Hydraulic Fracturing and Myths of the Oil and Gas Industry

Submitted by Yvonne Cather, Kansas Sierra Club Chair

Fracking

Click on image to enlarge

The Kansas Oil and Gas Association’s Edward Cross would have the public believe fears about the safety and environmental threat of hydraulic fracturing are unfounded. (The Wichita Eagle, “Business Perspectives: Don’t give into fear tactics; get the facts about fracking,” Feb. 19, 2014).

He outlines a series of so-called “myths” about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. His effort to debunk these myths is misleading on many counts.

The Sierra Club in Kansas is highly concerned about the current practice of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. We have shared our concerns with representatives of the Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association (KIOGA), including Cross.

We have also reviewed the laws governing oil and gas extraction for the state of Kansas, and we have identified myths the industry consistently repeats in order to mislead the public.

Myth: Hydraulic fracturing is not new.
Facts: While hydraulic fracturing was first employed more than 65 years ago in Grant County, Kansas, Cross says little about technological advances since then. Early Fracking was conducted in vertical wells at pressures of between 2,000 and 3,000 pound-forces per square inch (psi). Pumps powered by less than 300 horse powers (hp) forced fluids into the wells. Today’s fracking utilizes horizontal drilling at pressures of more than 13,000 psi, generated by pumps powered by 2,400 hp engines and an average of 5 million gallons of water per frack. This is not your grandmother’s fracking technique.

Myth: Hydraulic fracturing does not cause earthquakes:
Facts: Cross cherry-picks a June 2012 National Research Council report that states, “Hydraulic fracturing doesn’t pose a high risk for seismic events.” Here’s what the report actually says: “Hydraulic fracturing has a low risk for inducing earth quakes that can be felt by people, but underground injection of waste water produced by hydraulic fracturing and other technologies have a higher risk of causing such earthquakes” (my italics). The National Academy of Sciences echoes this concern.

We must address the cause of earthquakes today and not separate the disposal of waste water or the produced water of hydraulic fracturing from the act of hydraulic fracturing. If the waste water you produce is placed in some “deep hole” (injection wells) somewhere and causes seismic activity that we all feel, then cite the whole risk, give us the entire cost of hydraulic fracturing to include the disposal of your waste water and potential damages to be mitigated.

Myth: Hydraulic fracturing has never caused groundwater contamination:
Facts: Despite Cross’s claim that fracking “has never been proven to have polluted groundwater,” he fails to mention that the oil and gas industry fiercely guards as “trade secrets” information about chemicals used in its cocktail of fracking fluids. Thus connecting the thousands of instances all over the country in which groundwater and streams have become contaminated as soon as fracking drills moved into the area has been difficult. Additionally, victims of such contamination are generally bound by gag-orders when oil and gas companies settle claims with them.

Fractured-Communities-FINAL-September-2010

Regarding Cross’s statement that 57,000 Kansas wells have been safely fracked, there are in fact more than 78,000 wells in Kansas with a staff of only 90 people to oversee their safety. What could possibly go wrong? Let’s look at the numbers in Kansas first and how valid this claim can be. Actually since 2003, there have been a reported 78,303 wells across the state of Kansas and the number of enforcement staff had only increased 5% since 2003 up to 90 individuals. Those 90 people are responsible for 78,303 wells across the state, or 870 wells per staff person at the time of our research. If it takes three days to effectively observe and report on one well, and it takes time to travel from well-to-well, we simply won=t get the level of monitoring needed to protect our air, water, and land. It is simply an impossible task, not to mention that the oil and gas industry has no valid data or research that supports this claim.

Records obtained by the New York Times belie such assertions with documents in which the American Petroleum Institute (national association representing petroleum industry) adamantly testifies that groundwater pollution from fracking occurred as early as 1985. This is the infamous case of “Mr. Parsons= Well”, where a water well was contaminated by the hydraulic fracturing process.

Once again the industry’s own technical publications expose the uncertainties and lack of control that engineers have over frack operations cited across the U.S. Page 77 of “Inspiration, Innovation Unlock the Bakken Pay” describes the difficulty of limiting artificial fractures to their intended target areas where frack fluids were observed intruding into wells over 2,000 feet away. See the article at:

http://www.ugcenter.com/Bakken/Inspiration-Innovation-Unlock-Bakken-Pay_29712

Myth: Hydraulic fracturing fluids are 98 percent water and 2 percent chemicals:
Facts: Some fracking chemicals are so potent that it takes only a few parts per million to cause severe disease from continued exposure. Tons of chemicals are used during every frack job. Little is known about the danger of these chemicals to humans and wildlife, especially since we aren’t even allowed to know what some of these chemicals are. Do we want to risk the Ogallala Aquifer and other water sources on the claims of safety by drillers while they pump toxic chemicals into the ground?

