Sunday, February 27, 2011

Considerations from a Fracking Expert

If you want to talk fracking, then Cornell engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea’s your guy. After all, he got his PhD in rock fracturing and conducted hydro-fracturing research with Schlumberger. So EPA has invited Ingraffea to their technical workshop focusing on the engineering aspects of drilling, fracture design and stimulation, and mechanical integrity in gas wells. The March 10 workshop is one of four that EPA is holding as part of the Hydro-fracturing Study.

For the past year or more Ingraffea has been traveling around the Marcellus region of NY and PA, sharing his insights into rocks, fracturing and the engineering of gas wells. The first thing to keep in mind, he cautions, is that unconventional wells are nothing like gas wells drilled even a decade ago. Those are vertical wells, drilled one per pad, each using about 80,000 gallons of water.

Unconventional wells in Pennsylvania currently have 8 wells per pad, Ingraffea says, with each of those wells up to 10-frack-stages in length. That means that a single well pad will use about 44 million gallons of fracking fluid.

As far as drilling in NY’s Marcellus, Ingraffea points to PSU geologist Terry Engelder’s estimates of 36,000 to 78,000 wells. With up to 10 fracks per well, that’s 360,000 to 780,000 frack stages – and each of those frack stages uses close to 500,000 gallons of fluid.

“The first one thousand gas wells unconventionally developed in NY State will use more frack fluid, and produce more waste, than all the gas wells ever drilled in the state,” says Ingraffea. “This kind of development is on a scale at least two magnitudes larger than we have ever experienced, and right now we have no regulations guiding shale gas development.”

So Ingraffea has lots of questions for the EPA. Topping his list: cement. Cement failure has been a chronic problem in the industry, Ingraffea says. He’d like to see cement logs required for each job.

Then there’s the question about how cement holds up under multiple hydro-fracks. Re-fracking is a real concern, says Ingraffea, because “each time you re-pressurize the wellbore for a frack job, it puts the cement at risk.” And, he says, the industry already knows that cement that has been stressed frequently has a higher failure rate.

Ingraffea also wants EPA to get better data on the cumulative impact of intensive drilling on neighboring wells. Pennsylvania drillers estimate that they’ll be putting in 8 to 12 wells on a pad, with the vertical wellbores spaced about 20 feet apart. “What happens to the first well when the second is drilled?” asks Ingraffea. “Do the vibrations damage the cement?”

The problem with articles in professional journals is that they always focus on impacts to a single well. But drillers in British Columbia report that wells drilled as far as 350 feet from each other can send lateral fractures into neighboring wells.

As for migration or fracking fluids and gas, “EPA needs a realistic model that gauges cumulative impact,” says Ingraffea. “If they’re not looking at it that way, they they’re missing the point.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

PR Firm Disses Environmentalists

Greg Matusky, founder and president of Gregory FCA, is a PR guy. His company, located in the suburbs just west of Philadelphia, is ranked “one of the nation’s top 30 PR agencies” – at least that’s what he claims on his website.

Yesterday Matusky posted an essay about how the image of Marcellus Shale seems to have hit some headwinds in the court of public opinion. A bit of a mixed metaphor, but we get the picture.

“Are we winning or losing the public relations battle on Marcellus Shale?” Matusky asks. After noting the downward slope in public opinion about drilling, he lists six steps the gas industry must take to win the PR battle for the hearts and minds of energy-hungry Americans.

The industry, Matusky says, needs to focus on publishing the facts – and lots of them. They need to stop responding to negative criticism, focus media stories on the people that the industry helps, dominate the online discussion, put things in context (he says “connect the dots”), and control the language.

“Fracking” is not a good word, says Matusky; it has too many negative connotations.

Those who think “fracking” perfectly captures what industrial shalegas production is all about have no quarrel with Matusky’s advice to the industry – it’s pretty standard for any group waging a public relations campaign.

They do, however, take exception to the way he paints gas industry critics. The problem isn’t Marcellus shale, says Matusky. It’s that “naysayers -- who often aren't under the same time constraint as gainfully employed Americans -- have more idle time to plant falsehoods, raise suspicions, and demonize the oil and gas industry.”

