Journalism in the Public Interest

Feds Link Water Contamination to Fracking for the First Time

The EPA’s investigation into water pollution near Pavillion, Wyo., produces landmark findings that could erode arguments used to defend safety of the gas drilling process.


A drilling rig in Wyoming. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

In a first, federal environment officials today scientifically linked underground water pollution with hydraulic fracturing, concluding that contaminants found in central Wyoming were likely caused by the gas drilling process.

The findings by the Environmental Protection Agency come partway through a separate national study by the agency to determine whether fracking presents a risk to water resources.

In the 121-page draft report released today, EPA officials said that the contamination near the town of Pavillion, Wyo., had most likely seeped up from gas wells and contained at least 10 compounds known to be used in frack fluids.

“The presence of synthetic compounds such as glycol ethers … and the assortment of other organic components is explained as the result of direct mixing of hydraulic fracturing fluids with ground water in the Pavillion gas field,” the draft report states. “Alternative explanations were carefully considered.”

The agency’s findings could be a turning point in the heated national debate about whether contamination from fracking is happening, and are likely to shape how the country regulates and develops natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale and across the Eastern Appalachian states.

Some of the findings in the report also directly contradict longstanding arguments by the drilling industry for why the fracking process is safe: that hydrologic pressure would naturally force fluids down, not up; that deep geologic layers provide a watertight barrier preventing the movement of chemicals towards the surface; and that the problems with the cement and steel barriers around gas wells aren’t connected to fracking.

Environmental advocates greeted today’s report with a sense of vindication and seized the opportunity to argue for stronger federal regulation of fracking.

“No one can accurately say that there is ‘no risk’ where fracking is concerned,” wrote Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, on her blog. “This draft report makes obvious that there are many factors at play, any one of which can go wrong. Much stronger rules are needed to ensure that well construction standards are stronger and reduce threats to drinking water.”

A spokesman for EnCana, the gas company that owns the Pavillion wells, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an email exchange after the EPA released preliminary water test data two weeks ago, the spokesman, Doug Hock, denied that the company’s actions were to blame for the pollution and suggested it was naturally caused.

“Nothing EPA presented suggests anything has changed since August of last year– the science remains inconclusive in terms of data, impact, and source,” Hock wrote. “It is also important to recognize the importance of hydrology and geology with regard to the sampling results in the Pavillion Field. The field consists of gas-bearing zones in the near subsurface, poor general water quality parameters and discontinuous water-bearing zones.”

The EPA’s findings immediately triggered what is sure to become a heated political debate as members of Congress consider afresh proposals to regulate fracking. After a phone call with EPA chief Lisa Jackson this morning, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told a Senate panel that he found the agency’s report on the Pavillion-area contamination “offensive.” Inhofe’s office had challenged the EPA’s investigation in Wyoming last year, accusing the agency of bias.

Residents began complaining of fouled water near Pavillion in the mid-1990s, and the problems appeared to get worse around 2004. Several residents complained that their well water turned brown shortly after gas wells were fracked nearby, and, for a time, gas companies operating in the area supplied replacement drinking water to residents.

Beginning in 2008, the EPA took water samples from resident’s drinking water wells, finding hydrocarbons and traces of contaminants that seemed like they could be related to fracking. In 2010, another round of sampling confirmed the contamination, and the EPA, along with federal health officials, cautioned residents not to drink their water and to ventilate their homes when they bathed because the methane in the water could cause an explosion.

To confirm their findings, EPA investigators drilled two water monitoring wells to 1,000 feet. The agency released data from these test wells in November that confirmed high levels of carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, and a chemical compound called 2 Butoxyethanol, which is known to be used in fracking.

Still, the EPA had not drawn conclusions based on the tests and took pains to separate its groundwater investigation in Wyoming from the national controversy around hydraulic fracturing. Agriculture, drilling, and old pollution from waste pits left by the oil and gas industry were all considered possible causes of the contamination.

