The shale gas boom has brought with it no small amount of controversy, particularly concerning ground and surface water contamination. In his office at the University of Pittsburgh, the chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department wants to see solid science as part of public policy concerning fracking of shale gas.
"The key thing is to get the data now," Dr. Radisav Vidic says in Serbian-accented English. "To do the comparison, and see if anything needs to be done to control that potential environmental impact," he continued. Dr. Vidic emphasizes taking a long view of pollution issues, arguing the pollution control right at the start of an industrial process ultimately costs less.
While Dr. Vidic's recent research focuses on Pennsylvania, he notes one area where West Virginia has an advantage in efforts to avoid pollution.
Dr. Vidic explains, "The good thing for West Virginia is that you do have a background data methane concentration in groundwater, and you can compare historical trends in methane contamination in groundwater."
His graduate student team is working on ways to predict the wastes produced as part of the drilling process, so companies can better manage the water used. They gathered data on water quality from well sites in Pennsylvania before and after drilling and subjected it to scientific review.
"The data that we have, and the data that we reviewed for these publications, do not support any of these hypotheses that there is an impact on ground water quality," he says, "whether it's a methane emissions, or methane migration, or whether it's a surface water quality, the salty rivers or whatever."
While Dr. Vidic's research concerns Pennsylvania, he offers some insights on what may happen in West Virginia.
"Density of wells in Pennsylvania is a little higher than it is in West Virginia," Dr. Vidic says, "so I will think that if we were not able to see the impact in Pennsylvania, the most likely outcome would be that there is -- that you're going have the same conclusion in West Virginia."
Dr. Vidic's full study will receive publication in the journal "Science" on May 18.