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Study dismissing danger of fracking water contamination criticized

Most Georgia readers have probably heard about hydraulic fracturing—commonly called “fracking”—which has become a growing industry in recent years, even within Georgia. Along with the growth of the industry, there has been growing concern about the safety of the process, which uses chemicals underground to access natural gas reserves. Environmentalists have called for increased safety standards to govern the process so that underground water reserves are not contaminated.

The potential of fracking to harm residents near drilling sites is not a small concern, as some studies have connected fracking to potential birth defects and other health problems. In one study recently published by Yale University, those living near natural gas wells were found to be over twice as likely to develop lung and skin problems compared to those who don’t.

According to a recent study, it is actually not fracking itself that is the main factor to blame in well water contamination, but faulty wells. The study, led by a research scientist from Duke University, found that methane and other gas leaking into private wells is caused by poor well integrity, including such factors as poor casing or cementing.

This conclusion was reached by testing samples from various wells in Texas and Pennsylvania and tracking the source of the methane leak. What was found was that the methane leaks were not the result of fracking chemicals migrating to underground water supplies nor were they naturally occurring. The problem was connected to well integrity.

That conclusion has, not surprisingly, been challenged by those who counter that well integrity failures are quite rare and that naturally occurring methane in well water is more common than cited by the study. Hopefully more studies will come out in the future which contribute to the discussion of the safety of fracking. The safety of those living near drilling sites depends on it.

Source: USA Today, “Study: Faulty gas wells, not fracking, pollute water,” Wendy Koch, September 15, 2014. 

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