In the report released today, the EPA said that pollution from 33 abandoned oil and gas waste pits – which are the subject of a separate cleanup program – are indeed responsible for some degree of shallow groundwater pollution in the area. Those pits may be the source of contamination affecting at least 42 private water wells in Pavillion. But the pits could not be blamed for contamination detected in the water monitoring wells 1,000 feet underground.

That contamination, the agency concluded, had to have been caused by fracking.

The EPA’s findings in Wyoming are specific to the region’s geology; the Pavillion-area gas wells were fracked at shallower depths than many of the wells in the Marcellus shale and elsewhere.

Investigators tested the cement and casing of the gas wells and found what they described as “sporadic bonding” of the cement in areas immediately above where fracking took place. The cement barrier meant to protect the well bore and isolate the chemicals in their intended zone had been weakened and separated from the well, the EPA concluded.

The report also found that hydrologic pressure in the Pavillion area had pushed fluids from deeper geologic layers towards the surface. Those layers were not sufficient to provide a reliable barrier to contaminants moving upward, the report says.

Throughout its investigation in Wyoming, The EPA was hamstrung by a lack of disclosure about exactly what chemicals had been used to frack the wells near Pavillion. EnCana declined to give federal officials a detailed breakdown of every compound used underground. The agency relied instead on more general information supplied by the company to protect workers’ health.

Hock would not say whether EnCana had used 2 BE, one of the first chemicals identified in Pavillion and known to be used in fracking, at its wells in Pavillion. But he was dismissive of its importance in the EPA’s findings. “There was a single detection of 2-BE among all the samples collected in the deep monitoring wells. It was found in one sample by only one of three labs,” he wrote in his reply to ProPublica two weeks ago. “Inconsistency in detection and non-repeatability shouldn't be construed as fact.”

The EPA’s draft report will undergo a public review and peer review process, and is expected to be finalized by spring.

Some of the findings in the report also directly contradict longstanding arguments by the drilling industry for why the fracking process is safe: that hydrologic pressure would naturally force fluids down, not up; that deep geologic layers provide a watertight barrier preventing the movement of chemicals towards the surface; and that the problems with the cement and steel barriers around gas wells aren’t connected to fracking.

As both the EPA report and ironicly enough your own article makes clear, the geology of the Marcellus Shale and the Green River Formation are radically different. The gas bearing rock in the Pavillion area is at a depth of 1000’ ... very close to the groundwater aquifer. According to the report, they were injecting right into an aquifer. 

I know you want to try your hardest to link the preliminary results in Pavillion to the Marcellus but the Marcellus shale deposit is a completely different beast. It is several thousand feet under the aquifer. As you well know, two peer reviewed studies, on of which utilized baseline pre drilling water quality data, surveyed 100’s of wells in Pennsylvania and found no contamination from fracking fluids. Amazingly enough, neither one of these two studies got anywhere near the sensationalistic attention that we are seeing today.

Inhofe is a very tiresome ignoraNus and the people of Oklahoma will spend centuries in purgatory to expiate their voting for such a baboon.

Quote from above article: “Some of the findings in the report also directly contradict longstanding arguments by the drilling industry for why the fracking process is safe: that hydrologic pressure would naturally force fluids down, not up; that deep geologic layers provide a watertight barrier preventing the movement of chemicals towards the surface; and that the problems with the cement and steel barriers around gas wells aren’t connected to fracking.”

These longstanding arguments are very familiar to all of us living above the Marcellus Shale, because they’re the very same arguments the gas industry has been using in the Northeast to try to convince us that our water will be safe. The shale gas industry either doesn’t fully understand the effects of its own technology, or else the industry is lying.

Let’s not gamble the water supplies and health of millions of people in a great big experiment to find out whether it’s possible to frack the Marcellus without fracking up the water. It’s far too high a risk. Ban fracking now!

The geology of East and West are very different. The governor of WY should immediately halt all fracking activity in this state based on the science in the EPA report in order to prevent further damage to Wyoming’s underground water supply. Waiting to see what happens next is irresponsible and not acceptable. If you can’t drink the water, who will want to live here?


