While hydraulic fracturing itself has yet to be proven to have contaminated groundwater, faulty wells, leaking impoundments, and spills have. Better methods to detect contamination and its source are needed. A study published last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology has identified new tracing tools that can fill that bill.
New Tracers Identify Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids and Accidental Releases from Oil and Gas Operations finds that hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that have been spilled or released into the environment can be reliably identified by using certain chemically-stable tracers with distinctive chemical fingerprints.
According to this article on the study, the tracers - based on elements that occur naturally in shale formations - allow scientists to track the presence of frack fluids in the environment and tell them apart from naturally-occurring background water and wastewater that comes from other sources, including conventional oil and gas wells.
The tracers appear to be a valuable tool – for both regulators and the industry - to differentiate among sources of contamination and guide efforts to mitigate - and prevent - environmental impacts of unconventional oil and gas development. Will these new tools be used?