Untangling the Spin: Go Ahead, “Frack” Away!

A new report from researchers at Duke University finds that hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” as the protesters call it – is actually not responsible for methane migration into water wells.  That’s bad news for opponents of natural gas development, but good news for job creation.

This hasn’t stopped them from aggressively campaigning against fracking, however.  In fact, they’ve tried to spin the report into something they can use against natural gas development by omitting key elements of data.  Unfortunately for them, there was no way around admitting that methane is a natural, common component found in 85% of water wells across the Marcellus region.  Thermogenic methane was identified in a high percentage of those as well, even in areas where there was no development.

The researchers further had to admit that neither brine nor fracturing fluids were detected in any of the sample water wells, even in areas where there was development.  Of course, all of this was buried in the paper so that only those who care to know the facts would ever find it.

When one does read further into the report, it becomes apparent that the study itself was seriously flawed.  For starters, the authors of the report aren’t geologists, yet they’re writing about geological issues.  Important questions were left unanswered, such as how does methane migrate up into the water wells if there is no hydraulic fracturing occurring?

The data itself was taken from an incredibly small sample (68 wells were tested in a state where more than 20,000 water wells are drilled each year).  The idea that researchers would even take a sample this small and draw conclusions shows just how desperate they are to turn the public against natural gas development.

The study doesn’t even have baseline tests for the wells that were sampled.  They claim that wells using hydraulic fracturing have higher methane concentrations, but they fail to report what the original water quality was before the drilling began.  Professional Hydrologist John Conrad criticized the report by saying that “Methane types and methane concentrations can vary radically over very short distances.”

These numbers could mean anything without baseline tests.  Proportionately the wells could have the same amount of methane concentration – we just don’t know, and the researchers clearly did not want us to know.

Conrad goes on to say that because “the researchers also found methane in areas where no drilling is occurring, it was insupportable to say the methane was in the water due to hydrofracking.”  The study fails to answer how this might be possible, instead speaking to a skewed audience in order to bring national attention to an invalid argument.

According to NY Times, “the Duke researchers said the gas they found in water is not coming up through rocks from the pressure of fracturing but coming up through the wellbore.  The study also found that not all water wells close to drilling operations had methane, suggesting that the methane leakage is not an inevitable side effect of drilling…”

It is apparent that the researchers began the study with a clear intention: to bring down natural gas development and further the debate against this particular alternative energy.  However, one of their starting arguments was that methane migration occurs on failures in well-casing.  This is just a hypothetical, of course, because there is no evidence that the well-casings are weak enough to cause a methane leak.  In fact, Pennsylvania has some of the most stringent well-casing regulations in the country.

This is no more than government trying to prevent a problem that doesn’t even exist.  In doing so, they are ignoring and exacerbating one of our nation’s most press problems – the lack of job creation.  According to Forbes:

“…in 2009, 44,000 new jobs were created by fracking compared with 35,000 created by government green energy programs.  In 2010, 89,000 fracking-related jobs were created relative to 40,000 green jobs.  And in 2011, another 111,000 new jobs will likely be created by fracking compared with 41,000 green jobs.”

It’s time to set politics aside and disclose the FACTS about this research, instead of skewing the information in order to appease a political ideology.

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