Dec. 9, 2011, 10:55 a.m.

Dear Senator Inhofe:

Perhaps nothing can persuade you about the deleterious impact of ‘Hydro-fracking’ on the environment and people you purport to represent, but it’s time to acknowledge the science!

Don’t put people in harm’s way, please! We need you to stop attacking the EPA on incontrovertible evidence, the facts. I know it’s become fashionable to think of corporation as people, but remember they have no soul.  Do politicians?


Good job on your fracking report.  This seems to be just the most recent method big business uses to destroy our environment.

Why does the American electorate continue to accept a government that has only the best interests of big business at heart?


Robert C. Short

Dec. 9, 2011, 12:13 p.m.

Isn’t it amazing the EPA “just” found this?  Where were they when some areas of Wyoming have been have problems for years.  Check out the story in High Country News from about a year ago. Some ranches are worthless because the ground water is unsafe.

How about the areas in the east where some can set the fumes from the water on fire.  No, no magic!  Verified!

Now, all of a sudden they say there might be a problem and the Gov. of Wyoming said they need to look into this some more!  Which will take years before they admit there “may” be problem.

In the meanwhile families will continue to live in danger with no help on the way.

Big money is still in charge.

Michael Hiner

Dec. 9, 2011, 12:17 p.m.

Very good reporting.  One of the more balanced reports on the issue.  Now to read the EPA draft…

Hey, Mike H., I’ve seen your same comment posted, word for word, elsewhere. Are you spamming all these sites with your copy-and-paste brilliance because you’re lazy, or not getting paid enough to be a fresh troll every time?

Big money will get away with what ever they want.I know first hand for i’m a whistleblower who though that i would be protected by OSHA’s Whistleblower protection program.
Let me tell you one small part of “OUR” whistleblower case.6 weeks after i contacted OSHA about how my employer who is based out of Millville ,NJ for knowingly renting unsafe machines they fired me for supposed safety violations that i proved untrue to OSHA that even on this day this employer sent into a Sunoco refinery a five ton JLG scissor lift that i just locked out unsafe with a major steering problem and i provided OSHA complete indisputible company documentation they knowingly commited this act.OSHA even had picturies of the lock out tag on this lift .The manufacturer JLG even has a service bullitin with repair kit out on this problem where you lose control of this lift while operating it plus i provided OSHA a time line of 14 calls to JLG tecnicion support dept in witch every time stated no it can not go out like that in a refinery and even the truck driver loading it was in danger.
OSHA was given every part of proof they knowingly did this and this is just some of what we have provided OSHA and OSHA droped our case and this employer walked away.There are a total of three of us that have spoke up and lost our job there and yes there were accidents that involved there machines.We will have more accidents like deepwater and upper branch mine for there is no whistleblower protection.I would warn everyone to keep there mouth shut and turn a blind eye if you see something for they will crush you.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 9, 2011, 12:54 p.m.

Mike H, do you have any personal knowledge about geology in general, or about the Wyoming and Marcellus formations in particular? If so, then perhaps you will acknowledge that there is no such thing as solid, “impermeable” rock, and that ALL rock formations have a strata that is comprised of billions, if not trillions, of cracks and fissures through which things can and do drain down and seep up. Well depth only alters the time factor of such movements.

If you understood the very process of drilling and casing a well, then you would already know that there is a permanent pathway for deep layer pathogens, toxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements to migrate upward into drinking water aquifers starting the minute a drill bit opens a hole in the earth.

It takes a very long time and a lot of money to prove things scientifically, which is precisely why drillers and their supporters always want to limit funding for objective scientific testing. And, for the record, it is impossible to do baseline testing where even a single well has ever been drilled because the baseline data is already corrupted. Your argument falls apart on close inspection.

It is a fact that frac’ing causes contamination of water wells and groundwater aquifers. It is a fact that injection wells cause sinkholes and earthquakes. And, it is a fact that the retail price for natural gas is les than half the breakeven cost to producers, which is why they are selling OUR “clean, cheap” energy to India and China instead of using it to secure America from “Middle East energy imports”, which is, in and of itself, a huge lie told by idiots who want to frighten Americans into supporting the “patriotic” pursuit of fossil fuels here.

