Does Federal Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing Make Sense?

A few days ago, Federal Legislation was introduced to regulate Hydraulic Fracturing. Dow Jones Newswire reported:

Industry Warns Bill May Halt Natural Gas Development

U.S. lawmakers Tuesday unveiled a bill that industry warns could prevent development of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas by putting regulation of a key production technique under federal oversight.

It is unclear how much support the proposal could get in Congress or from the White House, but the oil and natural-gas industry has already geared up for a fight to oppose the provision given its potential impact on the sector.

The legislation would repeal an exemption for the process of "hydraulic fracturing" in the Safe Drinking Water Act that requires disclosure of the chemicals used the production process.

By forcing hydraulic water, sand and a small percentage of lubricating chemicals into unconventional types of reservoirs called tight sand and shale gas, companies are able to fracture underground rocks and release the trapped gas not traditionally accessible. States' offices, such as Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, currently regulate the 60-year-old practice.

Arguments Against Federal Regulation

The industry arguments against stopping the current practice include:

1. The practice is already regulated by the states. Federal legislation would be duplicative, cause delays, and be expensive.

2. The practice has been used for more than 50 years, and seems to be safe.

3. The chemicals that are injected are injected thousands of feet below the water table. There is generally rock that acts as a barrier to keep the chemicals where they are re-injected. It would be very difficult for them to get back up to the water table again.

Arguments for Federal Regulation

The sponsors of the new legislation are concerned because drilling is being proposed near major urban areas, such as New York City. A small problem could be catastrophic. According to Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), who is one of the sponsors of the legislation:

Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale across much of Pennsylvania is part of our future. I believe that we have an obligation to develop that natural gas responsibly to safeguard the drinking water wells used by 3 million Pennsylvanians. We already have private wells contaminated by gas and fluids used in hydraulic fracturing. We need to make sure that this doesn’t become a state-wide problem over the next few decades as we extract natural gas.

According to the website of another sponsor of the legislation, Diana DeGette (D-CO),

Hydraulic fracturing – also known as “fracking”, which is used in almost all oil and gas wells, is a process whereby fluids are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to blast them open and increase the flow of fossil fuels. This injection of unknown and potentially toxic chemicals often occurs near drinking water wells. Troubling incidents have occurred around the country where people became ill after fracking operations began in their communities. Some chemicals that are known to have been used in fracking include diesel fuel, benzene, industrial solvents, and other carcinogens and endocrine disrupters.

One issue I have not seen discussed too much is the quantity of water used in fracking--probably because the legislation is not aimed at addressing water use. Perhaps readers can add more on the issue of water use. At the recent hearing House Hearing on Hydrofracturing, testimony by Albert F. Appleton who is a consultant on 
Infrastructure and the Environment and a 
former Director of the New York City Water and Sewer System, does touch on the water withdrawal issue. According to a post by Heading Out, his testimony can be summarized as follows:

He has been, as one concerned with the NY water supply, a critical evaluator of what goes on in the watershed that feeds water to the city and the state. He spoke to the fact that we are supposed to be moving away from fossil fuels toward renewable ones, that there are concerns with the fluids that are used in hydrofracing, and the industry that says it can’t afford more regulation is the one that makes these huge profits. His main concern was that the fluids used are toxic and do not biodegrade, so that even though they are stored in deep wells, they are still there as a threat. But there are also concerns that there are not enough regulators to ensure compliance with the regulations, and that water withdrawal may have severe and negative impact on communities. And he returned to the point that the Government is now pouring billions into green energy but this will compete with natural gas, so that if we subsidize the gas by easing the regulations we are undercutting the green energy program. And we have to be concerned about global warming.

Results of Analysis for the American Petroleum Institute

According to a report (which can be downloaded here) prepared by IHS Global Insight commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, elimination of hydraulic fracturing would have a huge impact on the industry. By 2104, the United States elimination of hydraulic fracturing could be expected to experience a 17% in oil production and a 45% reduction in natural gas production, relative to the reference case.

Of course, no one is really talking about eliminating hydraulic fracturing, just enacting federal regulation. The calculation of what happens if hydraulic fracturing is eliminated is really an intermediate result, in trying to figure out what would happen if regulation is enacted.

The report offers two regulation scenarios. If the new regulation results in only additional reporting, the report estimates that there will be a 20.5% reduction in the number of natural gas wells drilled over a five year period, and a 10% reduction in natural gas volumes. No estimate is given with respect to impact on oil production, but presumably it would be significantly less.

The report prepared for API also looks at a scenario where the types of fluids that can be used for hydrofracturing would be restricted. In this scenario, gas production would decrease by 22% and oil production by 8%, relative to baseline.

All of the analyses in the report prepared for API depend very much on the price of oil and of natural gas. If the price of natural gas remains low, there could be a big drop in production, with or without the proposed regulation.

Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing

Heading Out posted this general list of fracking fluids, introduced by Mr. Mike John of Chesapeake Energy at the House Hearings:

Other Thoughts

In many ways, the current legislation seems to reflect emotional concerns over what might happen, and what might be done to prevent what seems to be a fairly low chance of contamination. The problem is that if contamination did occur, the consequences could affect a huge number of people, and be difficult to resolve.

