Univ. of Texas Study: No Link Between Hydraulic Fracturing and Groundwater Contamination

Jim Willis
Editor, Marcellus Drilling News


Hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas has no direct connection to reports of groundwater contamination, based on evidence reviewed in a study released Thursday by the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin.

The 414-page study, titled “Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development,” was released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The research team examined evidence contained in reports of groundwater contamination attributed to hydraulic fracturing in three prominent shale plays — the Barnett Shale in North Texas; the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, New York and portions of Appalachia; and the Haynesville Shale in western Louisiana and northeast Texas.

The report also identifies regulations related to shale gas development and evaluates individual states’ capacity to enforce existing regulations. In addition, university researchers analyzed public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing, as derived from popular media, scientific literature and online surveys.

“Our goal was to provide policymakers a foundation for developing sensible regulations that ensure responsible shale gas development,” said Dr. Charles “Chip” Groat, an Energy Institute associate director who led the project. “What we’ve tried to do is separate fact from fiction.”

Faculty members from across The University of Texas at Austin campus participated in the research, which the Energy Institute funded. The Environmental Defense Fund also assisted in developing the scope of work and methodology for the study.

Other findings from the Energy Institute study include:

  • Natural gas found in water wells within some shale gas areas (e.g., Marcellus) can be traced to natural sources and probably was present before the onset of shale gas operations.
  • Media coverage of hydraulic fracturing is decidedly negative, and few news reports mention scientific research related to the practice.

To read the complete report, visit http://energy.utexas.edu/.

Video of Dr. Groat discussing the study:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWW5jcwxSsw?rel=0]

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  1. Stan Scobie says:


    I have a few observations:

    1. In the first 55 pages there is not one formal reference, despite a lot of factual and conceptual assertions. The reader is told that the details will be found further on – with no useful guidance as to just where.

    2. The 414 pg copy I downloaded yesterday from the U.T. site is a draft, yet the general media buzz and the presentation on the U.T. website is that it is a “report” implying carefully honed and finished and complete.

    3. The detailed section that I read very carefully, “Section 4 Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Development,” is labeled clearly “draft.”

    In a part I was particularly interested in, about substance migration related to drilling and fracking, only two of the seven references I marked for follow up were listed in the reference section.

    In an interesting instance the Boyer et al (2011) study of substance migration, published in Center for Rural Pennsylvania and subsequently withdrawn by the authors for further review, is cited without qualification as a fully fledged piece of science.

    There are very many other errors, citations incompletely described, obsolete and/or incomplete sets of related and appropriate references, etc.

    Overall, I was extremely disappointed in the quality of the work as a useful piece of “science” despite the tantalizng title: “Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection….”

    It is just not ready for prime time.

    Stanley R Scobie, Ph.D., Binghamton, NY

    • Tom says:

      Noting that a report clearly labelled “draft” is a draft is hardly a revelation, Stan. I’d be interested to know if you made the same critique of the EPA’s Pavillion report.

  2. Stan Scobie says:

    I am reposting here a response to an article about the Groat, U. Texas study:


    by: MajellaMcCarron

    “Charles Groat’s Study is Worthless – and why …

    Groat’s work was funded by the Energy Institute at University of Texas. The same Energy Institute is being funded by the large energy company ConocoPhillips funding to the tune of $1.5 million over five years. The Energy Institute is funded by other large energy companies whose names have not yet been revealed.

    Groat is on the Board of Directors of PXP. PXP is an oil and gas company primarily engaged in the activities of acquiring, developing, exploring and
    producing oil and gas in its core areas of operation : California, Texas and Louisiana.

    PXP is in a joint venture with Chesapeake Energy Corporation in the Haynesville Shale. Chesapeake is the second-largest natural gas producer in the United States. It’s also the most active new-well
    driller in the country and the No. 1 horizontal-well driller in the world.

    How can Groat expect anyone to believe that this study was not influenced by the money paid into the Energy Institute by four big energy companies? Groat himself has stated that he “is optimistic that donations can be
    made with arms-length legal provisions to prevent donors from influencing research outcomes.” Seems like Groats himself had concerns.

    How can Groat expect anyone to believe that this study was not influenced by the fact that he is a Director of an Oil & Gas Company – a company which works hand in hand with the second-largest natural gas producer in the US?

    The saying “He who pays the piper calls the tune”
    has never sounded more apt.”


    Reposted by:
    Stanley R Scobie, Ph.D. Binghamton, NY

    • Tom says:

      Well, Stan, if funding disqualifies, then I assume we cannot believe a word of the Park Foundation funded studies by Howarth, Ingraffea, Christopherson, et al either. Is that how you see it?

      • Vic Furman says:

        Tom….don’t expect a reply…..it’s hard to speak with your foot in your mouth

  3. Karen Shearer says:

    Stan surely raises a reasonable point. Clearly the funders of the other studies (Howarth et al) should be borne in mind too. But it doesn’t change the fact that it would be naive not to bear in mind the interests/funders of any one piece of work. It is difficult to find anything which can be classified as entirely neutral. The EPA and other government agencies which have no vested interests and are state funded are, in my view the most reliable sources of information.

  4. Vera says:

    the latest scientific warnings against drilling/fracking:

    Federal Scientists Warn NY of Fracking Risks


    • Tom says:

      The EWG is just another Park Foundation entity serving the interests of some of the wealthiest people in the world and that report is about nothing more than protecting their interests – those of the NRDC benefactors who own tens of thousands of acres in the Catskills.

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