Friday, November 11, 2011

Are Eco-Terrorists Injecting Fracking Fluids Into Aquifers?

The US EPA has been monitoring wells in an aquifer of Pavillion, Wyoming, in response to local complaints about the quality of well water. The area has been the location of natural gas drilling for at least 20 years, with hundreds of gas wells located nearby.

Chemical analysis has detected several fracking compounds in both the aquifer and in the well water of several local residents. There appears to be a direct correlation between the contaminants in the aquifer, the contaminants in residential well water, and some of the compounds often used in fracking for gas and oil within hydrocarbon bearing rock. Here's more:
A pair of environmental monitoring wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contain high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, according to new water test results released yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The findings are consistent with water samples the EPA has collected from at least 42 homes in the area since 2008, when ProPublica began reporting on foul water and health concerns in Pavillion and the agency started investigating reports of contamination there.

...The information released yesterday by the EPA was limited to raw sampling data: The agency did not interpret the findings or make any attempt to identify the source of the pollution. From the start of its investigation, the EPA has been careful to consider all possible causes of the contamination and to distance its inquiry from the controversy around hydraulic fracturing.

Still, the chemical compounds the EPA detected are consistent with those produced from drilling processes, including one -- a solvent called 2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE) -- widely used in the process of hydraulic fracturing. The agency said it had not found contaminants such as nitrates and fertilizers that would have signaled that agricultural activities were to blame.

...The EPA said the water samples were saturated with methane gas that matched the deep layers of natural gas being drilled for energy. The gas did not match the shallower methane that the gas industry says is naturally occurring in water, a signal that the contamination was related to drilling and was less likely to have come from drilling waste spilled above ground.

...The EPA's research in Wyoming is separate from the agency's ongoing national study of hydraulic fracturing's effect on water supplies, and is being funded through the Superfund cleanup program.

The EPA says it will release a lengthy draft of the Pavillion findings, including a detailed interpretation of them, later this month. _SciAm
The facts as reported appear to have a straightforward explanation, although it would be best to await the final EPA report, as well as further corroboration from other entities than the EPA.

Emotions are running high around issues of all forms of reliable energy today -- whether shale gas & oil, coal, nuclear, offshore oil, oil sands, oil shales, methane hydrates etc. Big money green organisations, in collaboration with governmental and inter-governmental agencies, with the collusion of the mass media, have stirred emotions among certain segments of the public to a fever pitch.

Would eco-terrorists spike aquifers with fracking fluid so as to discredit shale drilling? Of course they would. Did they in this case? There is no reason to believe so at this time. In fact, it is almost certain that poor drilling procedures and defective casings and seals are responsible for this problem -- which should have been taken care of by the gas company when the complaints about water quality first came to the surface.

Those responsible for ignoring this problem should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law as an example to other drilling and production companies of all sizes.

Superstitions and fears are high enough without careless and unscrupulous operators dirtying the waters in this way.

As an afterthought, would an activist EPA such as that under US President Obama, falsify analyses of water samples? It might, if it thought it could get away with it. But it is not at all likely that such a thing occurred in this case, given the long history of the problem.

These are all things that must be kept in mind with regard to an issue which has been hyped to high heaven by energy starvationists in the media, in big money green lobbies, in activist governmental and inter-governmental organisations, and by the other usual suspects.

Every situation has to be looked at on its own merits, keeping all possibilities in mind.

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Blogger Hell_Is_Like_Newark said...

Fracking itself would be an unlikely source of contamination. The fractured layer is well below the potable water table. You have layers of rock (non-fractured) to prevent the migration of gas to the water table.

In addition, frac fluids are a very small portion of the total fluids used. They are diluted in millions of gallons of brine water. Brine, being more dense, will always migrate to below any fresh water.

If drilling caused contamination, I would suspect a bad casing job on the vertical well bore. This would be for any drilling, not just horizontal fracturing job. This can be fixed by plugging the well bore.

6:20 AM  
Blogger al fin said...

Yes. Excellent point.

In my opinion, there are likely criminal, as well as civil, charges coming against the producers who chose to ignore the reported problems, rather than to fix them.

6:58 AM  

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