You have a choice - keep regurgitating the pablum spoon-fed to you by industry, or learn and start talking about the truth. The choice is yours.

As Doug Hock is so “dismissive” of the “naturally caused” 2 BE contamination I’d like to see him volunteer to live near the Pavillion wells; and drink the water.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that hey! fracking fluids COULD leach when dealing with complex geological systems.  Further, it’s bad form to hastily dismiss lengthy scientific studies with no alternate hypotheses (or shady ones).

These people are certifiably insane or completely soul-less. I’m not sure which is more frightening.

Steve Holmquist

Dec. 9, 2011, 2:35 p.m.

Here’s a problem being overlooked that does apply to the Marcellus Shale. Fracturing isn’t the only source of pollution of ground water and water well formations.

By simple hydrostatic pressure most drilling fluids are heavier than water so when they drill through these water bearing formations the drilling fluids flow back into the water formations where they often times ferment.

There’s no steel and cement barriers when you are actually drilling the well.

It should also be noted that the fracturing in the Pavilion area also included liquid carbon dioxide which exerts incredible pressure when it warms and expands.


Show us these “peer-reviewed studies that aren’t getting sensationalist attention” and maybe people will believe you.

@ Marc W. McCord

If so, then perhaps you will acknowledge that there is no such thing as solid, “impermeable” rock, and that ALL rock formations have a strata that is comprised of billions, if not trillions, of cracks and fissures through which things can and do drain down and seep up.

Marc, you might have a point if it weren’t for the small fact that the gas in the Marcellus formation has been there for millions of years. Clearly it has no natural pathway for it to migrate to the surface.

You have a choice - keep regurgitating the pabulum spoon-fed to you by the environmental lobby, or learn and start talking about the truth. The choice is yours.

@ Austin

The Impact of Marcellus Gas Drilling on Rural Drinking Water Supplies

Elizabeth W. Boyer, Ph.D., Bryan R. Swistock, M.S., James Clark, M.A., Mark Madden, B.S., and Dana E. Rizzo, M.S. Pennsylvania State University, October 2011

There is, as far as I know just one “peer reviewed study that relates directly: by Osborn, et al, published last spring in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

There is one other directly related, the so-called Penn State study,  that was published recently by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. That work was not peer reviewed and has been pulled back by the authors for review and revision.

Stanley R Scobie, Ph.D., Binghamton, NY

@ Stan Scobie

Three things.

1. The Penn State study is under peer review now, and the only correction made was that the authors overestimated bromide contamination.

2. The Osbourne study concluded that there is “no evidence for contamination of drinking-water samples with deep saline brines or fracturing fluids.”

3. Stanley R Scobie, Ph.D .. EPIC FAIL

Well, thank goodness that rock is self-sealing, right?  If rock cracked when penetrated, we’d be in big trouble.

Oh, wait.

Again, as has been mentioned multiple times by different people, “Inconclusive by Design” is an excellent read.  It’s mentioned that environmental studies tend to (a) use statistical models that require absurd numbers of sick people to be “significant” and (b) ignore the very sick as unable to participate in the study.

And so we go through peer review and everybody agrees that no substantive correlations are seen, even when people are dying with symptoms ideally suited to known contaminants.

But don’t worry.  Mike H. has announced “epic fail” (all caps, no less), so we should all go home and leave the thinkin’ to the professionals.

What Mr. Lustgarten so flagrantly (yet unsurprisingly) fails to mention is that some of these water bearing formations are also gas bearing formations and that those formations were being targeted. 

I’m NOT a rocket scientist, but it seems to me that if you are fracing directly into an aquifer (as the EPA claims was happening), it shouldn’t be an overwhelming surprise that frac fluids were found in that aquifer. 

There is absolutely ZERO comparison to this case and the deep shale drilling that is happening in Pennsylvania and other states.  ZERO.  That a reporter would suggest that this could be the “turning point” in the argument on fracing is beyond laughable. 

