New NSF Grant Will Fund Study on Environmental Impacts of Frac Fluids

September 10, 2014

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084,

DURHAM, N.C. – The National Science Foundation has awarded a $258,000, three-year grant to a Duke University-led team of scientists to fund research on the geochemical characterization and potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing fluids.

Investigators on the new grant are Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment; Robert B. Jackson, professor of environmental science at both Duke and Stanford universities; and Thomas H. Darrah, assistant professor of earth science at Ohio State and formerly a research scientist at Duke’s Nicholas School.

Vengosh, Jackson, Darrah and their teams have published numerous, widely cited peer-reviewed studies examining links between drinking water contamination and shale gas extraction. They also have published research on surface water contamination linked to the disposal of shale gas wastewater, and on novel treatment technologies that may help remove or reduce its naturally occurring radioactivity.

The new grant, “SusChEM: Geochemical Characterization and Evaluation of the Environmental Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids,” began this month.

Hydraulic fracturing fluids, also called “frac fluids,” contain mixtures of water, sand and chemicals. Large volumes of the mixtures are pumped deep underground into horizontal gas wells at high pressure to crack open hydrocarbon-rich shale and extract its embedded natural gas. Some people fear that toxic chemicals contained in the proprietary mixtures, which companies often don’t disclose, may contaminate nearby drinking water aquifers.

“This new grant will help us identify the geochemical composition of these frac fluids and assess whether or not they pose risks,” Vengosh says.