New Study Predicts Frack Fluids Can Migrate to Aquifers Within Years

New Study Predicts Frack Fluids Can Migrate to Aquifers Within Years by Abrahm Lustgarten, May 1, 2012, ProPublica
Scientists have theorized that impermeable layers of rock would keep the fluid, which contains benzene and other dangerous chemicals, safely locked nearly a mile below water supplies. This view of the earth’s underground geology is a cornerstone of the industry’s argument that fracking poses minimal threats to the environment. But the study, using computer modeling, concluded that natural faults and fractures in the Marcellus, exacerbated by the effects of fracking itself, could allow chemicals to reach the surface in as little as “just a few years.” “Simply put, [the rock layers] are not impermeable,” said the study’s author, Tom Myers, an independent hydrogeologist whose clients include [2] the federal government and environmental groups. “The Marcellus shale is being fracked into a very high permeability,” he said. “Fluids could move from most any injection process.” … The models predict that fracking will dramatically speed up the movement of chemicals injected into the ground. Fluids traveled distances within 100 years that would take tens of thousands of years under natural conditions. And when the models factored in the Marcellus’ natural faults and fractures, fluids could move 10 times as fast as that. Where man-made fractures intersect with natural faults, or break out of the Marcellus layer into the stone layer above it, the study found, “contaminants could reach the surface areas in tens of years, or less.” The study also concluded that the force that fracking exerts does not immediately let up when the process ends. It can take nearly a year to ease. As a result, chemicals left underground are still being pushed away from the drill site long after drilling is finished. It can take five or six years before the natural balance of pressure in the underground system is fully restored, the study found. Myers’ research focused exclusively on the Marcellus, but he said his findings may have broader relevance. Many regions where oil and gas is being drilled have more permeable underground environments than the one he analyzed, he said.

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