A new scientific study of the risks associated with Hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — in the United States, found that current methods for wastewater disposal put drinking water at risk.
Fracking involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and other chemicals deep underground at high pressure to fracture rocks, allowing the trapped natural gas to flow and then be pumped to the surface.
While resource companies have used technology in Canada and the U.S. on a small scale for decades, it’s expected to ramp up significantly in B.C., Alberta, Quebec and New Brunswick, as deep shale gas reserves are tapped in an effort to exploit natural gas deposits and diversify Canada¹s energy resources.
But, in an American paper entitled “Water Pollution Risk Associated with Natural Gas Extraction from the Marcellus Shale,” the authors found that the process is likely to contaminate nearby water systems. The Marcellus Shale, the largest in the U.S., covers approximately 124,000 km from New York to West Virginia.
The paper, which appears in the August 2012 issue of the international journal Risk Analysis, says “even in a best case scenario, an individual well would potentially release at least 200 m3 of contaminated fluids.” Doctoral student Daniel Rozell and Dr. Sheldon Reaven, a professor in the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, partnered on the work.
In order to identify where regulators should focus their efforts, the study model identified five ways fracking could contaminate water supplies: transportation spills, well casing leaks, leaks through fractured rock, drilling site discharge, and wastewater disposal.