The issue of too much water use is not really addressed by current legislation. If the EPA regulates fracturing fluids, it may increase the cost of drilling wells, and thereby cause some wells which might have been economic without regulation to fall into the non-economic category. As a consequence, fewer wells will be drilled. This will reduce water use for hydraulic fracturing in proportion to the fewer wells drilled, but not otherwise.

The proposed legislation does not appear to have a good chance of passing. Supporters asked to get the legislation attached to energy packages, but were not successful in doing so. It seems to me that state legislation, in states like New York and Pennsylvania, will have a greater chance of passing.

I work in the oil industry, but am not directly involved in drilling. The chances of contamination from fracturing seem extremely small: the process is usually performed in formations with low permeability, and leakage of any of the fracturing fluids to an aquifer would only occur if there was a permeable path to the aquifer. If such a path existed naturally to an overlying aquifer, there would be no hydrocarbon accumulation. A path to a deeper aquifer could exist, but in that case the aquifer has already been contaminated with hydrocarbons, which are probably more dangerous than the fracturing fluid. The fracturing itself could conceivably open a path to an overlying aquifer, but in this case the risk to the public is contamination with oil rather than with fracturing fluid. Obviously, the operator will not want to risk doing this, because he will lose production, and will design the process in a way that this risk is minimized.

If the fracturing is successful, most of the fracturing fluid will be produced from the well when it goes into production, mixed with the water that is often produced along with the oil and gas. Improper disposal of this water is the largest risk, but regulations already exist governing disposal of water produced from oil and gas wells.

It seems to me that the principal benefit to the sponsors of the bill would be increased employment of regulators by the Federal government. As Federal employees tend to vote Democratic in overwhelming numbers, this would be an obvious benefit. The increased number of clerical employees in exploration companies to comply with reporting requirements would also benefit politicians with oil company offices in their districts.

Thanks for your insights!

This is a rather disingenuous reply. The point of fracking is to create cracks in the formation. If you create cracks, then you may open a path to an aquifer as well as open the producing formation. That is why you use fracking, to crack the formation.

Thank god there is only a small chance that fracking will ruin a water supply, because that means it will never happen, right? Wait. It already happened...several times. And, thank god we have the technology to clean up those contaminated aquifers. Wait. We don't. Well, at least we have a huge surplus of fresh water supplies and foresee no future shortages. Wait. Wrong again. Aquifers are more precious than ever.

Whistling past the graveyard.

It seems that all signs point towards getting away from the hydrocarbon beast before it eats us all. Perhaps we should attempt to reduce use rather than look for more sources in increasingly destructive ways? No? Thought not. We will undoubtedly be happy to poison as many as necessary in order to make a few bucks.


The problem is that there are significant downsides regardless of which option is taken. If one doesn't drill, you avoid the risk of damage to water systems, but you don't have the oil or gas either. In order to have the oil or gas, you generally need fracking.

Federal Regulation of hydraulic fracturing wouldn't stop it from occurring. It would change who does the regulation, or perhaps add another layer of regulation.

If one doesn't drill, you avoid the risk of damage to water systems, but you don't have the oil or gas either.

But ultimately we are not going to have the oil and gas, no matter what. What we are doing is guaranteeing a drop off the cliff when it does come, as well as despoiling the aquifers and much else that will be our sole resources at the end of the day.

We should do a lot more than just regulate fracking -- there needs to be a planned scale down of use of under ground resources, and a radical change in our way of life. And it doesn't even have to be that radical in the beginning because there is so much waste in our way of life.

WHT made the point a week or two ago that this shale gas stuff will go off a cliff at some point. I am more and more convinced that the bell energy production curve is not going to be symmetrical -- we will not have a nice smooth descent mirroring the ascent.

Existing, in place, fields should be allowed to continue production so long as there is no or little prospect of escalating damage to water and the surrounding areas. But rather then making massive investments to bring new stuff on line, those investments should be directed at taking us out of cars.

Won't happen, I know. Like Cherenkov says, sad. Junkies R us.

Edits: typos and last sentence.

But ultimately we are not going to have the oil and gas, no matter what. What we are doing is guaranteeing a drop off the cliff when it does come, as well as despoiling the aquifers and much else that will be our sole resources at the end of the day.

We should do a lot more than just regulate fracking -- there needs to be a planned scale down of use of under ground resources, and a radical change in our way of life. And it doesn't even have to be that radical in the beginning because there is so much waste in our way of life.

Now I can't disagree with that. But we gotta find a realizable politica/economic/technological trajectory to get there. At this point in time even a seriously weakened climate bill will have a tough time. That is where the UNG comes in, it can alleviate the concerns about cost -at least for the first couple of decades. IMO the likelyhood that we will have affordable solar by then is quite high (at least 90%), so it is really about getting our society to begin the journey.

Where I differ from the majority of TOD readers, is that I think that energy won't be a major constraint longer term (say after 50 years), but we gotta get the world ,and especially its most recalcitrant part (the good ol USA) to agree to the first steps.

The underlying idea is that industry people know what they are doing, that the processes involved are harmless, the benefits exceed costs and the process can be repeated tens or hundreds of thousands of times without issue.

