Oct. 23, 2014 -- A new research project at the University of Cincinnati (UC) is taking a groundbreaking approach to monitoring groundwater resources near hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites in the state of Ohio. Conducted by Claire Botner, a UC graduate student in geology, the research is part of UC Groundwater Research of Ohio (GRO), a collaborative research project based out of the university to examine the effects of fracking on groundwater in the Utica Shale region of the eastern part of the state.
First launched in Carroll County in 2012, the GRO team of researchers is examining methane levels and origins of methane in private wells and springs before, during and after the onset of fracking. The team travels to the region to take water samples four times a year. Amy Townsend-Small, the lead researcher for GRO and a UC assistant professor of geology, said the UC study is unique in comparison with studies on water wells in other shale-rich areas of the U.S. where fracking is taking place -- such as the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania.
Townsend-Small explained that water samples finding natural gas-derived methane in wells near Pennsylvania fracking sites were taken only after fracking had occurred, so methane levels in those wells were not documented prior to or during fracking in Pennsylvania. The Ohio samples are being analyzed by UC researchers for concentrations of methane as well as other hydrocarbons and salt, which are pulled up in the fracking water mixture from the shales. The shales are ancient ocean sediments.
Botner's study involves testing on 22 private wells in Carroll County between November 2012 and last May. The first fracking permits were issued in the region in 2011. So far, results indicate that any methane readings in groundwater wells came from organic matter. In less than a handful of cases, the natural methane levels were relatively high -- above 10 milligrams per liter. However, most of the wells carried low levels of methane.
The UC sampling has now been expanded into Columbiana, Harrison, Stark, and Belmont counties in Ohio. Researchers then review data on private drinking water wells with the homeowners. "We're working on interacting with these communities and educating them about fracking as well as gathering scientific data, which is lacking on a very sensitive issue," said Botner. "It can also be reassuring to receive data on their water supplies from an objective, university resource."
The team is also seeking additional funding to begin monitoring groundwater wells near wastewater injection wells, where fracking brine is deposited after the wells are drilled.