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UT Researcher Leading Fracking Study: "We're Gonna Look at Every Claim We Can Find."

A week ago today, as you may recall, the University of Texas at Austin's Energy Institute announced they'd be joining the growing ranks of universities with major studies of hydraulic fracturing, with a $300,000, nine-month project of their own.

Today, thanks to the Texas Tribune and KUT News, you can hear more about researchers' plans today, courtesy the institute's associate director, Chip Groat, who says his team is going to cast a wide net.

Groat says they'll look at complaints from the Barnett Shale here in North Texas, the Haynesville Shale in East Texas and Louisiana, and New York and Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale formation. "We're gonna map them in space, we're gonna map them in time," he says, "and try to take each of these water, air, earthquake kind of issues and lay it out."

Groat, a geologist at UT's Jackson School of Geosciences, says his gut reaction to water contamination complaints is that Barnett Shale is too deep for fracking chemicals to seep all the way up into wells and aquifers -- but by compiling  as many complaints as possible, some explanation may take shape. "How in the world could something that deep get all the way up to the surface? So you don't think that it can happen, but that doesn't mean it doesn't," Groat says.

Slated "to get started straight away," the study'll be an "independent assessment" of fracking complaints, while also developing new law and policy recommendations -- the university says it'll be the first study to do both of those. It'll also be done in consultation with the Environmental Defense Fund.

Of course, even a nine-month study's going to come too late for Dallas's gas drilling task force, which, according to that call for applicants sent out last week, will wrap its work by October.

A major EPA study on gas drilling is also due out next year.

Since then-SMU professor Al Armendariz's 2008 study on gas drilling's contribution to air pollution in the Barnett Shale, a pair of controversial university studies have looked at the industry with a focus on the Marcellus.

A Cornell University study released in April warned of the climate change impact of the methane leaks from natural gas drilling and transfer. Critics say it overestimated methane's actual contribution to climate change.

A Duke University study released last week tackled water contamination, suggesting wells closer to drill sites were more likely to be contaminated by methane. Industry groups pointed out the study didn't say fracking was to blame, or that fracking chemicals were in the water too.


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