Burn me once, your fault. Burn me hundreds of times over the centuries, what does this mean?

- What is all this 'extra' gas to be used for? Do new regulations have bearing to any use?

- Regulations avoid the water issues.

- Regulators can't know what's underground:

An investigation by ProPublica, which visited Sublette County and six other contamination sites, found that water contamination in drilling areas around the country is far more prevalent than the EPA asserts. Our investigation also found that the 2004 EPA study was not as conclusive as it claimed to be. A close review shows that the body of the study contains damaging information that wasn't mentioned in the conclusion. In fact, the study foreshadowed many of the problems now being reported across the country.

The contamination in Sublette County is significant because it is the first to be documented by a federal agency, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. But more than 1,000 other cases of contamination have been documented by courts and state and local governments in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In one case, a house exploded after hydraulic fracturing created underground passageways and methane seeped into the residential water supply. In other cases, the contamination occurred not from actual drilling below ground, but on the surface, where accidental spills and leaky tanks, trucks and waste pits allowed benzene and other chemicals to leach into streams, springs and water wells

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of each contamination, or measure its spread across the environment accurately, because the precise nature and concentrations of the chemicals used by industry are considered trade secrets. Not even the EPA knows exactly what's in the drilling fluids. And that, EPA scientists say, makes it impossible to vouch for the safety of the drilling process or precisely track its effects.

When will this worn- out dynamic change? Currently, the industries are adversarial to their own longer- term interests as well as those of their customers. The proven consequence is always business failure! When will the energy business -and other businesses - stop burning themselves over and over?

Unless the dynamic changes, the outcomes - production booms, devastating busts, environmental suits and large damages, eventually decline and failure of the resource - will not change. In its haste to develop new 'product' and market it, regardless of consequences, the gas industry is setting itself up for another destructive bust ... with the contamination of Wyoming/Pennsylvania/Texas/Louisiana ground water resources as a byproduct.

Once contaminated, ground water resources cannot be reclaimed.

Gail's previous post examined production over the next decade:

Where would all this gas go? Would it fuel the transition to a more sustainable energy future? Would it be used to produce more nitrogen fertilizer, or plastics and polymers; would it generate load- balancing electricity and keep more people warm until houses can be reconfigured to conserve? No, this increase would be earmarked to fuel automobiles running in circles, to keep suburbia on life support, to keep intact for a few years more the rotting financial infrastructure and the officials, oligarchs and criminals that depend on it.

Another 'last chance' to do something right for a change. A resource that can be properly managed rather than wasted.

I know how this story ends. Same way as all the other times. Regulations, Federal and otherwise will be crafted, inspectors will be paid off and business as usual will prevail.

i am hearing from some oil and gas guys in the Haynesville area, that the wells are at best depleted by 75% within the first year, and the worst by 90% depletion in the first year.

high initial rate and steep decline. i don't believe there is enough data to make a reasonable estimate of ultimate recovery and the assumptions going into these 100's of tcf (decades of current consumption) estimates.

do your acquaintences have access to any pressure data on these haynesville candles ?

One day we are going to have to do without fossil fuels. Why not just bite the bullet and get off fossil fuels now before we damage any more of our environment by extraction and further burning of those fuels. I know this is not a pratical argument to make, but it is the RIGHT argument to make.

Acceptable Losses.....

The automobile, in the USA, causes many, many, deaths annually. These deaths are "acceptable", given the overall utility of the automobile. The Tobacco Industry is allowed acceptable losses in the interests of profits for the shareholders. Prior to 9-11, the Airline Industry had an actuarial equation of acceptable losses based upon a profitable level of aircraft maintenance. Following 9-11 maintenance was ramped up because what was once acceptable in terms of annual deaths from airline crashes, was no longer. Any airplane falling from the sky would be viewed as a terrorist event and would hurt severely the bottom line. Large trucks on our interstates kill or severely injure thousands of folks year in and year out and we subsidize this industry through our taxes and therefore support this carnage. Why? It works and benefits, again, shareholders. Oh, and don't forget the nuclear testing of the 1950's. Those of us who lived in "down winder country" were assured by our government that there was no risk. No one knows for sure how many died as a consequence from unusual and not so unusual cancers. We had a County Commissioner who took our government's reassurances so seriously he sprinkled a little uranium ore on his breakfast mush every morning and he wore a chunk of yellow cake (high grade uranium ore) around his neck as some wear a crucifix. He died of.......guess what: CANCER. I remember being told that milk was safe, even if the vegetation the cows were eating, and the cows themselves, had been exposed to high levels of radiation from testing fallout. Oh, and another, this is a good one, Agent Orange was supposed to be quite harmless to humans; it just killed vegetation. I could go on and on, but I'd guess you all get my point. If you don't, the bottom line in business is profit, profit, and profit. So, what's a little carcinogenic contamination of the farm's water well? You're going to die anyhow. Best from the Fremont


There are state regulations in place.

It seems the discussion of the subject has broken into two extremes. First, unless the Feds come up with much greater regulations and restrictions then the state of Texas imposes there should be very little if any impact on the number of wells drilled. Companies already face huge liabilities from civil suits should they damage the surface environment or nearby wells...either local water wells or oil/NG wells. I can assure you many landowners and their lawyers will monitor such efforts closely hoping for a problem so they can collect that big settlement check. I’ve sat in a lawn chair under a tree more then once being paid by a landowner to monitor operations in just such a hope.

