Nowhere near a final report, much less the last word on the issue, a U.S. Department of Energy study's preliminary findings that Marcellus shale natural gas drilling is unlikely to contaminate water wells nevertheless brighten the outlook for an industry that must operate safely to maximize this clean, affordable domestic energy source's benefits.
Researchers from South Park's National Energy Technology Laboratory used seismic instruments, tracer fluids and shallow bore holes to monitor — for a year — Marcellus drilling at a Greene County site with some older, shallower wells. Thus far, there's no evidence of hydraulic fracturing chemicals injected deep into the Earth traveling to within 5,000 feet of the surface, almost a mile from aquifers.
The final report is expected by year's end. Drilling can contaminate water via above-ground mistakes and poor gas-well construction. And fracking fluid, moving just a few feet per day, might contaminate aquifers over longer periods, though impervious rock caps both the Marcellus and Utica shales.
Still, the preliminary findings are encouraging — and all the more significant for coming from respected, independent researchers.
Marcellus shale natural gas drilling already has produced tangible benefits. This study suggests concerns about groundwater and fracking won't stop the industry short of realizing its full potential as a key component of eventual U.S. energy independence.
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