Duke scientists’ fracking warnings meet deaf ears | Editorials | NewsObserver.com

Duke scientists’ fracking warnings meet deaf ears

August 12, 2014

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Duke scientists’ fracking warnings meet deaf ears

Robert Jackson and Avner Vengosh of Duke University’s esteemed Nicholas School are viewed by some in the oil and gas industry as enemies. At Duke, they’ve done studies with compelling evidence that shale gas extraction, fracking, causes drinking water problems in other states.

The industry, which got North Carolina to lift its moratorium on fracking with drilling next year, has long made the case that drilling is absolutely safe.

Jackson and Vengosh have serious doubts about that, and given that the Nicholas School in the field of environmental science is considered among the elite in the county, it would be logical to assume that state officials developing rules to govern shale gas exploration would want to hear from them at length.

Jackson made a presentation before the commission’s environmental committee in January 2013 about the need for buffers between gas wells and drinking wells, but that apparently was the end of the commission’s curiosity about Jackson’s and Vengosh’s concerns.

“With all due respect to Avner Vengosh,” said recently resigned commission Chairman James Womack, “he’s not interested in drilling. His studies are all aimed at the downside of oil and gas development.”

Vengosh says instead that he’s all about science.

And Vengosh and Jackson, who’s taking a job at Stanford University, have some pretty strong science behind their belief that fracking causes contamination of drinking water, among other problems.

In 2011, they got water samples from private drinking wells in Pennsylvania and New York in areas where there was shale gas drilling. High levels of methane were found in the samples close to where gas wells were drilled. The industry said the research was flawed.

Then in 2013 they repeated that 2011 study with twice the samples and got the same result. Also in 2013, they tested water samples from Arkansas and did not find methane gas contamination.

The scientists also found radioactivity in a Pennsylvania stream that had been a discharge site for treated wastewater from fracking.

Jackson and Vengosh did have some published research on the need for distance between gas wells and drinking wells, but it appears as public hearings are about to begin on safety standards that two people who happen to have pretty dramatic evidence of the risks in fracking are essentially being ignored.

Why? Well, Gov. Pat McCrory has been one of the most vocal governors in the country about fracking, which he believes will boost North Carolina’s economy. And GOP legislative leaders want to push ahead with fracking, which involves the high pressure release of water into the ground to break up shale rock and release natural gas.

The oil and gas industry is big on it, but environmentalists question the idea on a couple of counts, one of them being the dangers to drinking water and the other raising some doubt about whether there actually will be natural gas reserves worth the trouble in North Carolina.

Jackson says North Carolina needs to be especially careful because shale rock formations in the state are shallow in the ground (less than a mile underground) compared to other shale gas basins and so fluids injected could seep up through faults.

And Vengosh said state officials should study the state’s wastewater and test treatment techniques before building the actual facilities to treat the water. And treated water, Vengosh said, should never be discharged into rivers.

These issues are worrisome, of course, because since taking over all three branches of state government, Republicans have loosened environmental rules in the name of being “business friendly” and to some degree because they have long viewed environmental protection as a “liberal” cause.

Can they be counted upon to do their due diligence when it comes to safety research about fracking, even to the point of changing course and acknowledging that perhaps fracking isn’t for North Carolina after all? It’s a legitimate question. Unfortunately, Republicans apparently don’t want to talk to anyone who might give them an answer they don’t want to hear.

via Duke scientists’ fracking warnings meet deaf ears | Editorials | NewsObserver.com.