Texas imposes strict (and certifiable) limits on the pressures utilized. The frac fluids cannot be pushed to the surface THROUGH THE EARTH. But there is always the possibility the fluids could rupture the casing and leak to the fresh ground water or even the surface. This has happened in the past and is the source for some of the "horror stories". But as Gail points out, matters should be kept in perspective. Ever year the state of NY dumps millions of pound of salt into their water shed. Nice way to keep the roads ice free but puts many, many times more nasty stuff onto the ground the all the frac fluids that would ever be used in NY let alone what might leak. Airplanes crash, bridges fall down, etc, etc and no one calls for doing away with them.

I doubt you’ll see much more then a few public PR efforts by the operators arguing against any new rules which they may claim could decrease drilling activity. The big fight will come from the landowners who will want those $10's of million in lease bonuses and royalty. Their fits will have much more impact on the politicians then anything the operators could say. And you can probably count of the state/local politicians fighting the Feds on any efforts which would decrease their tax income. Makes for flashy headlines but I doubt much will come out of it.

i posted on this subject a few weeks ago.if regulators change the rules marcellus may be only a blip in long term production needs,which will put upside price pressure on nat gas and soon.r.m.

There's a more recent article rounding up all the "horror stories," can't find it, here's one from last fall:

A New Boom in Natural Gas Threatens Drinking Water | Environment | AlterNet

Later that day, without warning, her toilet erupted. Water shot out of it like Niagara Falls. About that time, she learned, powerful pump trucks at the nearby well site were sending pulses of water mixed with sand and chemicals thousands of feet down into solid shale to fracture it to increase the flow of gas. She and her husband now believe some of that fluid escaped under pressure much nearer the surface.

After the Harrises complained, the drilling company had the water tested but found no problem. Harris's next-door neighbor, John Sayers, had a lab test his well water. The lab found toluene, a chemical used in explosives, paint stripper and often in drilling fluids. Almost a year later, the Harris family well water, once clear and sweet, is murky and foul-smelling. Ms. Harris's husband, Stevan, trucks in about 1,500 gallons twice a week, at 15 cents a gallon.

"We're not using that [well] water for anything at all," Mr. Sayers says. "I was told not to drink, wash, or anything. Not even water my grass with it. "

Far far away from private wells there's been some research into extracting hydrates from tight sands in the GOM, in UNG reservoirs, thus trapped in place and incapable of clathrate gun events, at least in theory, or not; that was one of my first questions on page 10 of this thread: U.S. Gulf gas hydrate find most promising yet - DOE. The tests were in blocks south of the fields tapped by Thunder Horse. Bottlenecks to delivery would be an issue but if this could be tapped safely it might displace some of the onshore drilling frenzy, with its attendant environmental issues.

The size of this resource in suitable formations was another question I had, but haven't heard from our resident cornucopian.

There's an article in today's WSJ on earthquakes in a town in Texas that residents attribute to shale gas drilling. Maybe someone can supply a link.

Edit: OOPS! It's there, down thread.

I have been involved with the design and manufacture of pump rigs for fracture operations. Its my impression that the amount of these chemicals used is very small. The majority of the fluids are water, sand and a little acid. Any time you put a series of pump rigs together there is also the risk of a little fuel, coolant, lubricating oil spilling too. The work is done very fast - it can get, lets say hectic. But overall I think the bulk of the anti-frac movement is driven by fear.

I recall an article about human waste being turned into manure (via a safe processing). A farmer was using it on his fields, and as soon as the locals found out they all started reporting sickness and health problems...
Im not sure if I can spell pyschosomatic but I know it when I see it.

The real risks with frac pumps are already well regulated (spillage etc...) by federal and state laws so my impression is that this extra regulation is over the top. On the other hand I havnt read it, and it might cover some important risks that some states do not currently cover.

I also find it funny that Chesapeake tries to portray some chemicals as benign by stating some common household uses. Ethylene glycol is some nasty stuff that you dont want getting into anyones water supply - but hey its OK because it has household uses for antifreeze and di-icer!

Interesting topic though. I guess I can see both sides of the debate.

I know I have read of various murder attempts using ethylene glycol.

I would venture a guess that more ethylene glycol (antifreeze) hits the ground because of cooling system failure on the vehicles and equipment than from any fracing operations.

I fail to understand why the industry sees a problem with disclosing the contents of the fracing fluid. Don't they already have to do this for the MSDS? And while the primary use puts the fluid deep underground, presumably well separated from drinking water supplies, there are always unintentional leaks and spills at the surface, and the possibility of underground seepage into aquifers. Disclosure would seem to be a modest first step and not onerous on the drilling industry at all.

The bill is still in committee. As such, its final form, and whether or not it will survive committee discussion and hearings is still unclear. So the industry may be afraid of what the final form of the bill may look like.

Also, it is not clear that the EPA has its act together. If the EPA is given new responsibilities, the EPA may take so long to do what they are supposed to, that the process will become more of a problem than the regulations themselves.

