What are the dangers of fracking?
There are a lot of unknowns regarding the long term dangers and effects of fracking. The oil and gas industry is not required to release information on what chemicals they are currently using for the fracking process. There have been instances of people getting sick, vegetation kills and well water igniting when drilling sites have been close by. The industry insists that the isolated incidents are unrelated and regulation is unnecessary.
The full effects of the fracking process itself are not fully known since the underlying geology thousands of feet below the surface from the wellbore cannot be identified with exactitude.
Oil and gas companies claim that the fracking fluids and created fractures extend only several hundred feet from the wellbore and never actually reach the surface area. However, models do not capture the full science of the process.
A frack job may also create new fractures that intersect with natural geologic vertical faults that communicate with the surface. While oil and gas companies have data regarding the geology, they cannot identify every natural fault or irregularity near the wellbore. In the scenario that the fractures intersect, the formation pressure would force the newly liberated oil and gas and toxic fracking fluids through these new fracture into the natural fault. These toxic fluids could then travel upward past the reservoir cap into a freshwater aquifer near the surface.
Some landowners have been reporting that they have been able to light their tap water on fire where there have been contaminated drinking water aquifers with methan, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Benzene is a known human carcinogen, while the health effects of long term exposure to methane and other components of natural gas have not been fully studied.
Oil and gas companies are stating that even though the tap water is ignitable, the methane is harmless. They also claim that the water contamination has nothing to do with fracking. However, a study by Duke researchers in PA found that water wells near a fracking site were more likely to exhibit methane contamination.
Spills sometime occur during the injection of the fracking fluids, capture of fluids, and transport of the flow. During fracking, millions of gallons of fluid are pumped down from the surface under high pressure, then these fluids return to the surface where they are often stored in a tank or pit before being disposed of.
Blowouts can occur during the drilling of the well, during the fracking process, or during install of a new well. A blowout is the uncontrolled release of oil or gas from a well. There are mechanisms referred to as “blow out preventers” put in place to prevent this from happening.
There are sometimes poor cement jobs which result in spills and blowouts. If contractors rush the casing and cementing to move on to the next job, then the gas will not escape the pipe in an effective manner.
There is also a fear of improper storage of the fracking fluids. Once the fluids have returned to the surface, operators do not store and dispose of the radioactive contaminated flowback in a proper manner. Fluids are often stored in unlined or poorly constructed pits that allow toxic waste to seep into local waterways.
Fracking also causes air pollution from multiple sources. Particles and chemicals can be released into the atmosphere – which can have serious health implications.
Exhaust from the massive pumps used in the fracking process also contribute to air pollution along with evaporation of contaminated flowback. Fracking in fact causes so much air pollution that some locations experience air quality worse than Los Angeles.
It has also been rumored that fracking leads to an increase in earthquakes. If a stress is present in the geologic structure, the structure may slip and generate seismic events over a range of magnitudes.
Why isn’t fracking regulated?
The oil and gas industry have successfully fended off regulation on many fronts and won exemptions from most environmental regulations.
Oil and gas companies have refused to divulge the components of their fracking fluids under the community right to know act by claiming the statute does not apply and the information is proprietary.
In 2002, EPA reported that at the point of injection, 9 fracking chemicals violated water quality standards – the assertion was edited before the final report was published. EPA has decided to conduct a more thorough study on the effects of fracking, but the results will not be available until 2014.
How does natural gas and oil end up in reservoirs or pockets?
Natural gas and oil has been formed over tens of millions of years from the deposits of organic matter that have been buried by thousands of feet of sedimentation. When natural gas and oil is formed, it slowly migrates through pores in the source rocks to create natural gas and oil reservoirs. These reservoirs are created when the gas and oil becomes “trapped” by the existence of impermeable rock layer. This barrier prevents further upward migration and these reservoirs become the targets for drilling operations. It is these accumulated deposits that form the collection of natural gas and oil reserves that comprise the massive unconventional shale reserves.
Why is hydraulic fracturing necessary?
Without the recent and significant technological advancements made in horizontal drilling and in hydraulic fracturing, the natural gas and oil found in deep shale formations would be, uneconomic and unrecoverable. The creation of small cracks, or fractures, in the shale allows the natural gas and oil trapped within the very dense rock formations to flow to the surface.
What chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing?
Approximately 98% of the volume of materials used during the hydraulic fracturing of deep shale gas and oil wells is made up of water and sand. Other typical ingredients include a friction reducer, gelling agent and antibacterial agents. A typical hydraulic fracturing mixture and a list of typical additives include:
How can regulatory agencies confirm that operators are complying with regulations?
Agencies confirm that operators are complying with regulations through a number of established methods such as permitting, completion reports and inspections. These methods are more fully described below.
When is a permit acquired?
Regulatory agencies require permits before construction. A detailed review of applications is conducted by the agencies to verify that project designs meet requirements before work is performed on the targeted location. Once the design is approved, a permit with specific operating instructions is provided to the operator. Depending upon the targeted location, additional permits may be required.
What type of agency reporting is required?
The operator is required to submit completion reports to the proper state agency to provide information on the final freshwater casing protection design program for each well. This information includes the size and amount of casing to be used in the well and the amount of cement used to seal off the casing from the surrounding earth. The location where the hydraulic fracturing will occur and the type of stimulation materials (hydraulic fracturing fluids) are also detailed on the report. Any additional operational equipment installed in the wellbore will also be noted on the report.
When are inspections conducted?
Agencies can, and do, conduct inspections during or after drilling, construction and production to verify that all project work performed by the operator is in compliance with the proper regulations and permits.
How can I be sure that my groundwater is protected?
Each state implements specific programs to protect its underground drinking water resources. Steel casing with surrounding layers of cement are installed to isolate the well and protect the drinking water aquifers through which the wellbore penetrates. The depth at which the surface casing extends below these freshwater aquifers is mandated by each state’s regulatory agency.
After it is determined that the well is capable of producing natural gas or oil, a tubing string is set to provide an added layer of separation between the natural gas and oil stream and freshwater aquifer. The multiple layers of steel and cement which go into the construction of a well, when properly installed, virtually eliminate the possibility of contamination to these freshwater zones.
What is the likelihood of a spill at the wellhead during the hydraulic fracturing process?
Spills at the wellhead during hydraulic fracturing activities are extremely rare. The piping and hydraulic fracturing equipment used to transport fluids to the wellhead are inspected and pressure tested prior to the start of each hydraulic fracturing job. The equipment is pressure rated and continuous monitoring occurs during operations to ensure that pressures remain below the safety-rated pressure levels. Raw chemicals are maintained inside lined secondary containment areas to catch any releases before they can migrate off the site. The sites are specifically constructed to contain any releases.