Duke University

October 9, 2013

Duke researchers publish new paper on gas-drilling waste

Source: The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC), October 6, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

Duke University researchers say they’ve documented elevated levels of a radioactive element where a western Pennsylvania waste plant discharged treated water previously used in natural-gas drilling.

Published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the findings came from a team led by Nicholas School of the Environment professors Avner Vengosh and Rob Jackson.

The key finding, of elevated levels of radium in streambed sediments just below the plant’s discharge point, came even though it was clear that the treated water leaving the plant met the industrial discharge limit for radioactivity, the paper said.

The effluent nonetheless has a “significant impact” on the sediments. To wit, “most of the radium appears to be absorbed and retained in them” instead of flowing downstream, the paper said.

And the resulting concentrations are high enough that if the sediments themselves were treated, regulations “would require you to take them a licensed radioactive-waste facility,” Jackson said.

The team also found that the plant’s discharge appeared to contribute to elevated levels of salts in the stream’s water downstream of the facility, despite the diluting effect of the stream’s much larger flow.…

October 7, 2013

Dangerous levels of radioactivity found at fracking waste site in Pennsylvania

Source: Guardian Web, October 3, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

Scientists have for the first time shown dangerous levels of radioactivity and salinity at a shale gas waste disposal site that could contaminate drinking water. If the UK follows in the steps of the US “shale gas revolution”, it should impose regulations to stop such radioactive buildup, they said.

The Duke University study, published on Wednesday, examined the water discharged from Josephine Brine Treatment Facility into Blacklick Creek, which feeds into a water source for western Pennsylvania cities, including Pittsburgh. Scientists took samples upstream and downstream from the treatment facility over a two-year period, with the last sample taken in June this year.

Elevated levels of chloride and bromide, combined with strontium, radium, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopic compositions, are present in the Marcellus shale wastewaters, the study found.

Radioactive brine is naturally occurring in shale rock and contaminates wastewater during hydraulic fracturing known as fracking. Sometimes that “flowback” water is re-injected into rock deep underground, a practice that can cause seismic disturbances, but often it is treated before being discharged into watercourses.

Radium levels in samples collected at the facility were 200 times greater than samples taken upstream. Such elevated levels of radioactivity are above regulated levels and would normally be seen at licensed radioactive disposal facilities, according to the scientists at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment in North Carolina.…

June 27, 2013

Sealing Cited In Gas Leaks, Not Fracking

Source: Dow Jones News Service, June 26, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

(FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL 6/26/13)

Poorly sealed natural-gas wells — not hydraulic fracturing of shale-rock formations — are likely to blame for dissolved gas found in private water wells in Pennsylvania, according to a new study by Duke University.

Duke scientists found that 82% of the 141 water wells they tested in a part of Pennsylvania above the rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale had elevated levels of methane, the main component of natural gas.

Water wells nearer to natural-gas-industry drilling sites had the highest levels according to the study, published online this month by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

However, the study found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process of using water and chemicals to crack shale formations deep underground and unlock trapped oil and gas, was causing fluids to migrate upward into drinking aquifers closer to the surface.

Instead, it concluded that wells being drilled were most likely not adequately sealed, allowing gas to flow upward and sometimes enter aquifers used by homes. The combination of steel pipes, called casing, and cement sheaths used in well construction don’t always contain gas as intended, industry officials and observers contend.

“Poor casing and cementing problems are the simplest explanation of what we found,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Duke and lead author of the study, which was funded by the university.

Environmentalists have criticized fracking as an industrial threat to rural communities and their drinking water.

Steve Everley, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, a group funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said the Duke study “is not a smoking gun to say that gas drilling is a problem.” He noted how other recent research has found high levels of methane in water wells, even when there hasn’t been nearby fracking.

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June 26, 2013

Gas drilling taints groundwater

Source: http://www.nature.com, June 25, 2013
By: Jeff Tollefson

Chemical analysis links methane in drinking wells to shale-gas extraction.

As shale-gas operations expand across the United States, industry officials and environmentalists are at loggerheads over whether or not shale-gas extraction can contaminate groundwater. Now researchers have traced low levels of methane and other contaminants to a source of shale gas: the sprawling Marcellus Formation, which lies beneath much of New York state, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio (see ‘On tap’) .

The study, led by researchers at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, expands on an earlier analysis of drinking water in northeastern Pennsylvania, where energy companies have used hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to crack the Marcellus Formation and release gas. In that work, the researchers found that contamination rates increased with proximity to wells (S. G. Osborn et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 8172–8176; 2011). Their latest analysis, published on 24 June, goes a step further, by tying the chemical fingerprint of the ground­water contaminants to the gas being siphoned out of the ground some 2,000–3,000 metres below (R. B. Jackson et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA http://doi.org/m3j; 2013).

