The Energy Institute of the University of Texas at Austin The public debate over hydraulic fracturing in shale gas production has been marked by fears that the process will contaminate groundwater. Concerns also have been raised that underground methane releases are contaminating water wells. Though little scientific evidence exists to support such claims, policymakers in some areas have banned the practice, and others have imposed moratoriums on shale gas development until additional research is conducted. In a study by the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, a research team focused on reports of groundwater contamination and other environmental impacts of shale gas exploration and production in states within the Barnett, Marcellus and Haynesville shales. According to the researchers, hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas has not direct connection to reports of groundwater contamination. Faculty members from the University of Texas campus participated in the research, which the Energy Institute funded. The Environmental Defense Fund also assisted in developing the scope of work and methodology for the study. The complete report, “Separating Fact From Fiction In Shale Gas Development,” is available. The report identifies regulations related to shale gas development and evaluates individual states’ capacity to enforce existing regulations. It addition, researchers analyzed public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing, as derived from popular media, scientific literature and online surveys. University researchers found no evidence of aquifer contamination from hydraulic fracturing chemicals in the subsurface by fracturing operations and observed no leakage from hydraulic fracturing at depth. The researchers also concluded that many reports of contamination can be traced to aboveground spills or other mishandling of wastewater produced from shale gas drilling, rather than from hydraulic fracturing per se. Charles “Chip” Groat, an Energy Institute associate director and project leader, emphasized that these problems are not unique to hydraulic fracturing. Many reports of groundwater contamination occur in conventional oil and gas operations (e.g., failure of well-bore casing and cementing). Methane found in water wells within some shale gas areas (e.g., Marcellus) can most likely be traced to natural sources, and likely was present before the onset of shale gas operations. Although some states have been proactive in overseeing shale gas development, most regulations were written before the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing. Media coverage of hydraulic fracturing is decidedly negative, and few news reports mention scientific research related to the practice. Blowouts -- uncontrolled fluid releases during construction or operation -- are a rare occurrence, but subsurface blowouts appear to be under-reported. The lack of baseline studies in areas of shale gas development makes it difficult to evaluate the long-term, cumulative effects and risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. The Energy Institute has two other initiatives related to the use of hydraulic fracturing in shale gas development. The first project, which will commence in April, is a detailed case study focusing on claims of groundwater contamination in North Texas’ Barnett shale. The research will entail and examination of various aspects of shale gas development, including site preparation, drilling, production, and handling and disposal of flow-back water. Researchers will also identify and document activities unrelated to shale gas development that have resulted in water contamination. It will also assess the quantity of fresh groundwater used in shale gas development and evaluate ways to reduce the amount. A second project, which is currently under development, would include a field and laboratory investigation of whether hydrological connectivity exists between water in the units above and below the shale unit being fractured as a result of the fracturing process. As envisioned, the project calls for university researchers to conduct field sampling of hydraulic fracturing fluid, flow-back water, produced water and water from aquifers and other geologic units within the Barnett shale.