Preliminary study in Carroll with limited testing over insufficient time span; Assistant Professor of Geology claims fracking has no impact on water quality by Jon Baker, November 15, 2013, TimesReporter.com
Amy Townsend-Small, assistant professor of geology at the University of Cincinnati, shared findings from the study with members of Carroll Concerned Citizens on Thursday evening. Carroll County was chosen for the study because it is the epicenter of the Utica Shale natural-gas exploration boom in eastern Ohio. More than 300 wells have been permitted there since 2010. Townsend-Small stressed that her group has no bias for or against hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the process used in drilling natural gas wells. “Our group is not aligned with an industry group or an environmental group,” she said. “We just want to learn about it.” [Funders of the study need to be disclosed; the professor’s source of funding for her pay and the testing needs to be transparently disclosed and rather than promising no bias, the professor ought to act without bias. Claiming that frac’ing did not cause the biogenic methane contamination so early on in the study, and in a study started after frac’ing, shows pro-frac’ing bias, in my professional view] The study is being conducted in conjunction with Carroll Concerned Citizens.
Sampling of well water began in the fall of 2012 [It is not baseline, starting after fracturing started. The water wells found with biogenic methane could be from leaking frac’d wells] and has involved as many as 25 water wells scattered throughout Carroll County. Four wells have been sampled on a regular basis every three or four months. The water then is tested to measure its acidity, electrical conductivity (which is related to the concentration of salts dissolved in the water), and methane. “We haven’t seen anything [yet, the study is too young, and distance to frac’d wells needs to be reported] to show that wells have been contaminated by fracking,” Townsend-Small said. Instead, she said, “We are seeing good quality water here.” [For now] Townsend-Small focused much of her talk on methane. She said there are two sources of the gas — bacteria and fossil fuels. Methane poses two hazards. It has been found in well water in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. High levels of methane in water can pose an explosion risk. Methane is also a greenhouse gas. Townsend-Small said it is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Leaking of natural gas is responsible for about 30 percent of total U.S. methane emissions, she said. Yet, California is the only state that has laws dealing with methane emissions. The federal government does not regulate it. “You can emit as much methane you want as an oil company,” she said.
Townsend-Small’s study has found methane in the four wells sampled on a regular basis, but at safe levels. One well had a greater concentration of methane than the other three, but it was biological methane, she said. A pond near that water well was believed to be the source of the gas. The professor was asked by an audience member how long methane remains in water. “It will immediately leave the water when it’s exposed to air,” Townsend-Small said. That’s why some people’s tap water has caught fire, she added. The study will continue through the summer of 2014 and will go on longer if Townsend-Small can get more funding. Paul Feezel, chair of Carroll Concerned Citizens and owner of one of the wells tested, said he was pleased by the preliminary results of Townsend-Small’s study. “It’s very good news,” he said. “This study can show over time if nothing is happening or something is happening. Then we can catch it early.” [Starting a study AFTER fracturing does not provide accurate baseline. Where are test results for the 25 water wells, before any drilling and fracturing? Vital baseline data appears intentionally left out. Industry and regulators know how badly shallow, biogenic methane leaks up energy well bores and can contaminate fresh water aquifers and wells.] [Emphasis and comments added]