Gail -

I've had direct involvement with the EPA regulatory process practically since EPA's inception during the early 1970s. My general experience with them has been that they sometimes don't apply enough effort to some of the really big environmental problems but can make a mountain out of a mole hill over the small ones. Perspective is often lacking.

I suspect that these proposed regulations could largely be the result of some EPA people casting about for something else to regulate. After all, we already have in place whole shelves full of EPA air, water, and hazardous waste regulations, and these people are now scraping the bottom of the regulatory barrel. So they have to be creative.

I definitely think that EPA had reached 'Peak Regulation' some time ago, and some people are probably worried about their job.

I doubt this is going anywhere, and even if it does, in its final form it will most likely just add a whole bunch of permitting, reporting, and possibly some sampling requirements, none of which are likely to create an undo financial burden for the oil & gas business, by any stretch of the imagination. Mostly just more red tape, that's all.

I agree disclosure of the substances used should be a minimum standard.

I'm with you Chuck. I've worked in the oil patch for 35 years and there really are no "secret formulas". The details are written on every spec sheet. And if they do have secret formulas they're protected. Maybe it's just a straw argument because they just don't want to say that any changes in the rules might reduce profits. And we all know profits are evil...especially by the oil companies.

Thanks for keeping this discussion going.

I'll keep my comments simple. Argument # 1 opposed to regulation:

The practice is already regulated by the states. Federal legislation would be duplicative, cause delays, and be expensive.

Time and again state regulations have proven toothless in the face of industrial interests. Industry has earned our mistrust over the years and I see no reason for letting our guard down now. That's why we have the EPA, such as it is. State regulation does not ease my mind at all. In fact, weak state oversight is any industry's wet dream. That's one reason for exporting industry abroad - move the pollution away from the office. Not so easy with our endowment of minerals.

There are numerous valid concerns about hydro fracing both above ground and below. The site below seems objective, if biased a bit toward the environment, as we all should be at this point in time IMHO, and links many resources. They publish a set of best practices and other advice that seems sensible from a citizens POV.

Also, when I read industry statements like, "It's been done for years and seems to be safe," the red flags fly and the hair on the back of my neck stands up.

I won't bother being eloquent Sterling...not my style anyway. IMO the EPA is a joke. What does the EPA say about all those tons of salt NY dumps into the environment every day during the winter? Accidently dump 500 gallons of salt water on an oil lease in Texas and you'll get hit with $10's of thousands in fines as well as a costly clean up. I don't know about NY but if you break such rules in Texas you'll be fined into bankruptcy and maybe even do a little time in the state pen. The state has their own “oil police” that watch for rule breakers. And that would be after the civil suit cut deep into you. The courts in Texas don't offer any mercy to bad operators. We even get a bounty if we catch one breaking the regs and turn them in. Tool free numbers posted everywhere giving the number of the regulators to call. Maybe the gov of NY should send someone down to Austin and learn how to control these issues. Between the Texas Railroad Commission and private landowner oversight you don't get away with much. I once saw an operator pay a fine for every cigarette butt the landowner found on the ground after they moved the rig off. Was part of the original leasing agreement.

Hey Rockman,

I probably won't go as far as agreeing with you that the EPA is a joke although it has a lot of faults. I'm fond of the clean air, water and endangered species acts even though they're flawed. One weakness in KY and WV is the question of jurisdiction of the clean water act when coal mines push the MTR overburden into adjacent valleys. The valleys are often classified by state regs as "ephemeral" streams when they are clearly "blue line" creeks. EPA doesn't concern itself with dotted line creeks and the states say "dump away."

This brings me to the concern I have, and your comments bring it into focus: what about the the variability of enforcement from state to state? Texas has obviously had decades of experience in oil and gas and the regulatory infrastructure grew and developed with it. Arkasas, New York, and others not so much.

What's the best way to insure an operator has to take the same precautions across state lines?

Sterling -- I agree with you about enforcement. That's why I'm tough on the EPA. They get a few headlines on some big efforts but I find their day to day efforts grossly lacking. As far as states go I drilled several wells in KY a few years ago and was truly shocked how inadequate their O&G regs were. Texas, in the wild and anything goes days of the 1920's and 30"s was much better regulated in that period then KY is today. A simple example: I had to get a discharge permit from the EPA in Atlanta because KY had no regs on that issue. When a state has no regs the Feds take up the slack. So KY takes the easy way out: no regs so they don’t have to make efforts towards enforcement. I could have been dumping thousands of pounds of arsenic into the creek for all the EPA and the state knew. Essentially operators are self regulated in KY...not a good idea IMO. What was truly outrageous was that operators weren’t required to report how much oil/NG they produced from their wells….to anyone: the state, county, landowners. Sort of like the feds not requiring income statements for tax purposes. Just go ahead and pay what you calculate you owe us.

It's not difficult for a state to take care of business. Just get a copy of the regs in Texas or La. and pass them into law. Enforcement is really easy. The industry works out in the open in plain sight of the landowners (the first to see problems and usually the first to call in the regulators). Between the landowner's lawyers you really can't get away with anything. Not that accidents don’t happen but the financial liability is so great that operators are very carful if for no other reason then self defense.

