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University to Study Fracking and Methane in Drinking Water

Marcellus shale gas well in West Virginia (

Marcellus shale gas well in West Virginia (

Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia will investigate the origins of methane gas found in drinking water wells near Marcellus Shale drilling sites in Pennsylvania. A related research project will study the extent to which science influences public policy on shale gas drilling. Both studies are funded by a one-year, $66,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation.

Engineering professor Michel Boufadel, who leads the multi-disciplinary project, says “There has been a lot of hype about this issue and sometimes it is difficult to decipher what is fact-based and what is opinion.” The methane part of the research will attempt to determine if the methane gas found in the wells was released from the shale during drilling or whether it was located in pockets closer to the surface.

A recent study by researchers at Duke University showed that drinking wells located near Marcellus Shale drilling sites in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County had an average concentration of methane gas that was 17 times greater than wells not near drilling sites. The study also concluded that the methane had originated deep below the earth’s surface.

Boufadel says the process used to drill into the shale creates enormous pressure that could be forcing pockets of methane toward the drinking water wells. If the methane is originating in the upper formations, the likely cause is the drilling operation or the well casing construction, which are issues that could be addressed at a reasonable cost. However, if the gas is originating in the deep formation, the entire hydrofracking process could be considered hazardous and would need to be stopped or changed.

In the related study, geography and urban studies professor Michele Masucci will explore the way science of the Marcellus Shale drilling reaches policy makers, and how they are processing and using science to formulate public policy on the extraction of gas from the Marcellus Shale.

Read more: Study: Hydraulic Fracturing Can Release Uranium from Shale

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