Jun 08, 2011

UT Arlington Researchers to Study Well Water Near Rural Drilling Sites

Team will perform tests to determine whether water is contaminated

A University of Texas at Arlington chemistry professor will assist in a new study to examine rural well water from areas near natural gas drilling sites to provide clear, accurate information about the potential impact of chemicals used to extract gas from rock formations.

Kevin Schug, assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Science, will work with independent researchers with support from Assure Controls, a product development and marketing company in San Diego. The research team aims to test for contamination in water well samples from more than 100 locations.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process by which a blend of water, sand and other agents is pumped into a well at high pressure, cracking rock formations up to a mile underground and releasing natural gas. It has been used widely in the North Texas Barnett Shale and other natural gas formations across the country, allowing access to previously untapped reserves.

In reaction to concerns about the process, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu earlier this month formed a panel of experts to make recommendations regarding the safety and environmental performance of natural gas hydraulic fracturing from shale formations.

Schug and others involved in the study will use Assure’s QwikLite Biosensor System, a water quality test for toxicity caused by any type of organic, inorganic and heavy metal compound. They will do further testing to determine which contaminants, if any, are in the samples.

Geospatial and statistical analysis will be used to examine correlations between hydraulic fracturing and the composition of the well water, said Laura Hunt, a member of the research team who previously conducted her post-doctoral research at UT Arlington.

Other researchers involved are Brian Fontenot and Zacariah Hildenbrand. Fontenot finished his doctorate in quantitative biology at UT Arlington in 2009. Hildenbrand recently earned his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Texas at El Paso.

Assure Controls is supporting the study out of an interest in the quality of well water, company officials said. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates public water systems, it does not regulate private drinking water wells, which account for approximately 15% of U.S. drinking water supplies. Unlike public drinking water systems, experts do not regularly monitor water source and quality for private wells, the company said.