This myth also completely ignores naturally occurring harmful chemicals (including radioactive) brought to surface in “flowback” or waste water from deep geological formations after hydraulic fracturing. These chemicals pollute water and air.

What we need to obtain is the volume of the chemical ingredients used in the fracking fluid. The gas industry has so far gotten away with one of the oldest tricks in the book: Using percentages of the chemicals to diminish the threat of the chemicals. For example, the gas industry tells concerned citizens that the chemicals used in fracking fluids amount to “. . . only .5-1% of the total volume.” That sounds insignificant doesn’t it? Let’s do some math. If they use 2-7 million gallons of water per fracking attempt, and water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon, using the small amount of water, 2 million gallons, that amounts to 16 million pounds of water. Being conservative in our estimates again, using .5% of that 16 million pounds equals 80,000 pounds of chemicals! Keep in mind that just a few grams of mercury will completely contaminate a 20-acre pond. Now imagine if even 1,000 pounds of chemicals like toluene, benzene, ethylene glycol, acids, diesel, and other such toxic stuff got into the Ogallala aquifer. That would be devastating!

Myth: The chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing involve simple compounds at very low concentrations:
Facts: Cross may want us to think combining fracking chemicals is like mixing peanut butter and jelly, but readers can decide for themselves if they’re willing to consume toluene, benzene, and other toxic chemicals with or without sliced bread.

We need full disclosure of fracking fluids, including their Chemical Abstract Services (CAS) numbers for each compound in fracking fluid. At present, Kansas only requires injectors to disclose a minimal description of fluids to be injected (like saying it is a lubricant).

The list of dangerous water and air pollutants from fracking is extensive. Written testimony by Dr. Theo Colborn to the U.S. House in 2007 listing many of those chemicals and explaining their hazards is available at:

http://s3.amazonaws.com/propublica/assets/natural_gas/colburn_testimony_071025.pdf

Since hydraulic fracturing requires between 3 million and 5 million gallons of water per gas well, there is a lot of water to treat. At present, Kansas rules only require injectors to disclose “a description of the fluid to be injected (like saying it is a lubricant), the source of the injected fluid, and the estimated maximum injection pressure and average daily rate of injection in barrels per day.” That is horribly deficient. To add insult to the citizens of the United States, the oil and gas industry headed up an effort to explicitly exclude the regulation over fracturing fluids as outlined in the Energy Policy Action of 2005.

Myth: Hydraulic fracturing has been effectively regulated by state governments and oversight agencies since its inception:
Facts: Kansas does not effectively regulate the extraction of oil and natural gas, as Cross wants us to believe. Kansas does not require even the most common sense regulations to address the risks of fracking. For example, operators are not required to disclose the chemicals used in fracking.  In addition, there are no regulations to monitor, minimize and capture methane gas and other air pollutants as they’re released.

If hydraulic fracturing is safe, why did the oil and gas industry go to great measures to get it exempted from the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Clean Air Act?

Energy Policy Act of 2005

The list of Federal Law: Loopholes & Exemptions can be found at:
http://www.edcnet.org/learn/current_cases/fracking/federal_law_loopholes.html

Last year the Kansas Sierra Club supported a bill, known as the Frack Act, to make the oil and gas industry accountable for its impact on our health and environment. A copy of the bill is below.  More information on fracking can be found at: http://kansas.sierraclub.org/issues/fracking/
.
Frack Act
FRACK Act

Kansas Chapter Fracking PowerPoint
Kansas Chapter Fracking-PowerPoint-2012-0304

The petroleum industry continues to tell us hydraulic fracturing is safe. But scientific research and anecdotal reports provide overwhelming evidence that more information and regulation are needed to hold this industry accountable for maintaining environmental standards.

# # #

Courtesy of you

The content of this website and the Sierra Club is driven by its citizen volunteers and supporters like you. Join us today and become part of America's largest environmental organization!

Join The Club
Or support our efforts financially:
Donate Now