Study: Fracking Does Not Contaminate Groundwater

Published April 16, 2012

The hydraulic fracturing process of extracting natural gas from shale rock formations has not resulted in any groundwater contamination, according to a study released by the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

The study, Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development, found any instances of groundwater contamination related to hydraulic fracturing projects (also known as fracking projects) occurred during aboveground handling, storage, and transportation phases that are common to all oil and gas drilling operations and are not related to the hydraulic fracturing process itself. 

Diverse Geography, Participation

The Energy Institute research team examined evidence from reported groundwater contamination in such diverse locations as New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana.

“Our goal was to provide policymakers a foundation for developing sensible regulations that ensure responsible shale gas development,” said lead researcher Charles “Chip” Groat in a University of Texas press release.

The Energy Institute recruited faculty members throughout the University of Texas at Austin campus to participate in the study. The activist group Environmental Defense Fund also participated as full members of the project team by assisting with planning the project and providing expert review of the study’s drafts and final report.  

No Leakage During Fracking

The Institute published the following bullet-pointed text in its Overview of Findings:

• Researchers found no evidence of aquifer contamination from hydraulic fracturing chemicals in the subsurface by fracturing operations, and they observed no leakage from hydraulic fracturing at depth.

• Many reports of groundwater contamination occur in conventional oil and gas operations (e.g., failure of well-boring casing and cementing) and are not unique to hydraulic fracturing.

• Methane found in water wells within some shale gas areas (such as Marcellus) can most likely be traced to natural sources and likely was present before the onset of shale gas operations.

• Surface spills of fracturing fluids appear to pose greater risks to groundwater sources than from hydraulic fracturing itself.• Blowouts—uncontrolled fluid releases during construction or operation—are a rare occurrence, but subsurface blowouts appear to be underreported.

Confirms Regulators’ Findings

“As state regulators from across the country have stated—and the EPA has confirmed on multiple occasions—hydraulic fracturing is a safe and tightly regulated technology helping to unlock enormous amounts of affordable American energy as well as helping to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and re-grow the economy,” said Steve Everley, assistant vice president at FTI Consulting. “This study from UT-Austin only adds to the scientific consensus surrounding the safety of shale development.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

Internet Info:

Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development, The Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, Feb. 2012,