In one highly charged sentence Matusky pretty much dismisses the hard-working, environmentally concerned attorneys, journalists, bloggers, farmers, teachers, county supervisors, scientists, engineers, geologists, highway department workers, loggers, viticulturists, ranchers, social services workers and hunting guides who want the pace of drilling slowed down.

He certainly can’t be referring the high school teacher from Upstate NY who told me that for the past three years he has devoted what little time he has left after a busy week in the classroom to write letters and attend hearings.

For sure Matusky can’t mean the financial services representative who not only works full time but put himself through school to earn additional licenses for his job.

No way can Matusky be referring to full-time stay-at-home parents who are sacrificing their future earnings and 401K’s to raise the next generation while juggling farm chores and home-based work. Writes one such farmer, “What about those of us who value well-being as opposed to having lots of cash?”

What exactly is Matusky implying, she asks? Is he implying that people who work two jobs from home are not doing their research on the topic? Is he implying that only highly-paid PR firms can do that kind of work? Or, she asks, “is he implying that the ‘gainfully employed’ are pro-drilling? Is he inferring that the ‘gainfully employed’ don't engage in social movements?”

Maybe he’s referring to the elected representatives in Congress who fully support the EPA’s study of hydro-fracking, and who are asking the oil and gas industry to pay for the Gulf spill clean-up.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

GOP Candidates in Bradford County say "Slow Down the Drilling"

Increased trucks in motel parking lots may look like a boon to local economists, but according to Jim Loewenstein at the Daily Review, candidates running for Bradford County Commissioner want to see the pace of drilling slow down. At a recent TEA party meeting John Morningstar, coordinator of the TEA party group, said that drilling was out of control. Putting the brakes on the number of permits issues would allow the county more time to assess what damage is being done to groundwater by drilling.

Two candidates for county commissioner, both running on the Republican ticket, agreed that regulating the number of drilling permits could be beneficial. Don Fitzwater, who has worked as an assistant highway manager for the state DOT, would like to see permits limiting oversized loads on the highways.

Doug McLinko, who is running for re-election, agreed that drilling traffic is much heavier than the county ever expected it to be. Traffic is so bad on Route 6 that firefighters in Wysox Township can’t respond quickly, he said.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

NY Landowners Fed Up with Unfair Lease Extensions

For the past couple years gas companies holding leases in NY have told landowners that they’re extending leases due to an obscure “force majeure” clause tucked somewhere in the small print. Force majeure is often put into contracts when one party, such as a building contractor, agrees to complete a project by a certain deadline. The clause extends the deadline should the contractor, by reasons beyond his control, be unable to complete the job on time. Those reasons being a hurricane or flood or union strike, said an oil and gas attorney recently.

Force majeure has no place in an oil and gas lease – and even the NY Attorney General’s Office agrees. Back in November 2009 they ruled that gas companies couldn’t declare force majeure just because NY hasn’t approved horizontal drilling in shales yet. Of all the companies, only Fortuna (now Talisman) sat down at the table with the OAG over this matter.

But some companies – in particular Chesapeake and Inflection – have continued to mail “force majeure” letters to landowners, explaining that they are invoking the clause because they can’t drill.

Landowners have had enough and are striking back. Last week two landowner coalitions announced plans to sue oil and gas companies attempting to extend NY leases beyond their expiration dates.

For the past two years the companies have claimed that the “de-facto moratorium” against hydro-fracking, referring to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) review of regulations for high volume hydraulic fracturing – and now the Governor’s executive order halting such fracking until July – prohibits them from drilling.

Hogwash! say the landowners and their attorneys. The energy corporations may continue to drill and indeed are continuing to drill wells, in other formations. As if to underscore this, DEC approved a permit for Norse on the very day the landowner coalitions announced their plans to sue.

Furthermore, the current regulations under the GEIS do not prohibit companies from exploiting Marcellus shale as vertical wells are allowed. The claims of force majeure have no merit, say the landowners.

Chesapeake has gone so far as to send lease extension letters to landowners who signed their original leases with Central Appalachian Petroleum 10 years ago at $3/acre. According to Chesapeake, payment of that modest “delay rental” extends the lease indefinitely, and they can extend these leases at their will. The NY Attorney General’s Office disagrees and has been negotiating with Chesapeake for over a year, with no resolution.

