Federal researchers are testing whether hydraulic fracturing fluids can travel thousands of feet via geologic faults into drinking water aquifers close to the surface, a U.S. Department of Energy official said last Friday.
Industry, regulators and other stakeholders impacted by the shale energy boom will, no doubt, be anxious to hear about the study’s findings because, up until now, no direct evidence exists that hydraulic fracturing causes contamination of aquifer resources.
A fault from the Marcellus Shale formation, which is thousands of feet below the surface, could provide “a quick pathway for fracking fluids to migrate upwards,” said Richard Hammack, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.
An old site in Greene County, Pennsylvania, is where the experiment is being conducted. There, conventional shallow wells were drilled and long since capped, according to the NETL website. Energy companies are now actively drilling in the county in the Marcellus Shale formation.
According to NETL, it is hoped the study will provide regulators, landowners and the general public “an unbiased, science-based source of information which can guide decisions about shale gas development.”
The study also will help the industry “develop better methods to monitor for undesired environmental changes” and develop technology or management practices to address the changes, the organization said.
Speaking at a congressional briefing in Washington, Hammack said faults “form a plane that allows fluids to move up through the frack.” Some faults can be easily seen and avoided, but Hammack said some faults are not easily detected and could extend from the Marcellus Shale formation into other formations close to the surface.
The testing “is taking place right now,” Hammack said. “It should be completed next week. Within a month, we will have the micro-seismic data that will show how high fracture fluids have migrated upwards” toward the surface.