Digging for Answers
Research examines impact of natural gas drilling on well water in Barnett Shale
“This study alone cannot conclusively identify the exact causes of elevated levels of contaminants in areas near natural gas drilling.”
A study of 100 private water wells in and near the Barnett Shale shows elevated levels of potential contaminants in wells closest to natural gas extraction sites.
Led by chemistry Associate Professor Kevin Schug, a UT Arlington research team gathered samples within a 13-county area in North Texas over four months in summer and fall 2011. Scientists drew 91 samples from what they term “active extraction areas,” or areas that had one or more gas wells within five kilometers. Another nine samples came from sites the study calls “non-active/reference areas.”
The journal Environmental Science & Technology published the results in July. The peer-reviewed paper focuses on heavy metals such as arsenic, barium, selenium, and strontium, many of which occur naturally at low levels in groundwater. Disturbances from natural gas extraction could cause higher levels.
“This study alone cannot conclusively identify the exact causes of elevated levels of contaminants in areas near natural gas drilling,” says Brian Fontenot, a UT Arlington graduate with a doctorate in quantitative biology and lead author on the paper. “But it does provide a powerful argument for continued research.”
The team conducted much of the water sample testing in UT Arlington’s Shimadzu Center for Advanced Analytical Chemistry.
“Natural gas drilling is one of the most talked-about issues in North Texas and throughout the country,” says Dr. Schug, the Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry. “This study was an opportunity for us to use our knowledge of chemistry and statistical analysis to put people’s concerns to the test and find out whether they would be backed by scientific data.”