One of the most under-reported aspects of the widely reported methane paper issued by Duke Univ. researchers in May 2011 was the fact that, try as they might, the authors could find no evidence of fluids from the fracturing process in, near or anywhere close to shallow sources of drinking water underground.
Of course, that non-discovery wasn’t all that significant in a geological sense: scientists, engineers and even EPA administratorshave long known that the thousands of feet and billions of tons of impermeable rock that separate deep oil and gas formations from shallow water formations make it virtually impossible for such migration to occur. But it was significant in a political sense, because the Duke research was underwritten by groups that oppose the development of oil and gas – groups that couldn’t have been happy to once again find themselves denied of the one talking point they covet above all the rest.
Against that backdrop, some may view the release this week of the second installment of the Duke paper as an attempt at atonement – with researchers finally providing opponents the evidence they need to launch a thousand new ships against hydraulic fracturing. Unfortunately for them, though, what’s most notable about this paper – similar to the first — is what the authors did not find: no fracturing fluids in water wells, and no correlation between the phenomena they report and activities associated with natural gas development. According to the paper: “The occurrences of saline water do not correlate with the location of shale-gas wells and are consistent with reported data before rapid shale-gas development in the region.”
Still, though, while the paper’s findings are benign, and the authors’ insistence that development activities had nothing to do with the detection of salt in water abundantly clear, we’ve seen this saga play out before. Already, activists are pointing to the report as evidence that fracturing fluids may someday migrate up to drinking water sources, denying the facts of science, a history of experience and even the views of the researchers themselves. And reporters, having spotted the words “hydraulic fracturing” and “contamination” in the abstract, are now deciding whether they even need to read the rest of the paper before filing on it.