After news broke that an ongoing University of Cincinnati (UC) study, which included baseline samples, has found no water contamination from hydraulic fracturing, the Times Reporter reported that the funders were “disappointed” in the results.
This news comes after environmental groups originally praised the ongoing study, even giving the UC lead researcher Dr. Amy Townsend-Small an award for her work on the project. But as Dr. Townsend-Small said at a recent public meeting hosted by the anti-fracking Carroll County Concerned Citizens (CCCC),
“I’m really sad to say this but some of our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results. They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping our data could point to a reason to ban it.” (emphasis added)
Although UC claimed it did not take funding from groups opposed to fracking, it turns out that’s not exactly the case. The study received over 18 percent of its funding from the Deer Creek Foundation. As the Chamber of Commerce uncovered this week, Deer Creek Foundation gave $25,000 to the Media Alliance in Oakland, Calif. for a documentary on the “rise of ‘extreme’ oil and gas extraction – fracking, tar sands development, and oil drilling in the Arctic” as well as $20,000 to the Northern Plains Resource Council, a Montana activist group that states on its website, “Fracking damages water, land and wildlife.” EID has also uncovered that Deer Creek Foundation donated at least $20,000 to WildEarth Guardians, which is a key player in the “Keep-it-in-the-Ground” anti-fossil fuel movement that has been especially active in Ohio lately.
EID has been following this ongoing study for three years and was on hand to capture the announcement of the results on film. Here are five key statements made by Dr. Townsend-Small about the UC findings during her presentation – and here’s a link to the full video:
- “All the samples fell within the clean water range and they did not find any changes over time either in any of our homes during the time series of fracking.”
- “We never saw a significant increase in methane concentration after fracking well was drilled.”
- Samples that were collected that were high in methane “clearly did not have a natural gas source.”
- “Some of our highest observed methane concentrations were not near a fracking well at all.”
- “There was no significant change in methane concentration over time, even as more and more natural gas wells were drilled in the area.”
Dr. Townsend-Small said in her presentation that UC teamed up with CCCC to attract participants for the water analysis. The researchers examined water samples taken three to four-times per year from five Ohio shale counties. The primary focus area was actually in the most active Utica county, Carrol County, where sampling was conducted on 23 water wells from 2012 to 2015, for a total of 191 samples. Here’s a page from Dr. Townsend-Small’s presentation, which can be found here:
“The UC study is unique in comparison with studies on water wells in other shale-rich areas of the U.S. where fracking is taking place – such as the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. Townsend-Small says water samples finding natural gas-derived methane in wells near Pennsylvania fracking sites were taken only after fracking had occurred, so methane levels in those wells were not documented prior to or during fracking in Pennsylvania. The only way people with private groundwater will know whether or not their water is affected by fracking is through regular monitoring.”
The voluntary water samples from private water wells were analyzed for concentrations of methane as well as hydrocarbons and salt.
UC has no immediate plans to publish this first-of-its kind, multi-year groundwater study, but as was mentioned above, the full results were announced at a recent anti-fracking public meeting hosted by Carroll County Concerned Citizens (CCCC), which is a member of the Frackfree America National Coalition.
With such great results the big question is: why aren’t the researchers making their findings available to the public? To explain that, a little more background is needed on the study itself, including how it was originally embraced by environmental groups, who called the study “novel” and a “groundbreaking approach” to monitoring groundwater resources near fracking sites in Ohio.
Environmental groups originally praised the study
Over the course of the past few years, environmental groups praised this unique groundwater analysis again and again. To highlight this point, UC’s Dr. Townsend-Small was awarded the first-Ever Science and Community Award from Ohio Environmental Council (OEC), a state-wide honor for her innovative work testing groundwater in Eastern Ohio. According to their website The OEC is Ohio’s “most comprehensive and respected environmental advocate for a healthier, greener, and more prosperous Ohio.” In a press release, the OEC announced the 2014 award recipient this way:
“This innovative research study is examining the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on groundwater in Ohio’s Utica shale. Led by UC geologist Amy Townsend Small, this first-of-a-kind project is testing for the presence of methane (the primary component of natural gas) and its origins in groundwater and drinking water wells before, during, and after the onset of fracking. Other studies have focused on water contamination only after fracking is complete. The project involves the gathering and analysis of water samples in eastern Ohio by UC graduate and undergraduate students.
The OEC is honored to recognize these four champions of environmental conservation. Each has demonstrated outstanding ingenuity and perseverance to help make Ohio a cleaner, more vibrant place to live, work, and play. Congratulations to them for helping to secure healthier air, land, and water for all who call Ohio home.” (Emphasis Added)
[T]hese studies never analyzed groundwater before the onset of fracking. Because fracking has only just begun in Ohio, we have an opportunity to make baseline measurements of methane in water wells.”
In 2013, CCCC put out a press release on the ongoing study with the headline, “Carroll County group to learn about methane, water on Nov. 14.” But the preliminary results were described at the meeting this way:
“We haven’t seen anything to show that wells have been contaminated by fracking.”
Fast forward to 2016, when, just days before the results were made public, the CCCC put out a press release with the headline, “Groundwater methane in Carroll County,” which would lead readers to believe that methane found in groundwater was from fracking. But at that meeting, Dr. Townsend-Small stated,
“Some of our highest observed methane concentrations were not near a fracking well at all” (emphasis added)
The response from the anti-fracking groups? Silence. In fact, after learning the results of the three year study, the leader of CCCC, Mr. Paul Feezel said, “You all are very quiet tonight.”
A local reporter who attended the February 4th meeting reported that,
“An audience member asked if the university was going to publicize the results of the study, noting that had the findings been unfavorable to drilling, that would have been national news.”
It’s interesting to note that before this good news, and clean bill of health, there was no shortage of efforts to get the word out about the “Groundwater methane in Carroll County at Feb. 4th Meeting” and many outlets covered that story.
As is evident by the legitimate water contamination findings in Flint, Michigan, and most recently in Sebring, Ohio, it’s clear that efforts to tackle water pollution should be directed at ageing infrastructure issues and pre-existing water quality conditions from naturally occurring methane.
If these Ohio activists were truly concerned about water quality, they would focus their funding, campaigns, and public relations efforts on these real concerns, as opposed to trying to find “a reason to ban” fracking.
To echo Dr. Townsend’s point, it is “really sad” that anti-fracking activists found this news to be disappointing. It’s a further sign that they are not truly fighting and funding to defend and promote health and safety issues. They are instead driven by a political campaign to ban the oil and natural gas development that’s bringing so many benefits to Ohio.