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19th December 2016
Another scientific report finds evidence of industry's impact on public resource.

By Andrew Nikiforuk 30 Mar 2016

Another scientific study has confirmed that fracking, the controversial technology that blasts apart low-grade rocks containing molecules of hydrocarbons, can contaminate groundwater.

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"We have, for the first time, demonstrated impact to Underground Sources of Drinking Water (USDW) as a result of hydraulic fracturing," says the study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Researchers from Stanford University published their findings after combing through publicly available data on the drilling, fracking and cementing of scores of tight gas wells in Pavillion, Wyoming.

"Given the high frequency of injection of stimulation fluids into USDWs to support [coalbed methane] extraction and unknown frequency in tight gas formations, it is unlikely that impact to USDWs is limited to the Pavillion Field, requiring investigation elsewhere."

The scientists matched chemical compounds used in fracking to chemicals found in two groundwater monitoring wells drilled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2008.

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No jurisdiction in Canada has yet set up long-term groundwater monitoring wells to track the movement of contaminants from oil and gas drilling into groundwater.

The researchers also discovered that industry fracked directly into aquifers at depths as shallow as 213 metres with highly toxic chemicals, including benzene.

The industry routinely contends that fracking is safe because it is occurring miles underground.

But shallow fracking of coal seams and other formations in Colorado, Wyoming, Alabama and Alberta from the 1980s onward has resulted in lawsuits, public protests and evidence of extensive groundwater contamination.

The new study also found that different companies in Pavillion, Wyoming used acid and hydraulic fracturing treatments at the same depths as water wells in the area. Waste disposal pits contaminated groundwater, too.

"This is a wake-up call," said lead author Dominic DiGiulio, a visiting scholar in Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences in a press release. "It's perfectly legal to inject stimulation fluids into underground drinking water resources. This may be causing widespread impacts on drinking water resources."

"Decades of activities at Pavillion put people at risk. These are not best practices for most drillers," said co-author Rob Jackson, the Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor at the Stanford school. "There are no rules that would stop a company from doing this anywhere else," added Jackson.

In recent years, study after study has raised concerns about the impacts of both deep and shallow hydraulic fracking on drinking water, gas migration, badly cemented wellbores and earthquake hazards.

In Canada, hydraulic fracturing has turned previously quiet areas into landscapes rattled by both small and significant tremor activity in Alberta and British Columbia.

Canadian seismic researchers warned this week that the technology has caused so many tremors above a magnitude of three that "the likelihood of damaging earthquakes and their potential consequences needs to be carefully assessed when planning hydraulic fracturing operations" in Western Canada.

In addition, last year Painted Pony Petroleum, a B.C. natural gas producer, calculated that 130,000 wells might be needed to extract methane from the Montney formation in the province for liquefied natural exports. Such activity would require "two million possible fracs."