Mike Knapp
Knapp Acquisitions & Production, LLC
Kittanning, PA

We all remember how for decades we were told that asbestos and tobacco use were unrelated to lung cancer.  Wise up!

The problem with all this is the Obama administration is confronted with the reality that cheap natural gas destroys their wet dreams agenda of solar and wind.

I believe there are going to be solutions to this problem but I do believe the problem may be isolated to wells drilled/fracked at lower depths closer to the surface.  There is plenty of gas deep enough to avoid impacting ground water.  It will cost more to get but given today’s low prices these increases can be absorbed by users of all types.

EPA’s agenda is to kill fracking so that nat gas prices rise so that an argument that wind and solar are reasonable alternatives can be made.  The media will never tell the reality of how much utility bills will have to go up for the “99%”.  The “1%” pay their bills out of spare change.

Harry Reid tried to seal documents at Nevada’s NV Energy so that Nevadans wouldn’t find out that he is responsible for the highest increases in utility costs in state history because he is cramming his wet dreams solar agenda down everyone’s throats here.

Dear Mr. Knapp,

I take it from your comment, that Encana, and any other polluting driller in Wyoming, should be brought up on charges of gross negligence for drilling for Ngas in an aquifer?

You are right, you are much less than a rocket scientist.  This is directly comparable to Bradford and Susquehanna counties in PA, where Cabot, Chesapeake, Chief and others, drilled, and their drilling resulted in, at a minimum, gas migration as of this day.  Who knows what the EPA might find…tomorrow.  Look how long, and painstakingly difficult it has been for the EPA to come up with results in Wyoming!

The Appalachian Basin geology is riddled with existing faults, and “brittle” geology.  This is a scientific fact.  There are hundreds of thousands of natural pathways, let alone the tens of thousands of unplugged, abandoned wells that neither PA, nor NYS has kept track of. 

The aforementioned gas extraction companies should be found guilty of gross negligence, for drilling in areas, and geology, where extensive gas migration has already occurred, and it is not “shallow gas”, but production gas.

As you know, but inexplicably deny, the Dimock people state clearly that they had absolutely zero prior difficulty with their well water.  Cabot drilled, and voila, contamination. 

You and your gas apologists who stand to make money from extraction keep throwing up the same propaganda.  You should be ostracized from our society.

Linda Turillo

Dec. 9, 2011, 11 p.m.

After years of baseless advocacy for gas as a transitional fuel, why are the Natural Resources Defense Council still considered a credible source for the environmentalist opposition to fracking!? Is it because Mr. Lustgarten could not find any more credible sources on this matter? Or does he share NRDC’s overly optimistic view of the promise of fracking? Grassroots Perspective

‘For the first time…’  Thanks for informing us that previous reports of contamination were bogus.  The left’s never ending project of destroying nearly any practical energy source continues.

Mr. Barth,

Apologists who stand to make money?  Must you be reminded that we live in a capitalist society and those that make opportunities for themselves and for the purchaser of goods/services at the lowest price deserve to become as rich as they can?

No, I know your ilk, “honest” politicians who leave office can make millions as long as they are democrats and do it “the right way”.  The right way to you is giving money to green companies to piss down a rat hole.

I am an investor who is making a fortune believing in the nat gas fracturing story and I am sure I disgust you because this is making money off dirty fossil fuels.  You elitist types live your miserable lives hating those that achieve great things.  Ed Schultz on the “Ed Show” makes millions and pretends to be one of the 99%.  Why doesn’t he purge himself of all of his wealth if he feels that strongly our society is so unjust.  You buy into the socialist crapola of the left with your daily angry rants.

You know what people with means are doing every day in spite of all the roadblocks Obama is throwing in front of us?  Making more money, PAYING MORE TAXES, securing our own futures so we do not have to rely on middle class welfare entitlements that the masses have settled for because they will not work, SAVE, and INVEST.  Oh they work and then they spend it all and then some.

