A recent Duke University study claims to have found systematic evidence for methane contamination of drinking-water wells in areas where natural gas is extracted from shale by hydraulic fracturing. Stephen Osborn, et al., “Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 2011. According to the study, methane concentrations were 17 times higher on average in shallow wells from active drilling and extraction areas than in wells from nonactive areas. The study found no evidence of contamination in drinking-water samples with deep saline brines or hydraulic fracturing fluids.

The researchers studied 60 wells in the Catskill and Lock Haven formations that overlie the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and the Genesee Group that overlies the Utica Shale in New York. Among other things, the study’s authors advocate regulation of fracturing waste under RCRA and fracturing wells under the Safe Drinking Water Act.