NRDC Study: Fracking Doesn’t Pollute Groundwater

Published June 12, 2017

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” is not a major threat to drinking water, according to a new study financed in part by the anti-fracking Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The peer-reviewed, Duke University-led study finds fracking “has not contaminated groundwater in northwestern West Virginia.”

Duke professor of geochemistry and study coauthor Avner Vengosh told the fracking website Energy In Depth consistent evidence from comprehensive testing showed no indication of groundwater contamination over the three-year course of the study.

‘Overwhelming’ Results

The Duke study is just the latest in a series of peer-reviewed studies showing no relation between the fracking process and groundwater contamination, says Gary Stone, vice president of engineering at FiveStates Energy in Dallas, Texas.

“It is important to note this latest study was led and funded by anti-fracking forces, and the results were so overwhelming they overcame any natural bias in the original assumptions,” Stone said.

There have been isolated cases where groundwater was affected by shallow, naturally occurring methane deposits, by surface spills, and by older, leaking, casing pipe, says Stone, but this study shows fracking solid rock a mile-and-a-half belowground has no impact on groundwater a few hundred feet beneath the surface.

“The study results show continuing attempts by states and municipalities to limit or deny fracking—such as initiatives in Denton, Texas and in Oregon—are simply political in nature and have no basis other than denying safe and profitable business ventures, such as the drilling and production of oil and gas reserves,” Stone said. “Such bans deny the local and state inhabitants a more economic supply of gas and/or oil.”

Hoped for the Worst?

The Duke University study is news only because environmentalists have refused to accept the evidence for years, says Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation. NRDC funded the study, says Matthews, in the hope of finally proving a connection between fracking and groundwater pollution.

“Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President [Barack] Obama couldn’t find any evidence, and it looked hard for it,” said Matthews.

The EPA did an extensive, five-year compilation of nearly 1,000 different data sources, including science and engineering journals, government studies, and peer-reviewed EPA reports, says Matthews. An EPA science adviser was quoted as calling it the “most complete compilation of scientific data to date,” Matthews said.

“The agency released the preliminary report in 2015, which found fracking had no ‘widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water,’ though political pressure forced the EPA to soften this conclusion in its final 2016 release,” Matthews said. “The Duke-led study just confirms for West Virginia what the EPA found nationally and what a 2015 University of Cincinnati study found but never published: Fracking is not a threat to drinking water, no matter how much money environmentalists spend trying to prove it is.”

Activists Rejecting Science

Chris Warren, vice president of communications with the Institute for Energy Research says this latest study confirms what has been clear for some time: Hydraulic fracturing is safe and does not pose a significant threat to drinking water.

“The fact anti-fracking activists continue to reject the science shows their motivations are purely political,” Warren said. “Their efforts aren’t about protecting the environment, but rather about keeping our most affordable and abundant energy resources in the ground.”

The keep-it-in-the-ground crowd’s lack of credibility won’t cause them to slow down their efforts, Warren says.

“This is a well-funded network of groups whose donors want to halt the responsible development of our oil, gas, and coal resources,” Warren said. “The key is to answer their misinformation with facts.”

Warren says it is unfortunate a few states, such as Maryland and New York, have adopted policies that ban hydraulic fracturing.

“The Northeast is a perfect example,” Warren said. “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not only banned hydraulic fracturing but has also denied permits for pipelines to bring Pennsylvania’s natural gas to the Northeast. As a result, the Northeast pays 29 percent more than the national average for natural gas and 44 percent more for electricity.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.


Jennifer S. Harkness et al., “The Geochemistry of Naturally Occurring Methane and Saline Groundwater in an Area of Unconventional Shale Gas Development,” Science Direct, Vol. 209, July 1, 2017: