Study on Water Resources Risks from Shale Gas Development Named One of ES&T’s Best Papers

April 15, 2015

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084,

DURHAM, N.C. – A Duke University-led study that provided the first comprehensive review of the potential risks to water resources posed by unconventional shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing has been selected as one of the best peer-reviewed papers of 2014 by the editors of the journal Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T).

The study, led by Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, was chosen as 2nd runner-up in the Environmental Policy category. It was selected for the honor from among more than 1,700 peer-reviewed papers published in ES&T last year.

Andrew Kondash, a current PhD student, and Nathaniel Warner, a former PhD student in Vengosh’s lab, co-authored the study.  

Using documentation from case studies conducted primarily in the U.S., their winning paper identified four potential risks shale gas development and fracking pose to water resources.

These risks are: 1) the contamination of shallow aquifers with fugitive hydrocarbon gases (i.e., stray gas contamination), which could also potentially lead to the salinization of shallow groundwater through leaking natural gas wells; (2) the contamination of surface water and shallow groundwater from spills, leaks, and/or the disposal of inadequately treated shale gas wastewater; (3) the accumulation of toxic and radioactive elements in soil or stream sediments near disposal or spill sites; and (4) the over-extraction of water resources for high-volume hydraulic fracturing that could induce water shortages or conflicts with other water users, particularly in water-scarce areas.

“Our analysis of published data through January 2014 revealed evidence for stray gas contamination from leaking shale gas wells, surface water impacts in areas of intensive shale gas development, and the accumulation of naturally occurring radioactive material in some disposal and spill sites,” Vengosh said. “The direct contamination of shallow groundwater from hydraulic fracturing fluids and deep formation waters by subsurface flow induced directly from hydraulic fracturing fluids, however, remains controversial.”

You can read the full paper, “A Critical Review of the Risks to Water Resources from Unconventinoal Shale Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing in the United States,” here .

This is the second year in a row a paper by Vengosh and his team has been selected as one of ES&T’s top papers. A study he led last year that found high levels of radioactivity, salts and metals in shale gas wastewater was selected as the journal’s Best Science Paper of 2013.

“Being recognized for year-end honors two years in a row shows that Duke research on hydraulic fracturing is sound and objective,” Vengosh said.

Other co-authors on Vengosh’s newly honored review paper are Robert Jackson of Stanford University and Thomas Darrah of The Ohio State University. Jackson was formerly a professor at Duke’s Nicholas School. Darrah was formerly a research scientist at Duke.