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Noon seminar - Hydraulic fracturing: Environmental perspective

Monday, October 17, 2011, 12:00PM - 1:00PM


Stephen G. Osborn

California Polytechnic University, Pomona


ARC room 620

Hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling technologies have significantly expanded natural gas production from organic-rich shale formations in the US and worldwide. A lack of published scientific data on the potential for environmental and health impacts has precluded a thorough assessment of risks. This talk will discuss potential environmental impacts to shallow groundwater associated with intensive natural gas extraction from the Marcellus organic-rich shale in northeast Pennsylvania. Recent research (Osborn et al., 2011) noted higher methane concentrations (17 times higher on average) in areas with active natural gas extraction when compared to areas without extraction (non-active). Additionally, the dissolved gas geochemistry in active extraction areas was distinctly different and characteristic of a deep-seated organic matter source when compared to non-active extraction areas that had dissolved gas characteristic of mixed or biogenic origin. Importantly, there was no evidence in this study for contamination of shallow groundwater by hydraulic fracturing fluids based on major elemental analyses and some isotopic constituents (oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, boron, and 226Radium) when compared to historic groundwater analyses from the region and between active and non-active extraction areas. More published research is necessary to understand the mechanisms of fluid flow and assess health effects of natural gas (Jackson et al, 2011). This research could improve the public confidence, and ensure a sustainable future for both natural gas extraction and groundwater resources.