Fracking Is Not Harming Groundwater in Pennsylvania, Studies Show

Published August 13, 2018

Two new peer-reviewed studies released within weeks of each other show hydraulic fracturing to produce oil and natural gas, commonly called “fracking,” is not contaminating groundwater in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania.

11,000 Samples, No Pollution

The first study, from researchers at Penn State University and published in the scholarly journal Environmental Science & Technology, analyzed data from 11,000 groundwater samples taken from 1,385 natural gas wells in Bradford County.

The researchers report they found “an overall trend of improving water quality” in the county “despite heavy Marcellus Shale development.” They state they found “no statistically significant deleterious impact on ten analyses related to the aggressive increase in development of unconventional shale-gas since 2008.”

“The most interesting thing we discovered was the groundwater chemistry in one of the areas most heavily developed for shale gas—an area with 1400 new gas wells—does not appear to be getting worse with time, and may even be getting better,” said Susan Brantley, director of Penn State’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, in a press release upon the study’s publication.

Proper Procedures Prevent Pollution

This study reinforces the fact when fracking operators follow the proper procedures, the process does not pollute, says Isaac Orr, a policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“The fact the Penn State study found groundwater quality may be improving over the last several years is interesting for two reasons,” Orr said. “It reconfirms that fracking, when done correctly, has few impacts on groundwater quality, and it demonstrates on a broader scale we have developed effective ways of mitigating groundwater pollution from all sources of industry, not just the natural gas industry.

“Gone are the days where American progress necessarily degrades the environment,” said Orr. “We’ve figured out how to have natural resource development, economic growth, and a healthy environment.”

Fracking Not Releasing Methane

In the second study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at Yale University analyzed data from eight monitoring wells in Susquehanna County during a two-year period before and after seven natural gas wells were drilled and brought into production.

“Our observations suggest that SGD [shale gas development] was an unlikely source of methane in our valley wells,” the authors report.

Although some methane fluctuations could have been related to fracking, the researchers determined these “appeared to be ephemeral, restricted to the proximity of the well pad, and too small to constitute a water-quality concern.” They found “naturally occurring methane in valley settings, where regional flow systems interact with local flow systems, is more variable in concentration and composition both temporally and spatially than previously understood,” the researchers wrote.

This is the third peer-reviewed study of the Appalachian Basin in just over a month to conclude fracking is not a threat to groundwater in the region. Since 2010, more than two-dozen other studies have reached the same conclusion, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own $29 million study, which tracked fracking for six years.

Fracking Cutting Energy Prices

The public should embrace fracking because it has lowered people’s energy costs over the past decade, says James M. Taylor, project manager of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“Throughout the nation, scientists have tested hundreds of well sites thousands of times for signs of contamination, and there has not been a single instance showing the fracking process contaminated any groundwater,” said Taylor. “At some point, groundwater pollution claims constantly asserted by anti-fracking extremists should be laughed out of the court of public opinion.

“Rather than demonizing energy producers that produce oil and natural gas through fracking, the media should be highlighting how fracked natural gas has dramatically reduced oil and gasoline prices during the past decade; assured that when market factors make gasoline prices high, the profits are flowing into American businesses rather than Middle Eastern businesses; and lowered inflation-adjusted electricity prices during the past decade,” Taylor said. “Each of these developments improves the living standards of all Americans.”

Timothy Benson ([email protected]is a policy analyst with The Heartland Institute.


Timothy Benson, “Research & Commentary: New Studies Confirm the Safety of Fracking in Pennsylvania,” The Heartland Institute, June 20, 2018:–commentary-new-studies-confirm-the-safety-of-fracking-in-pennsylvania