“The problems we’ve seen are probably more common than people realize,” says Rob Jackson, director of Duke’s Center on Global Change and lead author of the paper. Jackson stresses that the contamination is probably due to poor well construction, rather than hydraulic fracturing itself. But he says that the results are another “wake-up call” for the industry to improve its drilling operations.…

June 25, 2013

Government Study on Effects of Drilling Not Complete Until 2016

Read here about a study being done on the effects of shale gas drilling on water quality that will not be complete until 2016.

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May 20, 2013

No Pollution Found in AR Fracking Study

Read here about a study in Arkansas that found no contamination in drinking water wells resulting from hydraulic fracturing.

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July 13, 2012

Study targets fracking pollution in water

Source: Charleston Daily Mail (WV)
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

A new study being done by the Department of Energy may provide some of the first solid answers to an extremely controversial question: Can gas drilling fluids migrate and pose a threat to drinking water?

A drilling company in southwestern Pennsylvania is giving researchers access to a commercial drilling site, said Richard Hammack, a spokesman for the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh.

The firm let scientists conduct baseline tests, allowed tracing elements to be added to hydraulic fracturing fluids and agreed to allow follow-up monitoring. That should let scientists see whether the drilling fluids move upward or sideways from the Marcellus Shale, which is 8,100 feet deep at that spot.

“It’s like the perfect laboratory,” Hammack said.

Hammack said he believes this is the first time such research has been done on a commercial gas well.

“Conceptually, it sounds like a really great idea,” said P. Lee Ferguson, a Duke University civil and environmental engineering professor who is not involved with the project. “I have wondered about this since I started thinking about fracking.”

The Marcellus Shale is a gas-rich rock formation thousands of feet under large parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. Over the past five years, advances in drilling technology made the gas accessible, leading to a boom in production, jobs, and profits — and concerns about pollution.

The gas is pulled from the ground through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which large volumes of water, plus sand and chemicals, are injected deep underground to break shale apart and free the gas.

Environmentalists have claimed the fluids associated with drilling could rise and pollute shallow drinking-water aquifers. The industry and many government officials say the practice is safe when done properly, but there have also been cases where faulty wells did cause pollution.

Ferguson cautioned that no single study will answer all questions.

Hammack said the study is designed to see whether the fracking fluids or naturally occurring salty brine from deep underground reach a testing area located at about 4,000 feet.…

October 17, 2011

Contaminated water for PA gas drilling town

Read here about a town in Pennsylvania where methane has leaked into the groundwater.…

July 27, 2011

‘Common’ Mold Discovered in Two Duke Residence Halls

Source: http://today.duke.edu, August 31, 2006

A Duke official said the mold does not present any serious health risks to students

Duke University officials have discovered a common form of mold in two residence halls on West Campus and will begin treating it next week.

A Duke official said the mold does not present any serious health risks to students.

“These molds are considered allergens and could cause allergic reactions in some people,” said Eddie Hull, dean of residence life and executive director of housing services. “But the ‘black mold’ that we hear about as a real problem is not present.”

Hull sent an email this week to students in Mitchell and Decker towers, in the Edens Quadrangle, informing them that a common form of mold had been found in a number of locations, including some student rooms, common areas and a mechanical room where air handlers push cool air to rooms.

Hull said Duke’s Occupational and Environmental Safety Office (OESO) was contacted immediately, and OESO inspectors collected air and surface samples inside and outside the two buildings. The test results determined that the mold inside the buildings “is well within generally accepted standards of care,” Hull’s email noted.…

June 7, 2011

Opposing sides continue to spar over study that links oil, gas drilling to groundwater contamination

Source: Greeley Tribune (Colorado), June 5, 2011
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

Last month, researchers at Duke University unleashed a mini bombshell on the oil and gas industry with a study demonstrating a strong link between oil and gas drilling and groundwater contamination.

But no sooner did their study come out that many refuted its findings, stating researchers’ science was not solid without having baseline readings of existing levels of methane before drilling began.

Duke researcher and professor Robert Jackson, too, states the study hasn’t proven anything, but it suggests drilling on the East Coast has effects on groundwater that should be concerning for the rest of the globe.

“Organizationally, the industry has been unhappy with the methane results, and some environmental groups have been unhappy because we said we didn’t find any evidence of fracking fluids” in the groundwater, Jackson said in a phone interview. “It’s always been a good-news, bad-news story.”…