When I see cold weather on the east coast I invision millions of BTUs of gas moving thru the Williams Partners pipeline system knowing they will increase by dividends 7% next year while you plod along every day of your life angry that people like me get it and all you want to do is try to take it all away from people like me.

Dear Mr. Bruce F.

You know out in Pavilion we are talking 3,000 to 5,000 ft wells and when they not only drilled all the new wells ENCANA also “worked over and fracked” all the existing wells. ENCANA didn’t frac that country. They blew it up with liquid CO2.

Down around Rifle and Parachute Colorado they ended up with STREAMS that would light on fire.

Down in Texas they had actual surface subsidence.

And you and others think its a good idea to drill and fracture the water for New York and most the eastern seaboard.

You’re a company man aren’t you?

While they are drilling and hydraulic fracturing in water sheds that feed New York and much of the eastern seaboard there are literally thousands of natural gas wells shut in in the Rocky Mountains because they’ve got more natural gas than pipeline capacity.

And off our continental shelves there are literal natural gas formations in hydrate form just waiting to be “harvested.”

This is pretty huge.  I teach Sustainable Energy Law, and I have been guilty of parroting the company line when it comes to driniking water contamination from the fracking process.  I’ve been critical of the process when it comes to freshwater needs and the disposal of produced water, but I’ve been generally supportive of the process.  I need to re-examine my position.  Certainly, the no-federal-regulation crowd takes a hit.

For those on the board who have been critical of EPA for not acting faster, you should know that EPA’s authority to protect drinking water comes from the Safe Drinking Water Act, passed in the early 1970s.  But in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, Dick Cheney successfully persuaded lawmakers to exempt from SDWA regulation “the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.”  This is called the Haliburton Exemption.

Please explore how some NGO’s, like NRDC, actually invest in gas, and the promotion of the industry by RFK, for example, and how this impacts their stance. Ban this!

The EPA report says that one of the possible/probable sources of aquifer contamination is poor cement jobs within the well. Cement is supposed to seal around the pipe and prevent the upward movement of gas and fracking fluids. The report says this sealing process was poorly done or not done completely in many cases. No one ensured that it was done properly. This is the State’s responsibility and they chose to not protect the aquifer.

You can argue the science back and forth but in the end there are folks who can’t drink their well water anymore and the aquifer that serves the entire Wind River valley is polluted. The aquifer is in sandstone and the water moves within it spreading the pollution to other water wells. No one knows how quickly that will happen or how big the plume is or will be. We do know there is no way to clean it up. Anyone want to buy a nice ranch along the legendary Wind River?

Is any body else actually reading the report?

Buzz B—I don’t know of anybody in the oil industry with decision authority who believes in no-regulation.  That kind of thinking harkens back to the old Spindle Top days.  Back then we also thought clear cutting was ok.  A century later we are all smarter and wiser.  We just don’t like regulations that solve nothing, but look good in headlines.

Subsidence—yes it exists.  It occurs around just about every extraction process, which includes groundwater production, and also natural overburden compaction.  The San Joaquin Valley is one of the most studied cases of ground subsidence from over production of groundwater.  There are hundreds if not a thousand technical studies on the issue.  But one must also understand the type of geology in a specific area is critical to understanding if a problem will develop.

Barth—As you reveal in your comments there are many past sins that everybody including regulators and communities made bad decisions on.  There are always crooks and opportunists who desire to break regulations and laws and contaminate and pollute our watersheds through illegal disposal methods.  That is a historical fact that can be verified independently of the oil and gas industry.  So avoiding old cliches about pots and kettles—I believe we should segregate the eras of oil and gas drilling and put the blame game on a timeline that ties it to technical reality instead of PC sound-bytes.

Rocks are brittle—yes.  They are also ductile under well understod conditions of pressure and temperature that cause deformation over geological time.  The millions and trillions of fractures are also well known to be cemented tight with hydrothermal deposits millions and trillions of time.  Geology is not a black-and-white science of absolute outcomes.  If it was that straight forward we would only need drillers and accountants.  Lawyers would also be out of jobs.  :)

SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded $99,988 in grants to organizations in the San Joaquin Valley, Los Angeles, Riverside, Kettleman City for projects focused on reducing exposure of toxins, diesel education and drinking water improvements.

