University of Cincinnati study finds fracking’s bad rap is not supported
By Carol McIntire
A three-year study by the University of Cincinnati in Carroll and surrounding counties determined hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has no effect on groundwater in the Utica shale region, is not being released to the public.
Dr. Amy Townsend-Small, the lead researcher for the University of Cincinnati Department of Geology, released the results during the Feb. 4 meeting of the Carroll County Concerned Citizens in Carrollton.
During her presentation, which was videotaped and is available for viewing on YouTube, Townsend-Small stated, “We haven’t seen anything to show that wells have been contaminated by fracking.”
When asked at that meeting if the university planned to publicize the results, Dr. Amy Townsend-Small, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati Department of Geology and the leader of the study, said there were no plans to do so.
“I am really sad to say this, but some of our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results. They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping this data could to a reason to ban it,” she said.
Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marrietta, whose district includes Carroll, Harrison and Belmont counties, is calling for the university to release its findings. Thompson noted the study received state funding in the form of an $85,714 grant from the Ohio Board or Regents and federal funding from the national Science Foundation for an isotope ratio mass spectrometer.
“It is unacceptable that taxpayers have funded this important groundwater study and the findings are being kept from the public,” said Thompson. “UC still has not produced a full report of their findings, nor has the university issued a press release of their results. Yet, during the course of the past few years, the university has released countless advisories on the multi-year Groundwater Research of Ohio study. I am calling on the University of Cincinnati Department of Geology to release their full findings surrounding this study immediately. The people of Ohio have funded and deserve to know that private water wells in shale counties have not been impacted.”
The study aimed to measure methane and its sources in groundwater before, during and after the onset of fracking. The study corresponded with an increase in active gas wells in Carroll County from three in late 2011 to 354 in 2015. Wells in three counties listed above as well as Stark and Columbiana were tested. Groundwater from 27 private water wells, ranging from 35 to 115 meters in depth three to four times a year over a two-year period from November 2012 to February 2015. A regional field campaign was also conducted in May 2014 in which 95 groundwater wells were sampled within the five counties. One hundred fifteen samples were collected from drinking water wells and two from springs. Participation in the study was voluntary.
A thesis paper submitted by Elizabeth Claire Botner (who participated in the study) as part of the requirements for her master’s degree in science, noted a majority of the study took place in Carroll County primarily for two reasons: 1.) a lack of water quality data exists in the region due and 2.) Carroll County has the greatest number of hydraulic fracturing permits in Ohio.
At the onset of the study, 161 wells were permitted in the county and by the time the study concluded in May 2015, over 400 wells were permitted.
Botner’s paper noted, “dissolved methane was detected in all sampled wells, however, no relationship was found between the methane concentration and proximity to natural gas wells. The highest levels of dissolved methane were observed at sites in Carroll and Stark counties and were more than 5 km from active gas wells.”
Through testing, it was determined that in three of the four sites with elevated levels the source of methane is liked coalbed gas. The other is site is consistent with anaerobic respiration of soil organic carbon.
Botner’s paper also noted, “a small subset of groundwater wells in the Utica Shale region consistently contained elevated methane levels, but stable isotope analysis indicated biological sources.”
“While past studies have found evidence for Marcellus Shale-derived natural gas contamination in Pennsylvania drinking water wells due to improper well construction and maintenance, shale gas development firms may be using safer well construction practices in the relatively newer drilling area of the Utica Shale to avoid leakage from the well casings,” she wrote.
She noted, as did Townsend-Small, that continual monitoring of groundwater quality, methane concentration and sources is needed to assess the longer-term impacts of hydraulic fracturing.