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Research & Commentary: Peer-Reviewed Study of Fracking in Ohio Is Latest to Show No Groundwater Contamination

May 16, 2018

Samples From Two Dozen Ohio Wells Found No Relationship Between Methane Concentrations In Groundwater And Proximity To Active Gas Well Sites

A peer-reviewed study from researchers at the University of Cincinnati shows the hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”) process is not contaminating groundwater in the Utica Shale region of Ohio. The study, funded by the conservationist David & Sara Weston Foundation and the Deer Creek Foundation and published in the journal Environmental Monitoring Assessment, is the first to look at methane (CH4) sources in this region of Ohio. The study was initially created based on the hypothesis fracking is contaminating groundwater in the Utica Shale region.

The researchers collected samples from more than two-dozen wells in Belmont, Carroll, Columbiana, Harrison, and Stark Counties from 2012 to 2015 and found “no relationship between CH4 concentration or source in groundwater and proximity to active gas well sites. No significant changes in CH4 concentration, CH4 isotopic composition, pH, or conductivity in water wells were observed during the study period. These data indicate that high levels of biogenic CH4 can be present in groundwater wells independent of hydraulic fracturing activity.”

Further, “contrary to our hypothesis, we did not see an increase in CH4 concentration or change in isotopic composition of CH4 in groundwater in regularly monitored wells over the study period…despite a large increase in the number of producing shale gas wells in our study area,” the authors conceded. “In fact, we saw a decrease in CH4 concentration in some of our regularly monitored wells, although the number of samples in our time series is relatively small. The low numbers of significant correlations indicate there may be natural variability in concentrations of biogenic CH4 in groundwater in our study area (contrary to our expectation).”

It is not surprising the authors could not find a link between fracking and groundwater contamination in their study area. The existing peer-reviewed evidence clearly shows hydraulic fracturing processes do not impose a systemic impact on groundwater. Since 2010, at least 24 independent studies have failed to find any systemic impact caused by the 110,000 oil and natural gas wells that have been in use across the country since 2011. Moreover, they are affirmed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s own $29 million, six-year study of fracking’s benign impact on groundwater sources.

While fracking isn’t contaminating groundwater near drilling sites, it is providing large economic gains for many communities. December 2016 study conducted  by researchers at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) determined hydraulic fracturing activity brings $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including “a 7 percent increase in average income, driven by rises in wages and royalty payments, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.” 

The fracking process has transformed the energy outlook of the United States over the past decade, and the rise of shale gas has been primarily responsible for the United States now enjoying its lowest level of carbon-dioxide emissions since 1989. Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has increased by 50 percent and oil production has increased by 21 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). This is primarily due to the hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) revolution of the past decade. EIA also notes fracking now accounts for 51 percent of all U.S. crude oil production.

The oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing has enabled us to unearth and use are cost-effective and abundant, and they can ensure the United States is the world’s largest energy producer well beyond the 21st century. Policymakers should make sure not to put unnecessary and harmful regulatory burdens on industries such as the natural gas and oil industries, which are safe, responsible, and have had an enormous positive impact on the economy at the macro and micro levels.

The following documents provide more information about hydraulic fracturing.

The Local Economic and Welfare Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-local-economic-and-welfare-consequences-of-hydraulic-fracturing
This comprehensive study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says fracking brings, on average, $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including a 7 percent increase in average income, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.

Local Fiscal Effects of a Drilling Downturn: Local Government Impacts of Decreased Oil and Gas Activity in Five U.S. Shale Regions
http://www.rff.org/files/document/file/RFF%20Rpt-SPF.pdf
This study from Resources for the Future finds 82 percent of communities in the five largest shale regions in the United States experienced a net fiscal benefit from hydraulic fracturing despite there having been a large drop in oil and natural gas commodity prices starting in 2014.

Impacts of the Natural Gas and Oil Industry on the U.S. Economy in 2015
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/impacts-of-the-natural-gas-and-oil-industry-on-the-us-economy-in-2015
This study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, shows that the natural gas and oil industry supported 10.3 million U.S. jobs in 2015. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage paid by the natural gas and oil industry, excluding retail station jobs, was $101,181 in 2016, which is nearly 90 percent more than the national average. The study also shows the natural gas and oil industry has had widespread impacts in each of the 50 states.

What If … Hydraulic Fracturing Was Banned?
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/what-if-hydraulic-fracturing-was-banned
This study is the fourth in a series of studies produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. It examines what a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing would entail. The report’s authors found by 2022, a ban would cause 14.8 million jobs to “evaporate,” almost double gasoline and electricity prices, and increase natural gas prices by 400 percent. Moreover, cost of living expenses would increase by nearly $4,000 per family, household incomes would be reduced by $873 billion, and GDP would be reduced by $1.6 trillion.

What If … America’s Energy Renaissance Never Happened?
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/what-ifamericas-energy-renaissance-never-actually-happened
This report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy examines the impact the development of shale oil and gas has had on the United States. The report’s authors found that without the fracking-related “energy renaissance,” 4.3 million jobs in the United States may not have ever been created and $548 billion in annual GDP would have been lost since 2009. The report also found electricity prices would be 31 percent higher and gasoline prices 43 percent higher.

Bill McKibben’s Terrifying Disregard for Fracking Facts
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/bill-mckibbens-terrifying-disregard-for-fracking-facts?source=policybot
This Heartland Institute Policy Study, written by Research Fellow Isaac Orr, examines how methane emissions are measured, reports the effect those emissions may have on global warming, and discusses several falsehoods journalist Bill McKibben repeats from the discredited movie Gasland. It also evaluates the available fracking alternatives and discusses the relatively small impact new methane-emissions rules enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency will likely have on Earth’s climate.

Compendium of Studies Demonstrating the Safety and Health Benefits of Fracking
http://eidhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Positive-Health-Compendium.pdf
This compendium from Energy in Depth features data from 23 peer-reviewed studies, 17 government health and regulatory agencies, and reports from 10 research institutions that demonstrate fracking is linked to numerous health benefits.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact John Nothdurft, Heartland’s director of government relations, at john@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.

Author
Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department.
TBenson@heartland.org