and spills – particularly when the Marcellus play is a modern boom-town like that part of the country has not seen in 100 years. The fracs are too deep, too small, too little actual pressure, and too much overburden of thousands of feet of rocks to contaminate any potable water source…unless there is a cement failure in the casing. Those casing failures should never occur if the casings are gauged, bond logs are run, and water-shut-off-tests are run, then it is literally not possible for such contamination. However, surface accidents do occur, but at a rate that the EPA, after all those years, and two million frac jobs to study, only found a couple cases? The answer for you is that the Marcellus requires serious horsepower, financially, to tackle, and only the well financed pros are candidates. That is why the professionalism is so high, along with the fact that avoidance of environmental issues is ingrained in every driller from birth…or at least since the 1969 Santa Barbara spill. Your other issues, general catch-all for manufacturing industries I suspect, do not occur. The valves and fittings are inspected for leaks regularly by third parties. There is no or nominal voc’s from the operations above ordinary household products. Flares reduce the methane emissions by 90% through the burning of the gas. Whenever flares are needed, however, including urban (right up against people’s homes in CA cities) and government facilities (some parking lots have City owned oil wells “Surf City” for example, in their parking lots with screened flares), they are contained, but there is still the 10% emissions left that will be completely eliminated once sufficient gas gathering lines are installed. I thank you for presenting opposition, however misguided, in a thoughtful fact oriented manner. Also, I know that some wells in CA will be sheared completely, by an earthquake. It happens, the wells get plugged, the operator takes the hit from Nature, and life goes on. That is business.

      • Look tell the people who have had issues that it’s all just to small or insignificant .Cement logs (what a jock since they are not standard for every well .I checked this with Scott Perry ( DEP long ago .Another thing is the more horsepower the more pollution and possible migration .You do know that they have developed frac fluids that work at much lower PSI .I talked with the fellow who developed it not long ago .Also your line about how much inspection is done on equipment and rant about flaring is just a joke since from experience ( that comes from my experience with other industries and their screw ups ) taught me that problems always occur with operations of any kind.My posts come from what I have lived for over 5 years here .So you can’t BS me on how wonderful it all is since I have seen much different .Another point to mention is water pollution is just one of the many issues ( nuisances ) related to your NG extraction operation …END

        • Ok Bill, last time round the horn with you. CBL’s, a form of a sonic log, will be run routinely to assess whether there are any “holidays” or voids. This is a critical step, even though with multiple measurements, to the ounce of the fill volume, using cement shoes and valves, the slurry is pumped in under pressure, but this is not concrete. Only a boll-weevil would use concrete. The cement is very plastic and designed to provide maximum fill capacity and fast setting. Most operators and cement companies are confident of what went in the hole long before cased logs are run. The State’s various air inspectors will fine the Operators up to $20k/day for valve , tank hatches, fittings, engines and other emission sources when detected. The inspections are quite serious and regular. Flaring is not a joke, but a very serious, and highly regulated matter. Anyone who has handled legal, permitting and compliance for petroleum companies will tell you it is highest priority and quite expensive to maintain. That is what I mean by horsepower. The muscle to handle drilling of phenomenally complex and sophisticated wells, ability to complete hugely expensive and very high pressure, high temperature wells with tools even NASA could appreciate, is a marvel of modern engineering. That along with the financial wherewithal to handle crises’ and accidents, if God forbid, something goes wrong. Anyway, you seem determined to stop “big, bad, oil guys” from doing whatever it is that offends you. Good luck with that Bill. BTW, if you just happen to visit any new drilling operation, you might be surprised – those rigs out there are not your daddy’s drilling rigs…”End.”

          • With all the Bull you just handed me it doesn’t change the fact that HVHF process is a heavy industrial operation being allowed next to people’s homes and industrial operations are prone to have numerous issues .That’s why industrial zoning was established .Safety will never be a consistent feature .If so why do we still have oil leaks in the Gulf and Pacific .There will always be issues that no one plans for !!That’s why drilling will never be ‘SAFE “

  3. Here again, maybe the clickers who click they don’t like this post could explain why for once? Maybe their convictions are based upon emotion instead of science? Perhaps.

    • “On science “…….. is that like the science you and the EPA want people to believe ….industrial will always be industrial .That’s why zoning was developed .

  4. Simple, Bill. neither you nor anyone will stop fracking. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. NEVER, EVER, EVER. Clear enough for you?

    • Don;t bet on it !! nuisances created on people’s property that exceed their property are a legal issue and will be pursued ( FOR sure) …..get the point !!!!!!

  5. Pingback: My New York Dream, Or Was It A New York Nightmare?Natural Gas Now

  6. since i seem to be surfing articles and comments this AM…

    how incredibly instructive to contrast the articulate in-depth engineering knowledge of Stephen Harris above with the tiresome rantings and anecdotes of one Bill.

    this pretty much sums up the shale debate. technically and ethically challenged zealots biting the hand that feeds them their comfy modern lifestyle.

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