Randy Albright

Dec. 10, 2011, 3:31 p.m.

the “...longstanding arguments by the drilling industry for why the fracking process is safe: that hydrologic pressure would naturally force fluids down, not up; that deep geologic layers provide a watertight barrier preventing the movement of chemicals towards the surface; and that the problems with the cement and steel barriers around gas wells aren’t connected to fracking.” are all lies, plain and simple.  They make great media soundbites on FAUX News, but they are completely disingenuous and meant to deliberately obfuscate the issues before the public.

1.  hydrostatic pressure almost universally increases with depth.
2.  fractures, both naturally occurring and induced during the fracking process, compromise the integrity of deep geologic barriers.
3.  problems with well casing and cementing create additional pathways for migration of native and introduced fluids from deep geologic units to shallower ones. 

All known and documented by geologists for many years.

I want to know what fluids are the problem. I know mostly water is used. Are the chemicals added the problem. Is it something that comes up from the shale? The bad water problems aren’t everywhere they use fracking. Is there a combination of rock depth and composition that works?

I think most people want fracking to work because it’s jobs, money for landowners, and energy for the country. I also don’t think most people want peoples water supply to be contaminated. There has to be a way to do it right.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 11, 2011, 10:13 a.m.

Bruce H, there are MANY toxic, carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals added to the water in every frac job. Some of these include, but are not limited to, arsenic, mercury, lead, boron, barium, selenium, cadmium, chromium, aluminum, benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, naphthalene, acetic acid, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, methanol, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, glycol ethers, hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide - in fact, over 944 toxic, carcinogenic and hazardous chemicals have been identified as being used in the fracking process.

Frac fluid is 99% fresh water, but at an average of 5 million gallons of fresh water per frac that means that about 50,000 gallons of highly toxic stuff is being blasted into the ground every time a well is frac’ed. The government estimates that companies will drill at least 32,000 new gas wells annually by 2012. That could mean more than 100 billion gallons of hazardous fluids will be used and disposed of each year if existing techniques, which often involve 4+ million gallons of water per well, are used.

Yes, there is stuff in the shale that comes up, but there is also a lot that drillers put down the hole that comes up. In fact, about 20-40% of what is pumped into the ground comes back up as flowback (produced) water, and it has to be disposed of by injecting it deep into the Ellenberger formation - this is precisely what is causing earthquakes in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wyoming and other places where frac’ing is done.

In fact, DFW International Airport recently shut down the injection well of Chesapeake Energy because it was causing earthquakes under the runways, and officials feared for runway integrity and public safety. An injection well near Oklahoma City recently was cited as causing earthquakes of 6.5 and 5.6 magnitude less than 48 hours apart.

You have bought into the industry lies about jobs, royalties, etc. It is an indisputable fact that there are less than 100 drilling rigs in the entire country, and that each drilling rig already has a crew that moves with it from location to location. The same trucking companies are moving from location to location, as well. And, after a well is completed there are ZERO employees working there. The jobs creation claim is a myth! Local jobs are VERY temporary during the 30-45 days it takes to drill and complete a well.

Natural gas is selling for less than one half the cost of production, and mineral owners are not seeing anywhere near the amount of money they were falsely led to believe they would receive. Even signing bonus money is way below where it started. Last year, with over 96 working gas wells, Grand Prairie, Texas received a whopping $134,000 - far less than the $240 Million in royalties that Chesapeake told GP residents they could expect. The numbers are on Chesapeake’s own website for the world to see.

And, the domestic natural gas that is supposed to wean us off foreign energy is being sold and shipped to India and China where the gas companies make more money, so in addition to taking our jobs India and China are also taking our domestic energy supply. There is far more gas already in the pipelines than can be sold here - drilling for more only results in an even greater quantity of our natural gas going overseas to be used against us.