As far as the cost for state enforcement: that’s the easy part. Texas collects enough permit fees, bonds and penalties to cover the cost. I suspect they actually make a little profit off of the effort. And I can tell you that in La. such enforcement efforts are a major industry and source of revenue for many folks over their. I know operators who avoid drilling in La. because they can be really tough and aggressive...almost to the point of abusive. And I still go back to a point I made earlier about self interest: maybe I missed it but I haven’t seen any response regarding the millions of pounds of toxic salt the state of NY dumps into the environment every year to keep the roads ice free. As someone pointed out above, all actions have a benefit to cost aspect. Some folks don’t mind environmental degradation if it benefits them. And they have been on both sides of this debate.

I don't know any details so I can only talk generalities here. All other things being equal (strictness of regulations, competence of the regulators etc.) federal regs should be better than state, because then they would be uniform. There is always a risk that terribly bad PR should something go wrong, could create unnecessarily negative public attitudes. I can't but think of the issues with trying to get approval for offshore drilling off California or the Northeast. The public has been so oversold on the dangers, that these resources will never be accessed. So a bit of over-regulation may decrease the risk of a public overreaction making things impossible later on. Given our
dysfunctional media circuses, anecdotal horror stories are likely to form public perceptions.

The only State regulation of which I am aware relates to the permitting of the wells before they are drilled. In both Texas and Oklahoma, I have fraced wells, never been aware of any permit required, filed the proper paperwork after doing the work, and never had anyone say a word. Of course, I have never had any interest in any producing well which was shallow enough to impact any fresh water aquifers. The only problems I can think of in this area would be where old )plugged)wells might not have been plugged properly within a reasonable distance (say a quarter mile) from the well being fraced which penetrated any formation anywhere close vertically to the well being fraced.

I can see regulation for very shallow zones, and have heard of problems with coal seam fracs in N Dakota which were too close to fresh water zones. I can also see potential problems in the PA area where old plugging practices would not have dealt with potential problems. Another potential problem area would be where adequate well records were not maintained, but those are very few and not in the area, if I understand the area of deposition correctly, where the Marcellus is being targeted.

Those in opposition to regulation of anything should be made aware of the well discussed fresh / potable / usable water problems which we are facing. I have a neighbor who drilled a water well for a very expensive house / lodge, only to find what he was told was contaminated water, although I think it was just a brackish water zone where the normal zone everyone else uses would not produce enough water for his needs. That is, however, in an area where the first wells were drilled and plugged before 1920 - tree trunks were frequently used as plugs.

I would personally prefer to see true state regulation, but as best I can tell, there is none where I operate.

Woody -- perhaps you weren't part of the planning process so don't know: Texas state law prohibits pumping (frac or disposal) at pressures greater then the overburden. Follow the rule and you can never frac to the surface. Unless, of course, you frac up the well bore. Break that rule and frac to the surface and your a** is grass. The folks in NY should be more worried about their underground disposal wells. Lots of them up there pumping stuff a whole lot worse then oil field chemicals. The worst nightmares I've seen first hand in the oil patch in Texas were disposal wells that rusted out shallow and were pumping salt water and every other kind of crap into the freshwater aquifers. This is a very serious potential problem and is with us every day.

Again, none of this to say NY shouldn't be careful and monitor all the activity closely. Perhaps the best plan would be to ship a bunch of Texas lawyers and environmental geologists up north. Now that would makes those operators up there pee in their pants.

That is undoubtedly why I have never had any problems. I have, perhaps naively, relied on the "engineers" for the service company to do the bulk of the calculations, but do not recall the question ever coming up. The "point" I guess I was trying to make is that there is no process for gaining authorization for a frac, or any true process for reporting - sometimes max pressure is reported, but not the rate, for instance. I have seen records reflecting as much as 20 Bbls a minute, without outrageous pressures. That is a lot of hydraulic pressure for wells mostly above 2500'.

At shallow depths, don't the fracs tend to propagate in a horizontal direction?

I do not know the answer to that. I rely on the folks I have worked with to recommend the treatment.

i was involved in a case where a farmer's well became contaminated. there were two possible culprits. 1) a swd well(with significant wellbore problems) 2) a water disposal pit. water disposal pits were routine (ca 1950's) and in some cases the pits were dynomited to increase the capacity of the pit to dispose of salt water. why this practice was ever allowed is beyond belief, but this is indeed a true story.

the farmer agreed to a settlement with the disposal pit operator, alledgedly to finance the lawsuit against the bigger oil co.

the plot thickens:

the state engineer responsible for the protection of fresh water was also convinced that bigger oil co was the contaminator. test wells were drilled for the purpose of determining the source of contamination.the engineer concluded, based on fluid levels in the test wells, that the swd well was the source of the contamination.

a chemical analysis of water from the test wells drew a picture of a plume of contamination leading right back to the dynomited pit.

the farmer lost his case and possibly his farm.

