CSU Report: Fracking is not Contaminating Colorado’s Water

A new study, building on previous research, has led researchers at Colorado State University (CSU) to conclude that there is “no evidence of water-based contaminants seeping into drinking water wells atop a vast oil and gas field in northeastern Colorado.”

The latest study published in Water Research, is the second in a series of ongoing reports looking at oil and gas development impacts on water quality as part of Colorado Water Watch, a real-time groundwater monitoring project in the Denver-Julesberg Basin. The area under review spans Colorado’s top oil and gas producing region and the researchers state they “primarily looked at the 24,000 producing and 7,500 abandoned wells in the Wattenberg Field, which sits mainly in Weld County.” As CSU civil and environmental engineer professor Ken Carlson told the Denver Post:

“We feel that our results add to our database of knowledge,” Carlson said. “There isn’t a chronic, the-sky-is-falling type of problem with water contamination.”

Notably, Carson’s team found that the occurrence of methane in drinking water wells in the region is not a result of increased drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations. As the study concludes:

“The results of the study did not indicate systematic contamination of aquifers with methane due to oil and gas activities in the Wattenberg field, and elevated methane levels do not appear to be the result of increased drilling and fracturing. More likely, increased methane occurrence is due to aquifer utilization in areas with abundant sources of naturally occurring biogenic methane.”

When CSU researchers looked at whether flowback and produced water from oil and gas operations was contaminating aquifers, the study found:

“The results of these analyses indicate no concurrent gas and liquid phase contamination of groundwater from oil and gas activity.”

Additionally, the researchers did not find “a correlation between oil and gas activity and the occurrence of methane in water.”  As CSU Today reported when the study was released:

“Our study does not indicate a systemic problem with oil and gas activity polluting water wells with methane in the Denver-Julesburg Basin,” Carlson said. “As with any industrial activity, there does appear to be a low-level risk of impact to the surrounding environment. Regulations aimed at well drilling, casing and surface activity have changed significantly over the past five years, driving these risks to even lower levels.”

And while researchers found thermogenic methane present in a small percentage of wells in the region, they were quick to highlight to the media that this is not exactly cause for alarm. From the Denver Post:

“My guess is that most the thermogenic methane-contaminated wells we see out there are 10 to 30 years old,” Carlson said. “Well-casing requirements and monitoring have tightened up significantly since the 2009 regulations.”

But the study reports that, “the two groundwater wells that had ‘thermogenic’ concentrations of methane were not located in the higher-density drilling areas.” And while the study does not rule out that stray thermogenic methane could have impacted the two wells, the overall conclusion is that there is no “systemic” methane contamination taking place as a result of oil and gas development. From the study:

“Methane is pervasive in groundwater wells in the Wattenberg field with widely varying concentrations. Greater than 98% of dissolved methane measurements appear to have been generated from microbial processes, and the concentration and occurrence increased with increasing water well depth. The results of the study did not indicate systematic contamination of aquifers with methane due to oil and gas activities in the Wattenberg field, and elevated methane levels do not appear to be the result of increased drilling and fracturing. More likely, increased methane occurrence is due to aquifer utilization in areas with abundant sources of naturally occurring biogenic methane.”

CSU’s findings are the latest in a bevy of research with similar conclusions, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s five-year study that found “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.”

The results of CSU’s research will come as another blow to the credibility of activists working to place a ballot measure to ban hydraulic fracturing before the state’s voters in 2016. In fact, as this new research proves, extreme activist groups like Coloradans Against Fracking, Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development, the Colorado Community Rights Network, Food & Water Watch and the Sierra Club, are just wrong.

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