Friday, March 23, 2012

Texas study actually shows fracking industry does contaminate water - and Institute which conducted it is funded by fracking company

Much of the media are reporting that a new study has supposedly shown that there is no evidence of fracking contaminating water. If you read the full study it says ‘no direct evidence’ (implying there is indirect evidence) and is also playing with words by pretending that drilling the well for fracking, lining it and transporting chemicals used in fracking above ground are not fracking – as they are separate stages of the process. This is like arguing that the BP / Halliburton DeepWater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico was nothing to do with the oil drilling industry because it was the result of the casing of the well being done imperfectly. It’s just playing with words. The reality is the fracking industry does contaminate water (and also air through flaring).

You can even find out half of this from the press release from the University, never mind the original study (1).

On top of that the people quoting this study are ignoring the fact that it was done by the Energy Institute of the University of Texas, which is funded by ConocoPhillips with at least $1.5million, ConocoPhillips being an oil and gas company currently facing law suits relating to it's fracking activities. That’s only the money we know about, because many American universities are refusing to say whether particular studies were funded by private companies or not, let alone which companies or by how much (2) – (3).

Even leaving aside the bias and conflict of interest in the study due to it's funding by a company involved in fracking (which means it has no credibility anyway), if you actually read the whole study, it's full findings are very different to the carefully misleading wording used in claiming that there's "no evidence that fracking contaminates water"

Time magazine reports that the study found that "Instead, researchers concluded that the problems associated with fracking tend to be due to mistakes made in other parts of the drilling process, like casing failures that allow drilling fluids and gas to escape from a well, poor cement jobs and spills on the surface. “These problems are not unique to hydraulic fracturing,” Charles Groat, an Energy Institute associate director and the lead author of the study, said in a statement." (4) So in other words fracking does cause these problems – but so does drilling for oil on land (something everyone knows already, so redundant).

It found that fracking does contaminate water in practice, because mistakes are made and short-cuts taken, leading to breaches in the casing during fracking and spilling of fracking chemicals above ground just as with drilling for oil, except that fracking pollutes ground water on land and so our drinking water.

Additionally the study admits that methane and various toxic materials present in the earth before fracturing begins may be released into wells and ground water due to fracturing, contaminating it - which shows how dishonest the summary claiming 'no evidence of contamination due to fracking' is.

See page 19 of the original study on this, which says "It appears that many of the water quality changes observed in water wells in a similar time frame as shale gas operations may be due to mobilization of constituents that were already present in the wells by energy (vibrations and pressure pulses) put into the ground during drilling and other operations rather than by hydraulic fracturing fluids or leakage from the well casing. As the vibrations and pressure changes disturb the wells, accumulated particles of iron and manganese oxides, as well as other materials on the casing wall and well bottom, may become agitated into suspension causing changes in color (red, orange or gold), increasing turbidity, and release of odors." (5)

Also note the ‘may’ – not very definite language.

So saying fracking doesn't cause it is misleading if the drilling to prepare for fracking the transportation of chemicals for fracking and the lining of the drilled wells does.

When this study and other proponents of fracking claim that water or air contamination is “not caused by fracking” it’s like claiming that the BP / Halliburton DeepWater Horizon oil spill was not due to drilling for oil because it was due to faulty capping of the well with concrete – it’s playing with words. In fact the fracking industry’s activities do cause water and air pollution just as oil drilling does cause oil spills and water and air pollution. The difference with fracking is that it's on land where spills can pollute water supplies and gas from flaring is likely to have dispersed less than gas flared on oil rigs by the time it reaches land, meaning it will affect more people breathing it in.

(1) = Energy Institute of the University of Texas press release 23 Mar 2012 'Study Shows No Evidence of Groundwater Contamination from Hydraulic Fracturing',

(2) = University of Texas ‘ConocoPhillips Gives $1.5 Million to Fund Cutting-Edge Energy Research’,

(3) = 23 Jan 2012 ‘Lawsuit Filed Against ConocoPhillips for Alleged Fracking-Related Water Contamination’

(4) = Time 17 Feb 2012 ‘Shale Gas: It’s Not the Fracking That Might Be the Problem. It’s Everything Else’,

(5) = Groat, Charles G. & Grimshaw, Thomas W. ( 2012) ‘Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development’,  Energy Institute of the University of Texas, February 2012,[1].pdf (seems to download ok after a couple of refreshes on Internet Explorer, but won’t download on Firefox)

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