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Fracking fluid is leaking more often than we thought

Hydraulic fracture oil and gas wells spill pretty often, according to a recent study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. That study, along with a companion paper which appeared in the journal Science of the Total Environment, analyzed spill data and behavior across four states—Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania—with the goal of identifying common causes of spills to help industries improve. If you feel like you’ve heard this story before, you haven’t. Most studies on hydraulic fracture, or fracking, focus on underground leaks. This study focused exclusively on leaks at the surface, which can harm wildlife—most notably birds and marine creatures—as well as impact drinking water sources. Fracking fluid contains a slurry of chemicals, many of which are known to be dangerous and even more of which are kept secret by the companies that produce them. Many hydraulic fracture sites are located in close proximity to headwater streams that feed into public drinking water systems, so aboveground leaks can pose a big risk. Researchers studied data from 31,481 hydraulic fracture wells, which dig deep into the ground to fracture or splinter rock formations and release the natural gas or oil trapped inside. They found that from 2005 to 2014 there were 6,648 spills, as defined by each of the four state’s reporting requirements. The researchers created an interactive map allowing viewers to search by location, year, and cause of spill. “There's been so much focus on the ground water contamination and the casing incidences,” says Hannah Wiseman, the Attorneys’ Title Professor at Florida State University College of Law and an author on both studies. “We wanted to sort of shift the attention a bit to the surface.” A similar study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency only found 457 leaks for eight states between 2006 and 2012—but that's because the EPA focused narrowly on leaks that happened exclusively during the process of hydraulic fracturing. This work focuses on the full lifecycle of a well. “We think it's important to study the whole life of the well,” said Wiseman, “because the process of hydraulic fracturing has enabled the drilling of so many more wells.”

Read More: Popular Science

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