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USGS Report: No Significant Water Quality Impacts in West Virginia Shale Gas Field

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) and West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Water and Waste Management compared samples with historical water quality data in an area where drilling and hydraulic fracturing was occurring in the Monogahela River Basin during 2011-12. Researchers found that water quality in the area compared to historical data was not impacted by energy development:

“The comparisons of data collected as part of this study with historical data identified few differences. No significant difference was found in a comparison of groundwater survey data and historical data.”

The region had seen an increase in natural gas development utilizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing since 2007. By September 2012, while researchers were collecting water samples, “147 wells had been completed in the Marcellus Shale within the study area, 75 of which are horizontal wells.” Yet despite this rapid pace of development, analysis of the water samples did not turn up any “significant” impacts:

“The comparison of groundwater data from this study with historical data found no significant difference for any of the constituents examined and therefore warrant no further discussion.”

The water samples were also tested for the presence of radioactive materials in the samples:

“Generally, naturally occurring radioactive materials were not found in elevated concentrations in either groundwater or base-flow samples. Only 3 samples, 2 from the groundwater survey and one from the base-flow survey, exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level for radium isotopes of 5.0 picocurie per liter for either a single isotope or a combined value of radium-226 and radium-228.”

The results of this study are a big rebuke to anti-fracking activists who have long charged that hydraulic fracturing contaminates ground water and more recently, that the oil and gas operators “can release radioactivity much greater than it’s [sic] allowed from a nuclear power plant.”

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who presides over the USGS, has emphasized on numerous occasions that fracking has been done safely for years.   Jewell has noted that “fracking has been done safely for decades” and, as she recently explained:

 “I know there are those who say fracking is dangerous and should be curtailed, full stop. That ignores the reality that it has been done for decades and has the potential for developing significant domestic resources and strengthening our economy and will be done for decades to come.”

This latest USGS report is yet further evidence that the immense benefits of shale production do not come at the expense of the environment, which we all have a vested interest in protecting.