Two years ago, University of Cincinnati environmental studies professor Dr. Amy Townsend-Small caused a stir when she told a meeting of the Carroll County (Ohio) Concerned Citizens that her research showed fracking was NOT polluting their water.
The announcement was a stunner for opponents of hydraulic fracturing to reach natural gas deposits buried deep below the surface. A portion of the funding for the study even came from fracking opponents who anticipated they would finally have scientific evidence that fracking contaminated their water wells.
“I am 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,” Townsend-Small told those at the meeting. “They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping that this data could be a reason to ban it.”
However, the study was never released… until now. The full peer-reviewed study, titled “Monitoring concentration and isotopic composition of methane in groundwater in the Utica Shale hydraulic fracturing region of Ohio,” has been published in the scientific journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessments.
The data reinforce and add context to what the professor told the citizens two years ago: “We found no relationship between CH4 (methane) concentration or source in groundwater and proximity to active gas well sites.”
Townsend-Small and her cohorts conducted thorough research. From January 2012 to February 2015 they collected 180 groundwater samples from wells near Utica Shale drilling in eastern Ohio. Notably, according to their hypothesis, they expected to find higher concentrations of methane and evidence that fracking fluid had leaked into the wells.
“We hypothesized that CH4 concentration would increase as the number of shale gas wells in the area increased.” However, the researchers determined after three years of study that their hypothesis was incorrect.
“Contrary to our hypothesis, we did not see an increase in CH4 concentration or change in isotopic composition of CH4 in groundwater in regularly monitored wells over the study period,” said the report.
These are significant findings—a peer reviewed study partially funded by anti-fracking organizations finds no groundwater contamination from fracking. The researchers deserve credit for not bowing to the pressure of their financial backers and accurately reporting their findings, even when they disproved the hypothesis.
Of course the research into the potential environmental impact of fracking should continue to ensure that our water supplies are protected. However, this study, and others like it, demonstrates that the hysteria over fracking is unwarranted.