Research shows fracking may not contaminate ground

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There is no direct link between fracking and contamination of groundwater, according to preliminary results of a study by UT’s Energy Institute.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, involves shooting high-pressure water mixed with sand and other chemicals into shale rock causing it to shatter and release natural gas. Though fracking has been used for decades, environmentalists have recently become concerned the process may be polluting ground water, said Charles Groat, geology professor and Energy Institute associate director and project leader.

Research began in May to separate fact from fiction, Groat said. He said the Barnett, Marcellus and Haynesville shales, areas which range from Northeast Texas to the Northeast U.S., have been scientifically tested.

“The basic thing we found out was that the subject so many are concerned about is not actually happening,” Groat said.

Reports of groundwater contamination are rare, Groat said, and when they occur, fracking is not to blame. Rather, above-ground leaks, the mishandling of waste water and poor casing or cement jobs could be causing the contamination.

“If you spill something or something leaks, those are things you have to pay attention to,” Groat said. “Those are problems with anything, though, and not specific to shale fracking.”

This study covers a six-month period and Groat said much more research is needed to find the long-term, cumulative effects and risks of fracking. His study will continue for the remainder of 2011, but he said he recommends an additional baseline study be implemented to learn more about long-term effects.

“Things go on in and around the surface that we need to pay attention to,” Groat said. “Accidents happen, but being educated can prevent them.”

For the remainder of the study, Groat and his team will interview residents of fracking areas, review popular media concerns of fracking and make suggestions on government regulations of the method.

Electrical engineering freshman Shawn Bhalla said he will feel more comfortable about fracking when more research is done.

“I still think there needs to be more safety precautions set in place,” Bhalla said. “I think we will be able to frack with more efficiency [after more research is done.]”

Electrical engineering junior Leonardo Gomide said this study proves how much scientists still need to learn.

“This really shows how little we know about what we are doing to the environment and how quickly things change in the engineering field,” Gomide said.

Printed on Thursday, November 10, 2011 as: Energy Institute research disproves harmful effects of fracking