A landmark federal study to evaluate whether hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, pollutes drinking water has good news for proponents of the controversial natural gas drilling process: it found no evidence that chemicals from the natural gas drilling process contaminated drinking water aquifers to a western Pennsylvania drilling site.
Fracking is the process of sending chemical-laced fluids deep below the water's surface to free natural gas that is trapped there. Opponents of the method say the use of these fluids involves unacceptable levels of air and water pollution.
The study, conducted by the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburg, involved government scientists injecting special tracers into the fracking fluid and then regularly monitoring it to see whether it spread toward drinking water sources. According to geologist Richard Hammack, the researchers found the chemical-laced fluids used in fracking stayed thousands of feet below the shallower areas that supply drinking water.
Though the results are preliminary, Duke University scientist Rob Jackson (who was not involved in the study) said, "This is good news," calling it a "useful and important approach" to monitoring fracking. He added that because industry practices vary widely across United States, the study doesn't conclusively prove fracking can't pollute.
To the chagrin of some environmentalists who say he is choosing the wrong path, President Obama supports the practice of fracking. In his June on climate change, Obama praised "cleaner-burning natural gas" and its role in providing safe, cheap power.
"The old rules may say we can't protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time," Obama said. "Don't tell folks that we have to choose between the health of our children or the health of our economy."