Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing

By Alex Frumkin

Directional drilling and hydraulic-fracturing technologies are dramatically increasing natural-gas extraction across the United States. Hydraulic fracturing remains largely unregulated at the Federal level regardless of the growing concerns about contamination of drinking water. However, the potential contamination risks in shallow drinking-water systems are still not fully understood, and a topic of study for many scientists. There are four main reasons why scientists and public health officials are concerned about methane contamination in the ground water: that the chemicals use in fracturing fluid can leak into the ground water, that the water can become explosive if methane levels are high enough, that the methane could be released into the environment, and that the untested and unregulated shallow ground water in rural areas near drilling sites could be ingested during household or agricultural use. Scientists have continued to study whether water wells are being contaminated in any of these ways by hydraulic fracturing and drilling. Continue reading

Methane Migration from Shale Gas Extraction Contaminates Drinking Water in Pennsylvania

by Shannon Julius

Perhaps the biggest environmental and health concern related to shale gas development is the possibility of contaminants leaking from the well shaft into nearby groundwater supplies. The first sign of such leakage would be stray methane in groundwater, as methane is a small enough molecule to move through tiny spaces and easily dissolves in water. Jackson et al. explored the possibility of stray gas contamination by testing for concentrations of methane, ethane, and propane in drinking water wells of homes in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania. The researchers generally found higher amounts of dissolved gases in drinking water wells less than one kilometer from a natural gas well. Statistical analysis showed that distance from gas wells was the most significant factor for Continue reading