The fracking fluids do not all stay in the ground; about 1/3 come back up and must be disposed of. States vary widely in their regulations. West Virginia, where I live, has virtually no regulations to handle this new technology. They allow the flowback fluids to be put in ponds, treated to precipitate the metals, and then land applied, after which the solids remaining in the pond (which until lately didn't have to have a liner) are buried on site. (Note: we are not even allowed to bury our household garbage). Tests have disclosed that these fluids contain barium and strontium, which are toxic heavy metals. The treated water that is land applied contains mineral salts which are toxic to vegetation in high concentrations. A 2 - 3 acre area in the Fernow Experimental Forest in the Monongahela National Forest was killed - all vegetation, including large trees, were dead within days.

The exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking fluids was created when Cheney masterminded the 2005 Energy Act. Cheney was a honcho at Halliburton, though he supposedly ended his ties when he became VP. Halliburton is a major supplier of fracking fluids.

Why all the extreme fuss opposing disclosure if there is nothing to be concerned about?

Good questions Beth and welcome!

S in KY

"Cheney was a honcho at Halliburton, though he supposedly ended his ties when he became VP." I seriously doubt the relationships forged during his tenure at Halliburton were terminated when he left their employ. The private sector always resists new regulations no matter how trivial because companies don't want to give the signal that regulations in general are not burdensome. In this case, disclosure of the chemicals used shouldn't have a material impact on their businesses and will at least allay the concerns of the public, if we are to believe the natural gas companies.

Strontium? Probably present in the formation brines.

Barium sulfate which is the form of barium used in oil fields is soluble in concentrated sulfuric acid. It is not soluable in water. [Because of this fact, barium sulfate can be safely used in radiologic studies of the lower GI tract.]

Barium sulfate is used in drilling mud to add weight to the mud column [to guard against blow outs and to keep the bore from collapsing] and precisely because it is insoluble [to maintain circulation a mudcake forms on the outside of the bore to prevent the water in mud from invading permiable formations --- as the water passes into the permiable rock, it leaves behind the mud which was in emulsion and seals off the formation -- it also helps to suspend cuttings.]

Ergo barium sulfate would be present in many well bores drilled with rotary tools but in frac water it would be present only in small amounts from residues left over from drilling, as the last thing you want in a frac job is mudcake gumming up the flow of your frac fluids.

I have not read the whole thread yet, but so far nobody has mentioned surface casing which is required to be permanently cemented in to a depth below the lowest fresh water / treatable water. Rockman mentioned the risk of breaking through the formations to the surface and why pressure limits prevent such an occurence. There are also very serious obstacles to breaching the well bore, and polute potable water. Such a breach during would require a packer failure, a production casing failure [which would probably not be under pressure, a breech of the surface casing and the surrounding cement.

For whatever it is worth, disclosure of the composition of drilling mud, frac fluids or whatever does not cause me much concern. What does cause me heartburn is anyone reaching the conclusion that under existing practices drilling mud is going to routinely get into and pollute signifcant areas of potable water aquifers.

Why all the fuss indeed?

I am convinced that transparency and disclosure are absolutely necessary to our future health.

I am very sympathetic to Rockmans description of Texas regulations,but he did not say how long it took to get the regs into place,or just exactly WHY they came into existence.

I'm sure you wiil see this Rockman.Texas is obviously proactive now.How long did it take Texas
to go from indifferent to reactive to proactive?

If there are not at the very least stringent record keeping requirements,a day will come when some body's water ,maybe a whole county or twos water ,is ruined and it will not be possible to identify the culprits.
I would also suggest that if local regulation is decided upon that the locals obtain copies of the apparently more than adequate Texas regs as a starting point.Furthermore the drilling companies should be required to post bonds,and tracer chemicals should be required for all injections of ANY chemicals of any sort any where anytime.These tracers have worked like a charm in helping track down perps when stolen industrial explosives have been used for criminal purposes.

If the insurance industry does not want to issue the bonds,then the oil and gas industry should have to create an insurance pool and bond itself.If after all the risk is small,they won't have to pay off,right?

I guess my evolution towards the political middle is about finished. I used to believe in free enterprise but now I seem to believe mostly that eternal vigilance is the price of survival.Somebody please let me know what the proper name of this hybrid political philosophy might be.

Is it only 1/3 that comes back up? My impression is that after the "propant" had been carried into the cracks, the liquid fluid needed to be mostly pumped out, in order to allow the gas to flow. But in any case, there is certainly a big reduction of pressure in the frac'ing fluid after the overpressure used create the fractures is removed. And that will certainly send a good portion of the fluid back to the surface. I believe Beth is right that it's disposal of the returned fluids that is more often the headache, rather than contamination of aquafers from below. And it's not just the chemicals put into the frac'ing fluid that are problematic; the returned fluid can contain various metal salts and hydrocarbons from the gas-bearing formation that was fractured.

Not that contamination of aquafers from below can't be a problem. Rock is denser than water. Don't see the significance in that? Basic physics. In order to fracture the rock at depth, the hydraulic pressure of the fluid must be substantially greater than the -- I was about to say "hydrostatic" pressure of the overlaying rock, but it's not "hydro"; is "lithostatic" a word? Anyway, the fluid pressure must be much higher than a column of water of height equal to the depth of the well. Probably around three times as high. So if there's any route to the surface at all, the pressurized water from the opened cracks is going to want to flow there, with a vengence.

