Environment: Finding balance is possible

A report out of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment this week perfectly demonstrates what a mistake it can be to take a one-size-fits-all approach to environmental matters. The results of the three-year study probably raised some eyebrows, as they showed “no indication of groundwater contamination” from fracking in the Marcellus Shale in northwestern West Virginia. Monitoring drinking water wells and surface water for longer than in any previous research on the matter, Duke researchers found fracking simply does not pollute groundwater in this region.

That is different from the results of studies on fracking in northeastern Pennsylvania. But there is a very good reason for that. According to Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke, it is a matter of the differences in geology and industry practice. In fact, David Yoxtheimer, a hydrogeologist with Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, who was not involved in the Duke study but would likely be very familiar with the results of research in northeastern Pennsylvania, called the Duke research “a good example of an objective study. … It’s the type of science we need more of out there.”

Of course, the results were not a rubber stamp for current practices by the oil and natural gas industry in northwestern West Virginia. The study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council did find that surface water contamination as a result of industry activity is usually the result of wastewater spills at the well site or in transit. Researchers suggested a need for better monitoring of streams in heavily drilled areas, and better safety/transportation practices to avoid spills in the first place.

Duke’s research did not find fracking to be the environmental disaster for our region some have proclaimed, nor did it find the oil and natural gas industry is problem-free. It appears to be a good assessment of the areas on which companies and environmental regulators should be focusing to minimize damage while helping to revitalize the economy in this part of the state.

It would be nice if those who view environmental and economic matters as purely black or white issues would take note.