Scientists Track Fracking Pollution by Measuring Groundwater Contaminants


Fracking has allowed the U.S. to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's largest producer of oil and gas. This process, though, has long been thought to cause environmental pollution. Now, scientists are taking a closer look at the chemicals in groundwater in order to assess whether or not fracking is polluting the environment as much as environmentalists claim. Fracking is a process of oil and gas extraction that includes pumping water and chemicals into a casing that's inserted into the ground. The pressure from this mixture forces cracks in the rock below the surface. These cracks create passages for oil and natural gas to flow; the resources are then extracted. The wastewater created from this process, though, is what has most environmentalists worried. "In several cases in the U.S. where very high concentrations of methane were found in the vicinity of fracking sites, energy companies could not be held legally responsible for the contamination simply because there was no record of pre-exploitation gas levels in the groundwater," said Yves Gelinas, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This study is the first to document natural gas levels, plus their sources, so that those levels can be compared to those at fracking sites." During the course of the study, the researchers sampled 130 residential and municipal wells in a region covering about 14,000 square km between Montreal Leclercville and Troi-Rivieres, as well as the foothlls of the northern Appalachians. This allowed them to assess the quality of groundwater in these areas and pave the way for future studies. Out of these wells, the scientists found that 14 percent exhibited concentrations of methane greater than seven milligrams per liter, which is the acceptable threshold of methane as specified by the Government of Quebec. They also discovered that in the majority of wells this methane occurred naturally. That's not all they discovered. The researchers found that no concentration of radon, a harmful gas that is both colorless and odorless, exceeded the level of permissible radioactivity established by Health Canada. This is especially important since fracking has been linked to an increase in radon. "Now that we have established the normal levels of harmful chemicals like radon that naturally within a given area, we can carefully monitor whether these levels increase when big energy companies come in to mine for shale gas--and then hold those companies accountable if we do see pollution levels go up, as is widely believed," said Gelinas in a news release. The findings pave the way for future monitoring practices in this region. More specifically, it gives governments a way to hold companies accountable if any pollution were to occur. The findings are published in a report online here.



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