VANCOUVER Resistance to hydraulic fracturing in the U.S. has risen steadily in recent months. Citizens and politicians are worried that fracking deep shales to extract natural gas can contaminate groundwater, trigger earthquakes and release methane, the potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. But a panel of experts not tied to industry told a large audience at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting here yesterday that the primary concerns can be solved if drilling and gas companies would impose tougher controls on their own operations, and if regulators would stiffen safety rules and crack down on violators who break them.
That realistic but optimistic tone arose primarily from conclusions made in a new study released a day earlier by the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, Austin. The study of shale drilling and gas extraction in Texas and Pennsylvania determined that three basic operations at the surface of wells have the greatest potential to taint drinking water with chemicals or methane. We did not find that fracking the shale itself was likely to contaminate groundwater, said Chip Groat, a geologist and professor of geoscience at the university who led the study. We did find contamination from surface spills and leaks at the top of the well.[More]