Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) told The Associated Press that the preliminary results of its study indicated that that fracking chemicals did not reach drinking water sources at a well site in the Marcellus Shale formation.  The study, conducted by the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, is the first performed by government scientists using tracers in fracking fluid.  Researchers injected the tracers into fracking fluid at different stages of the fracking process while monitoring existing wells at about 3,000 feet above the fractures, which were roughly 8,000 feet below the surface.  DOE found no evidence of the tracers in groundwater at the monitored wells.

In addition to tracing the fracking fluid, the study also monitored the seismicity of several wells during fracking activities.  Through this monitoring, DOE found that most fractures traveled only a few hundred feet.  Researchers attributed one fracture traveling 1,800 feet to an intersection with naturally occurring faults.  However, this is still more than a mile below the surface and well below drinking water sources.

Critics emphasize that these results represent only one study conducted at one well field.  They also note that the drilling company may have taken extra care with these wells, knowing that they were the subject of the study.  Nonetheless, these results seem to support the industry’s claim that chemicals in fracking fluids do not pose a risk to drinking water. 

DOE anticipates publishing the full results of the study over the next few months.

Co-authored by Michael N. Mills and Robin B. Seifried.