Friday, February 11, 2011

EPA Webinar on Frack Study Tues Feb 15

 new information below - plus you can't access on apple or mac computers:

 EPA Office of Public Engagement, (202) 566-2178, (202) 564-7842

Dear Colleague --

On Tuesday, February 15 at 2:15 PM EST, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) will be hosting a 45-minute webinar for
environmental NGOs and public health stakeholders to walk through the
Agency's draft study plan on hydraulic fracturing. This study plan is
currently under review with the Agency's Science Advisory Board (SAB).
Specific instructions for joining the conference are below.  If you are
a first-time webinar user, please be sure to sign on 15 minutes prior to
the start time in order to register and download the necessary software.

Instructions for Joining the Webinar:

Conference Link:  (This link should
be used by all attendees)
Conference ID:  147032
Conference Key:  ope (This key is used with along with the unique
six-digit Conference ID)
Dial-in Number:  1-877-290-8017

1. From any browser, go to:  No
portal login will be required.

2. First time users of the web conference software will be asked to
either install or run a desktop client that supports the webinar.  This
is an automated one-time process that takes less than a minute.  Once
complete, you will be prompted for a conference id, a conference key,
and your name.  We strongly suggest that this process be started 15
minutes before the conference.

3. In the "Join Conference" box on the right side of the screen, enter
the six-digit conference ID for the specific session you wish to attend.
Enter your name where requested and the three-digit Conference Key:  ope

4. These webinars are not supported on Apple computers.  A computer with
a Windows operating system is required.

5. Users of Vista or Windows 7 operating systems should follow the
attached instructions to enable the download of the webinar client. This
is also a one-time process that takes 1-2 minutes.

On Tuesday, February 15th at 2:15 PM, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) will host a webinar for environmental groups to walk
through its draft study plan on hydraulic fracturing currently under
review with the Agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB).

Dial-in number is:           1-877-290-8017
URL to webinar portal is:

A Closer Look at EPA's Proposed Frack Study

Weighing in at 140 pages, the new EPA study asks for data on everything from water acquisition through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing to the post-fracturing stage. The study also includes the management of flowback and produced fluids and its ultimate treatment and disposal.

EPA estimated that 35,000 wells in the US are fracked each year. That’s between 70 and 140 billion gallons – enough water to supply 40 to 80 small cities (population 50,000). What happens when that much water is withdrawn? According to EPA, large volume water withdrawals can lower water tables, decrease stream flow and reduce the amount of water in surface reservoirs. Lower water levels can affect the solubility and mobility of chemicals and lead to surface subsidence.

The study proposal raises questions about impacts of surface spills of hydraulic fracturing chemicals. Even though the total concentration of chemical additives to fracking fluid is small – only 0.5 to 2 percent of the total volume –that translates into 15,000 to 60,000 gallons of chemicals injected into a well, says EPA. After citing the incomplete lists of frack chemicals in their report, EPA says they need more information on the “frequency, quantity and concentration of the chemicals used, which is important when considering the toxic effects of hydraulic fracturing additives.”

The American Petroleum Institute provided a description of industry practices relating to transportation, storage and handling of chemicals. “However,” writes EPA, “the extent to which these practices are followed in the industry … is unclear.”

In addition to determining toxicity and health effects associated with the chemicals used in fracking, the study will take a closer look at the casing and cementing practices used to contain frack fluids and gases in the wellbore. EPA’s concerns include: improper well construction, abandoned wells, drinking water wells, production wells, underground injection wells, mines, and “fluid leak” through natural fractures and faults. EPA is also concerned about the impact of repeated fracturing over the lifetime of a well but, with no interested partners to help investigate, it looks as though those questions will have to be left for another time.

EPA proposes to study all aspects of waste fluid treatment and disposal. Publicly owed treatment plants are not designed to treat hydraulic fracturing waste fluids, are not equipped to treat waste fluids containing radioactive elements and, in the process of treatment, may produce brominated byproducts that are associated with significant health concerns.

In addition to the lab and field studies, EPA proposed three to five case studies in communities with possible drinking water contamination due to fracking operations. Two of those on the short list are located in the Marcellus. EPA also plans to study two or three locations where they can conduct baseline studies prior to drilling, and then monitor key aspects of the fracturing process.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

EPA releases Draft Hydro-Fracking Study Plan

photo by Frank Patterson

Last March the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would conduct a study on hydraulic fracturing that would “use the best available science, independent sources of information, a transparent, peer-reviewed process”. Today EPA submitted its draft study plan on hydraulic fracturing for review to the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB). The SAB, a group of independent scientists, plans to review the draft the first week in March.

