Frequently Asked Questions About Hydraulic Fracturing

I’ve heard we’ve been fracking safely for 60 years?
What is the present density of wells?
Do we know the consequences of that much fracking?
The gas companies ensure us that it’s perfectly safe. Why should we not trust that statement
What about the water – how much is used, where does it come from, and where does it go?
What’s added to the water?
Who regulates fracking?
How effective are the existing regulations
If it’s safe, why are banks beginning to deny mortgages to buyers of property where fracking has occurred?
I’ve heard natural gas is a clean fuel? Why all the concern?
Why is there such a rush to extract natural gas?
Do I have a right to complain if I use natural gas?

 

I’ve heard we’ve been fracking safely for 60 years?

Horizontal hydraulic fracturing is different from traditional drilling and vertical fracking techniques that have been used for years.  This technique, commonly called  “fracking”,  has only been in standard use in the last 7-10 years or so but is now the main drilling technique for oil and gas in Colorado.  It drills thousands of feet vertically and then drills horizontally, up to 2 miles, with high velocity seismic injection of fracking fluid and sand.  It uses many hundreds of times more water (2-5 million gallons per frack and each well can be refracked multiple times) than vertical fracking.  It then has to dispose of that water, contaminated by toxic fracking chemicals and the minerals that it brings up from underground (some radioactive, some of which can combine to make the highly toxic gas, hydrogen sulfide). About 50% of the toxified water remains underground.  It takes longer than vertical fracking and requires a huge scale industrial operation, with massive heavy tanker truck traffic of about 1,200 tanker truck trips per frack (transporting clean water, fracking fluids, etc.).

Fracking history:
Early 1900s Natural gas extracted from shale wells. Vertical wells fractured with foam.
1983 First gas well drilled in Barnett Shale in Texas
1980-1990s Cross-linked gel fracturing fluids developed and used in vertical wells
1991 First horizontal well drilled in Barnett Shale
1991 Orientation of induced fractures identified
1996  Slickwater fracturing fluids introduced
1996 Microseismic post-fracturing mapping developed
1998  Slickwater refracturing of originally gel-fractured wells
2002  Multi-stage slickwater fracturing of horizontal wells
2003 First hydraulic fracturing of Marcellus Shale
2005  Increased emphasis on improving the recovery factor
2007  Use of multi-well pads and cluster drilling

RESOURCES:
More on the evolution of the process from geology.com

back to top


What is the present density of wells?

Weld County alone now has over 16,000 active wells. (Source: Oils and Gas Activity and the Niobrara, Weld County Energy Workshop, January 13, 2011)

back to top


Do we know the consequences of that much fracking?
There is growing evidence that earthquakes are caused by fracking. The potential consequences of such earthquakes vary, but if fracking causes earthquakes, it would seem to belie industry claims that it is not possible for fracked wells to contaminate aquifers thousands of feet away. In addition, the cumulative effects of many wells in one area is affecting the air quality. “Drilling of new wells, routine maintenance and gas-field equipment release substances that contribute to ozone pollution, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.” (The Times Tribune, Gas drilling blamed for soaring ozone in Wyoming, 3/9/2011) Areas that had previously had fresh, clean air are now experiencing smog. Some days, residents in Longmont have only to look north east toward Greeley to see visual evidence of the smog.

RESOURCES:
UK Fracking Firm Admits They Are Causing Earthquakes (11/7/2011)
Earthquakes, Fracking, and Oklahoma, The Columbus Dispatch (11/25/2011)
USGS report on induced seismicity from fracking in Oklahoma concluded that strong correlations in time and space of fracking and seismic activity certainly suggests a causal relationship
A Preliminary Study on the Impact of Marcellus Shale Drilling on Headwater Streams, Natural Academy of Sciences of Drexel University

back to top


The gas companies ensure us that it’s perfectly safe. Why should we not trust that statement?

Among the provisions in the 2005 energy bill was one dubbed the Halliburton loophole, which stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate a drilling process called hydraulic fracturing. If their operations are safe, why would they need the loophole? The oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that is allowed by EPA to inject known hazardous materials – unchecked – directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies.

As additional evidence, publicly owned oil & gas companies must have the following or similar statement in their notice to their own shareholders outlining the risks of the industry:

“Our operations are subject to inherent hazards and risks, such as fire, explosions, blowouts, formations with abnormal pressures, uncontrollable flows of underground gas, oil and formation water and environmental hazards such as gas leaks and oil spills. Any of these events could cause a loss of hydrocarbons, pollution or other environmental damage, clean-up responsibilities, regulatory investigations and penalties, suspension of operations, personal injury claims, loss of life, damage to our properties, or damage to the property of others.” (XTO Energy Inc, 2002 Form 10-K)

Whereas industry has available technology right now that would avoid a great deal of the human and environmental devastation and water security threats posed by oil and gas development, they choose not to use it since it eats into their substantial profit margin. Very few of our legislators are demanding this on our behalf, nor pushing for rights of local governments to enact oil and gas regs suitable for their area, nor insisting on restoration of rights of property owners.

