New Brunswick

Shale gas can be extracted safely, Ohio study suggests

An assistant professor at Ohio State University believes shale gas can be extracted safely, based on a new study that suggests faulty well construction causes groundwater contamination, not fracking.

Researchers find faulty well construction cause of groundwater contamination, not fracking

A new study out of the U.S. suggests it's not fracking that contaminates groundwater, but rather faulty gas well construction.

The study by researchers at Ohio State University is the first of its kind, said Thomas Darrah, as assistant professor with the university's School of Earth Sciences.

Thomas Darrah, an assistant professor at Ohio State University, says if well integrity can be improved, he believes shale gas can be extracted safely. (CBC)
The team used geochemistry to investigate the gas migration related to shale drilling, said Darrah.

"In areas where we found man-made levels of methane, we found in all eight cases contamination resulted from faulty wall casings, as opposed to hydraulic fracturing," he said.

"That's good news because that indicates if we construct wells properly, do a good job cementing and have the right regulations in place to maximize well integrity, we should be able to eliminate most of the problems we've seen to date with contamination with methane."

But Jim Emberger, spokesperson for the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance, says the findings won't offer much comfort to anyone living near a well.

"Whether it came from fracking or it came from a leaky well, the process of drilling for gas contaminated their well," said Emberger.

Better identifying how groundwater is contaminated, doesn't make fracking safe, he said.

Hydraulic-fracturing, also known as hydro-fracking or fracking, is a process that involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure, which creates cracks in shale rock formations and allows companies to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

Opponents of the shale gas industry have long argued the hydro-fracking process can contaminate groundwater.

Lynn Farmakoulas, spokesperson for the pro-shale gas group Resource Wise NB, says the Ohio study findings are promising.

"For sure, anything that certainly points out where there are problems and difficulties would only make things better for us," said Farmakoulas.

Anything that better identifies problems associated with fracking is a positive step toward responsible shale gas development, she said.

Ohio State University plans to continue its research on gas contamination in other parts of the U.S. and around the world, said Darrah.