What's more, the higher an opened crack happens to rise, the greater the difference will be between the hydraulic fluid pressure and the static pressure in the rock. So if the rock were homogeneous, the fracture system would always propagate all the way to the surface. I believe frac'ing is only feasible in a layer of softer, easily fractured rock capped by layer of harder rock that resists fracturing. Of course, oil and gas bearing formation meet that criterion, almost by definition. (If they weren't capped, the gas and oil wouldn't be there.) But sometimes the cap layer has fractures from geological movement. If the newly created fracture network finds one of these existing cracks, it will open it upward.

"Anyway, the fluid pressure must be much higher than a column of water of height equal to the depth of the well. Probably around three times as high."

a bottom hole treating pressure of 0.7 psi/ ft is normally enough to initiate and propagate a vertical fracture. a horizontal fracture would require a bottom hole pressure of about 1 psi/ft, enough to "lift" the overburden.

surface treating pressure would depend on friction(a function of pump rate and viscosity of the fluid/sand being pumped) and density of the fluid/sand mixture.

"So if the rock were homogeneous, the fracture system would always propagate all the way to the surface."

a hydraulically created fracture will grow until the "leak off rate"(the rate at which fluids flow out of the fracture into the porous and permeable rock) is equal to the pump rate and then stop growing.

Frac-ing also causes earthquakes! Kewl!

CLEBURNE, Texas – The earth moved here on June 2. It was the first recorded earthquake in this Texas town's 140-year history — but not the last.

There have been four small earthquakes since, none with a magnitude greater than 2.8. The most recent ones came Tuesday night, just as the City Council was meeting in an emergency session to discuss what to do about the ground moving.

The council's solution was to hire a geology consultant to try to answer the question on everyone's mind: Is natural gas drilling — which began in earnest here in 2001 and has brought great prosperity to Cleburne and other towns across North Texas — causing the quakes?

"I think John Q. Public thinks there is a correlation with drilling," Mayor Ted Reynolds said. "We haven't had a quake in recorded history, and all the sudden you drill and there are earthquakes."

At issue is a drilling practice called "fracking," in which water is injected into the ground at high pressure to fracture the layers of shale and release natural gas trapped in the rock.

There is no consensus among scientists about whether the practice is contributing to the quakes. But such seismic activity was once rare in Texas and seems to be increasing lately, lending support to the theory that drilling is having a destabilizing effect.

Edit by Gail - Overly long quote removed--in violation of copyright laws.

Temblors Rattle Texas Town -

"We're not used to worrying about this kind of thing," said Cleburne resident Ben Oefinger, a retired school principal who felt the first quake June 2 while lying on his couch following an afternoon of yard work. "Nothing ever happens in Cleburne. That's why people live here."

(cue jingling spurs/clopping hooves)

Such moxie!

Earthquake chatter has dominated conversation in recent days at the Chaf In, a local coffee shop where some patrons joked that the earthquakes are God's retribution for the town's recent reversal of its 106-year-old ban on liquor sales.

If that's how it works I'm royally screwed, since the town I'm in was dry just as long!

let's bust up the earth till she screams
in reams and reams of black seabreams

a roil of oil full of delicious spoil
milk chocolate from the rocky womb
squeezed out by a drill-dick

the suv was meant to be
so let's all pray for the auto today!

people just want to be happy
but i am here to tell them that they aren’t going to be happy
i am here to tell them that the world’s gonna be a shithole real soon

they will be homeless, jobless, busted, in jail or dead soon
90% of the world’s fish are extinct
the planet is almost dead already
humans will soon be killing each other over the last scraps of food

there will be no rescue
there will be no divine fucking intervention
there will not be a ‘better day’
better days already passed long ago

there will be ‘worse days’, and ‘worser days’ after them
there will be killing, murder, rape, rape of children, killing and eating of children
on a scale not yet seen before
there will be acts committed that we don’t even have words for yet
and that will be just the beginning

just the beginning of a new deathlife for the survivors
their own private horrorshow filled with coming attractions

each day they will pray
for a nuclear war to wash away
the pain of gray

I wouldn't assume that rainwater is necessarily a safer source of household drinking water. Even perfectly clear filtered tank water may have dissolved or submicron contaminants

At various times I put changes in taste down to resin droplets from trees, ash from the chimney and waterproofing compound.

Absolutely regulate it! Jesus I can't believe sentient people are still having this brain dead argument. You can argue about what those regulations should be composed of, and they should be revisited when necessary. But if you don't don't have the awareness to look around and see the consequences of allowing business and 'the market' to figure out what is best for the commons, there is really no hope what so ever.

i son worked as a swamper in northern b.c.and the fracing fluid water and sand is vacumed up,he figures more than 500 gallons is left behind at each drill pad.(this may be the reason for the attacks on wellheads and pipelines up there)isolated areas are out of sight out of mind but marcellus should be regulated. r.m.

Some of you who are petroleum specialists, a question?

How many cubic feet,approximately ,of natural gas will it take to manufacture one barrell of synthetic gasoline or diesel,using natural gas to supply the necessary energy to run the conversion plant?

What is the estimated cost of such a plant in terms of barrells per day of output?

I realize any answers may be no more than swag,considering the unknpwns of inflation,etc.