Please look under the link above “Community Impacts” to find detailed information on the ways hydraulic fracturing can be considered “unsafe”, especially in highly-populated urban areas.

Also, for documented evidence of spills in Colorado, please visit http://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/colorado_contamination_incidents#Condensatecomplaints

RESOURCES:
NY Times article about the Halliburton Loophole
Millions of gallons spilled in Colo. over 2½ year period, Denver Post, 6/28/2010

back to top


What about the water – how much is used, where does it come from, and where does it go?

Each well drilled requires 1 to 5 million gallons of water and more when they are re-fracked. Water going to fracking may increase shortfall for domestic purposes. Wastewater (along with its toxic contents) is disposed of in underground pits, discharged into rivers, stored in ponds.

RESOURCES:
Fracking of wells puts big demand on Colorado water, Denver Post (11/23/2011)
Energy companies buying water for Colo. fracking, Denver Post (11/23/2011)
EPA to set standards for disposal of fracking wastewater in treatment plants, Denver Post (10/21/11)
Documents: Natural Gas’s Toxic Waste, New York Times (2/28/2011)

back to top


What’s added to the water?

Fracking fluid is mostly water, but it also contains additives that make the fluid “slippery”, as well as solids (like sand) that are left in the ground to maintain the pore spaces created or widened by the fracking process.

“A single fracturing operation involves the injection of a ton of sand, mixed with materials that include benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene. Diesel fuel, commonly used in fracturing
operations, contains MTBE. Very small quantities of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene are capable of contaminating underground sources of drinking water. For example, only 28 teaspoons of MTBE could contaminate millions of gallons of water.” (Colorado County Model Regulations, Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) )

RESOURCES:
Colorado No. 2 in carcinogen-laced “fracking” fluids , Denver Post (4/22/2011)

back to top


Who regulates fracking?

The states. The oil & gas industry enjoys exemption from most federal laws concerning environmental protection, consumer protection, health and safely protection. In Colorado, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission charged with promulgating rules (the regulations bearing the full force of law) regarding the O&G industry. The mission of the COGCC is “to foster the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources”. Please look at our navigation menu above for additional information on oil and gas regulations.

There are currently 10 field inspectors charged with over 40,000 active wells to inspect. This past year they field inspected 10,917 wells. At that rate, each well would be inspected only once every 4 years, not accounting for growth. (Source: COGCC Oil and Gas Staff report)

Operators must comply with local ordinances and regulations (e.g., planning and zoning, special-use permitting). Local governments have limited authority to regulate the activities of operators. An increasing number of local governments in Colorado have been attempting local regulation. In general, the local governments can regulate surface uses, while water quality and O&G operations are regulated by two different Colorado agencies.

Operators can be held accountable for destruction after the fact, but this is not protection. It is remediation, and the history in our state shows that it is ineffective. Furthermore, subjects the CURRENT and PAST landholders to liability, and for this reason, banks and mortgage companies are beginning to deny mortgages for purchases of properties where fracking has occurred (see below for more about this).

back to top


How effective are the existing regulations?

With the boom in oil & gas activity, inspectors are spread too thin. According to an oil & gas presentation at the Longmont City Council meeting on Nov 15, 2011 the Niobrara Shale play that resides largely in Weld County has over 17,000 wells and one inspector. The regulations can only be as good as the ability to enforce them.

In addition, oil and gas drilling through multi-well pad sites close to densely populated urban areas and schools is a rather new phenomenon in Colorado. It is reasonable to expect that regulations might not be stringent enough to protect the health and safety of citizens at this time. The regulations can and should change to adapt to new situations as the industry grows.

RESOURCES:
Driling spills rise in Colorado but fines rare, Denver Post (9/13/2011)

back to top


If it’s safe, why are banks beginning to deny mortgages to buyers of property where fracking has occurred?

The New York Times, in examining the risks of natural-gas drilling, uncovered this trend.

RESOURCES:
Documents: Mortgages and Gas Leases, NY Times

back to top


I’ve heard natural gas is a clean fuel? Why all the concern?

Natural gas is clean in burning but not clean in its total life cycle. Methane, a greenhouse gas more destructive than carbon dioxide (by a factor of 72-25, depending on how many years its effect is considered), is the major component of natural gas, and it is released in significant quantities during extraction.

When its full life cycle (including the methane released during extraction and the carbon footprint of delivery) is considered, it might very well be worse than coal or oil, as found by a Cornell University study. (

RESOURCES:
Natural gas from fracking could be ‘dirtier’ than coal, Cornell professors find

back to top


Why is there such a rush to extract natural gas?

There is a rush to beat regulation. There is a fear that increased regulations will reduce profits.

RESOURCES:
Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush (NY Times June 25, 2011)d

back to top


Do I have a right to complain if I use natural gas?

Does the fact that I drink water mean I cannot insist on responsible water management by my government and industry? There are methods with which to make fracking safer that can be instituted now.