WEST Virginians naturally have environmental concerns about hydraulic fracturing. They want assurances that injecting large quantities of water into the ground to get natural gas will not cause other problems.
Two studies by researchers at Duke University provide some comfort.
The scientists monitored 127 shallow drinking water wells near Fayetteville Shale gas production sites in Arkansas for the U.S. Geological Survey.
"Our results show no discernible impairment of groundwater quality in areas associated with natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in this region," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality.
A second group monitored Marcellus Shale gas production sites in Pennsylvania for the Department of Energy and found no evidence that chemicals used in fracking contaminated drinking water.
Many industry experts and government regulators have contended that because the injections are deeper than the aquifers, there is little risk of contamination.
Some environmentalists concede the point.
"Very few people think that fracking at significant depths routinely leads to water contamination," said Scott Anderson, a drilling expert with the Environment Defense Fund. "But the jury is still out on what the odds are that this might happen in special situations."
The Marcellus report dovetails with the Arkansas report, whose lead author was Nathaniel R. Warner, a doctoral candidate.
"These findings demonstrate that shale gas development, at least in this area, has been done without negatively impacting drinking water resources," he said.
"Our findings in Arkansas are important, but we are still only beginning to evaluate and understand the environmental risks of shale gas development," Vengosh said. "Much more research is needed."
The more scientists and the public know about the effects of hydraulic fracking, the easier it will be to make sure the drilling is done safely.