WASHINGTON — Faulty fracking wells are to blame for drinking water contamination in Texas and Pennsylvania, according to new findings from researchers at five universities.
“People’s water has been harmed by drilling,” said Robert Jackson, a professor of environmental and earth sciences at Stanford University. “In Texas, we even saw two homes go from clean to contaminated after our sampling began.”
Construction problems with natural gas wells are responsible for the tainted water, the researchers found. That includes poor casing and failed cement jobs meant to seal the steel drilling pipe from surrounding earth and rocks and prevent water contamination.
The researchers said there was no evidence the water was contaminated by the process of hydraulic fracturing itself, known as fracking. Fracking is when high-pressure water and chemicals are pumped deep underground to break shale rock and release oil and natural gas.
That’s an important finding in the debate over fracking, which has unleashed an American energy boom but also allegations of pollution and health problems.
“The good news is that most of the issues we have identified can potentially be avoided by future improvements in well integrity,” said Thomas Darrah, an assistant professor of earth science at Ohio State University. He led the research while working as a research scientist at Duke University.
The researchers from Duke, Ohio State, Stanford, Dartmouth and the University of Rochester discovered clusters of methane contamination in drinking water wells along the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and the Barnett Shale in north Texas, near Fort Worth.