A new study, the first of its kind, has found links between hydrofracking and water getting contaminated so badly that drinking taps burst into flame when exposed to a lighter.
The scientists tested wells in Pennslyvania and New York near natural gas drilling sites for dissolved methane gas. On average the wells had 17 times the amount of gas in them as those wells that were farthest from the drilling sites. In addition, the amount of gas found in the water is enough to be considered dangerous by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
However, besides the methane, the study did not find that the well water contained chemicals used in the hydrofracking process. That should put to rest a good deal of the fears raised by those who oppose hydrofracking, but the evidence for methane seepage is still a cause for concern.
Now, my first thought when I read this was how did they know that the methane came from the drilling? What if the wells were already contaminated and the gas companies were just drilling where the gas was already prevalent? But the scientists thought of that one too. Using isotopic analysis they determined that while both the sites near and far from the drilling location contained biogenic methane, only those sites close to the drilling had high amounts of thermogenic methane, which comes out of the same hydrocarbon layers where the gas drilling is gunning for.
The peer-reviewed study, “Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing” (PDF), was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.