According to an EPA press release, the scope of the proposed research includes the full lifespan of water in hydraulic fracturing – from acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage – and includes the management of flowback and produced fluids or used water and its ultimate treatment and disposal.

Over the next few weeks the public has an opportunity to provide comments to the SAB during their review. Upon receiving comments, the EPA will revise the study plan in response to the SAB’s comments and promptly begin the study. EPA expects to make their initial research results and findings public by the end of 2012. They plan to follow-up with additional research, publishing further findings in 2014.

Learn more about hydraulic fracturing and download the pdf of the draft study plan at their website,

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Fracking Musical Interlude

Want to remember what's in that fracking fluid? If memorizing lists of three-and four-syllable chemical names is difficult for you, maybe this will help - it's a list of some of the chemicals put to a familiar tune. Not on Broadway yet, but if they can get people to pay good money for "Urinetown", can "Boomtown" be far behind?

(if the video doesn't work for you try going here: )

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Industry Still Fracking With Diesel

Nobles Hill, Van Etten, Frank Patterson

clarification added Feb 4
On Monday Representatives Henry A. Waxman, Edward J. Markey, and Diana DeGette informed EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that drilling companies are still using diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing. An investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee found that oil and gas companies injected 32.2 million gallons of diesel fuel to frack wells in 19 states – despite an industry pledge to discontinue the use of diesel in fracking.

In 2003 EPA signed an memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the three largest providers of hydro-fracking services to eliminate the use of diesel fuel in their drilling. Two years later, in 2005, Congress exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act – except when fracking fluids contain diesel. At that point, many people assumed that the industry had stopped using diesel altogether.

However, when Congressional investigators sent letters to 14 companies requesting details on the type and volume of fracking chemicals they used, they learned that some companies were still using diesel.  A number of gasfield service companies said they had eliminated or were cutting back on use of diesel - but 12 companies reported that between 2005 and 2009 they used a total of 32.2 million gallons of diesel fuel, or fluids containing diesel fuel, in their fracking processes. They are:

Company                                  gallons of diesel injected

Basic Energy Services             204,013
BJ Services                             11,555,538
Complete                                 4,625
Frac Tech                                 159,371
Halliburton                               7,207,216
Key Energy Services               1,641,213
RPC                                          4,314,110
Sanjel                                        3,641,270
Schlumberger                            443,689
Superior                                    833,431
Trican                                        92,537
Weatherford                               2,105,062

The diesel-laced fracking fluids were used in a total of 19 states. Nearly half was injected into wells in Texas, and 589 gallons found their way into eastern frack jobs, ending up in Pennsylvania gas* wells.

The industry isn’t denying the accusation, but they are arguing that the EPA never fully regulated the diesel-based fracking. Although they signed the MOA’s they told ProPublica that there was no clear law prohibiting the use of diesel in fracking fluids.

Congressman Waxman and his colleagues disagree. The Safe Drinking Water Act, they say, made it clear that diesel-based fracking was regulated under EPA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. And the UIC regulations require permits, which the companies have not obtained.

Diesel Fracking in States from 2005 – 2009

State                                    Volume (gallons)                        
AK                                    39,375                                               
AL                                    2,464                                               
AR                                    414,492                                   
CA                                    26,466                                               
CO                                    1,331,54                                    
FL                                    377                                               
KS                                    50,304                                               
KY                                    212                                               
LA                                    2,971,255                                   
MI                                    8,007
MS                                    221,044
MT                                    662,946
ND                                    3,138,950
NM                                    605,480
OK                                    3,337,325
PA                                    589
TX                                    16,031,927
UT                                    404,572
WY                                    2,954,747

Total                                    32,202,075

You can read the full text of the Congressional letter to EPA here.

* clarification: the diesel fuel was used to frack gas or oil wells. The Congressional investigation was unable to draw conclusions about environmental and health impacts of diesel used in fracking, as the drilling companies did not obtain permits nor provide data on how near their wells were to drinking water wells.