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More Fracking Studies

New environmental studies add to assessments of the costs and benefits of hydraulic fracturing for producing oil and natural gas

by Stephen K. Ritter
September 22, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 38

The overall water consumption of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas and the technology’s impact on climate change and local air and water pollution compare favorably with other energy sources, such as burning coal, using nuclear fuel, or producing ethanol, according to a new study. A team of environmental scientists came to that conclusion after analyzing 165 academic studies and government databases in an effort to evaluate the environmental costs and benefits of fracking (Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2014, DOI: 10.1146/annurev-environ-031113-144051). Meanwhile, a separate study by some of the same researchers supports prior studies in showing that the drilling and fracturing process is not directly to blame for well-publicized cases of groundwater contamination. By sampling hydrocarbon and noble-gas isotopes in oil, natural gas, and water wells, the researchers found that rare cases of pollutants showing up in well water stems from defective steel and cement casings in fracking wells or from gas formations not linked to fracturing zones (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2014, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1322107111). Both studies suggest that issuing and enforcing regulations on well construction, inspections, and water treatment are the primary means of managing current and long-term environmental costs and ensuring the most economic benefit from fracking.


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