Fracking wells have been found to be responsible for methane gas contamination of drinking water, a new study has revealed. Published Monday, the new Duke University study focused on drinking water quality in northeastern Pennsylvania.
On average, wells used for drinking water located within a kilometer (or, just over half a mile) have six times as much methane gas present as wells father away, the study says.
Researchers came to their conclusions after studying water well samples from six counties in Pennsylvania. The area has boomed for natural gas production, as numerous fracking operations have established themselves in the northeastern counties.
Though the gas is sometimes found naturally in drinking-water wells, researchers confirmed that the methane found in their samples were of the same variety being drilled for at the fracking sites.
The study also found excessive levels of ethane and propane in wells located close to fracking operations. These gases are not known to be naturally occurring in water wells.
The LA Times reports that one of the study’s authors, Professor Robert Jackson, noted that there is little data regarding a connection between long-term methane exposure and human health problems. At present it is not believed to be harmful, he said.
Regardless of the effects of methane on health, allowing the gas to accumulate in large amounts can be dangerous, as it is highly explosive.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a relatively new drilling method which involves drilling deep into the earth’s crust. At deep levels there are layers of shale rock. This layer is cracked using high pressure water pumps, and natural gas is released and captured for energy use.
Critics claim this process contaminates the fresh water tables in the area drilling is conducted. To some degree this new study further confirms these previously unverified claims by fracking opponents.
As controversy around the increasingly widespread natural gas extraction method commonly known as fracking continues, this study from Duke is likely to only add fuel to the fire.
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