New research suggests that salty, mineral-rich fluids deep beneath Pennsylvania natural gas fields are likely seeping upward thousands of feet into drinking water supplies, according to ProPublica.
Duke University and California State Polytechnic University at Pomona scientists who conducted the study said their findings suggest the fluids found near Marcellus Shale are natural and not a byproduct of drilling or the controversial process of shale gas extraction, known commonly as fracking. But the research also suggests drilling waste and chemicals can migrate in ways previously unknown.
The quality of drinking water was a key component to the fracking debate in North Carolina -- one that led Gov. Bev Perdue to veto a bill establishing a framework for drilling in the state. With the help of Democrats, the GOP-controlled legislature overrode the veto.
"The biggest implication is the apparent presence of connections from deep underground to the surface," said Robert Jackson, a biology professor at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and one of the study's authors. "It's a suggestion based on good evidence that there are places that may be more at risk."
The researchers collected 426 recent and historical water samples from shallow water wells and analyzed them for brine, water that is rich with salt. They compared their chemical makeup to that of 83 brine samples unearthed as waste water from drilling sites in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale.
The study is the second in recent months to find that the geology surrounding the Marcellus Shale could allow contaminants to move more freely than expected. A paper published by the journal Ground Water in April used modeling to predict that contaminants could reach the surface within 100 years – or fewer if the ground is fracked.
North Carolina lawmakers put the state a step closer to fracking when they voted to override Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of a bill setting the regulatory framework for the process.
Perdue paid a visit earlier this year are to Pennsylvania to see fracking firsthand while she was forming her opinion on legislation related to fracking.