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UTA study finds arsenic in local wells, Denton water supply unaffected

UTA study finds arsenic in local wells, Denton water supply unaffected

September 07
19:51 2014

Joshua Knopp / News Editor

An environmental startup partnered with the University of Texas at Arlington is close to completing the followup on a study that found arsenic and other heavy metals in private wells throughout the Barnett Shale area. The contamination could be related to hydraulic fracturing, a practice that could be banned by Denton residents this November.

Inform Environmental was founded in June 2013 by Zachariah Hildenbrand, partially because of the lack of information about fracking. Hildenbrand was researching cancer at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center when he learned about the issue.

“The issue of hydraulic fracturing is a very highly charged issue. It’s a very emotional issue that’s unfortunately very devoid of scientific data,” he said. “We were watching this saying, ‘Well this is obviously dramatic, and we’re sure there’s tons of data on this.’ Turns out there was absolutely nothing.”

Hildenbrand partnered with UTA for its Shimadzu Center for Advanced Analytical Chemistry, a cutting-edge facility the school opened in 2012. Hildenbrand’s first study, published in July 2013, tested 100 privately-owned wells on top of the Barnett shale – 91 within 1.8 miles of active fracking rigs, and 9 control wells. The Barnett Shale is the underground formation stretching from Denton County to Brown County which holds the natural gas that local fracking aims to collect.

The study found that 30 percent of the test wells had increased levels of arsenic, as well as barium, selenium and strontium.

Arsenic is extremely poisonous, able to cause diarrhea, nausea and organ failure. The Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines state that anything containing arsenic at more than 10 parts per billion is unsafe to consume, and 29 of the test wells exceeded this guideline. Arsenic was also present in the control wells, but at a lower concentration.

Barium, selenium and strontium are also dangerous when consumed. Barium and strontium were found in a similar number of wells to arsenic, while selenium was found in only 10 samples, all of which were from active extraction sites.

These results prompted Hildenbrand and his group to perform a followup study of about 550 wells, some of them public. The samples of this study are currently being tested by UTA associate professor Kevin Schug.

Schug said the test wells span 12 counties, and the testing itself will be more thorough than the first time around. Schug and his team will be testing for more chemicals to quantities as small as five parts per billion.

“Day in, day out, there are more reports from different parts of the world that talk about different aspects, good and bad of unconventional drilling,” Schug said. “But I don’t think the environmental aspects have been done to the point that they need to be, so we’re trying to change that.”

Schug said he was not at liberty to disclose the results until they were completed.

Whatever they find, Denton’s drinking supply comes from somewhere else. Assistant director of water utilities Timothy Fisher said Denton has been groundwater free for 15 years, drawing its water exclusively from Lake Ray Roberts and Lake Lewisville. Both man-made lakes are fed by the Trinity River, which does not pass through the Barnett Shale region.

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