There MAY be a way to do it right, but few are investigating and nobody is using it. GasFrac (of Canada) uses LNG as their frac fluid, and they claim that it is almost 100% recoverable. It leaves no pollution down the wellbore, does not require injection well disposal, and can either be used again for future frac jobs or else sold on the commercial market. For now, drillers are using an average of about 5 million gallons of fresh water for each well frac’ed in the Barnett and Marcellus Shale formations and over 9 million gallons in the Eagle Ford Shale - water that becomes permanently polluted and that can never again be used by humans, animals or plants.

Even if the issue of pollution of aquifers, rivers and streams was not a problem we are still left with the facts:

(1) only 3% of all water on earth is fresh water;
(2) 90% of ALL fresh water is in Antarctica;
(3) only about 0.3% of all water on earth is available for the entire planet to use for drinking, hygiene and food growth and preparation;
(4) there is no new water coming here from outer space;
(5) every drop permanently destroyed in the frac’ing process reduces the availability of water to the hydrologic cycle.

Just wanted to point out that the Governor of WY likes to boast that this state is the first to require frackers to report the composition of fracking fluids. That’s true. They are required to report to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission only. Who sits on the WOGC? Oil and gas company executives! So we’ll never know exactly what is put into the aquifer.

Fracking is as most people do not realize, exempt from Clean Water Act. They can poison your water, kill and make you sick, and there is nothing you can do against them. Sad sad situation.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 11, 2011, 11:58 a.m.

Here is the perfect example of what “good neighbors” natural gas exploration and production companies really are:

These are facts, not opinions, the difference being that one can debate opinions, but facts stand on their own without rebuttal.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 11, 2011, 12:03 p.m.

the other 99%, actually frac’ing is NOT exempt from the Clean Water Act. Only having to report the chemicals used is exempt from reporting. They are still required to maintain environmental integrity. The problem for first responders and medical personnel dealing with problems is in not knowing exactly what they are up against.

O&G people know that, if the general public knew what they were doing, then a lynch mob would be marching on their corporate headquarters intent on killing somebody.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 11, 2011, 12:09 p.m.

Mr. Case, we have the exact same problem in Texas. In our state the Texas Railroad Commission regulates all oil and gas activities (it has very little to do with railroads - how very typical for Texas politics!) The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulates air and water issues. Both are staffed by and with people directly from the O&G industry who always look out for each other without regard to public health and safety or environmental protections.

I would venture to guess that the same thing has happened in every other state where frac’ing is occurring.

The O&G industry is under a lot of scrutiny post gulf oil spill.

I can assure you the O&G industry does a much better job of regulating itself. 

I have no problem with more government regulation as long as it is done with people of the same technical capabilitie and can be done within timeframes that business operate under; not government’s “we don’t care if it takes forever” attitude.

The problem is the best and brightest work on the O&G side.  So in the end the only reason the O&G industry could play the government regulators is if, as in the case of banking regulation, the government   hires those the private sector didn’t believe to be the best and brightest.

Government regulation is a joke.  These jokers had no one that understood what happened in the gulf nor did they have regulators that understood the new debt instruments.

Here’s an idea, government should pay what it has to and attract the best and the brightest so the regulators are on par with their private sector counterparts.

William H Emerick

Dec. 11, 2011, 1:56 p.m.

Does anyone know whow much clean fresh water we can afford,to pollute before we run out of it.Most of us now use some form of bottled water due to the fact in years past we failed to protect our water sources.Maybe after all the domestic and wild animals can no longer find a clean water, or when we can no longer irrigate crops to feed ourselves someone will Wake Up.Fracking reminds me of Asbestos lead paint,DDT and all the other man made problems we have today.It will be far to late when we realize what we have allowed to happen.
I would like to know how science and technology will “Bail Us” out of this one.If there is a way to make water in a laboratry I want to see it

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 11, 2011, 6:13 p.m.

Mr. Emerick, all the water on the earth today was here when this planet formed. There is no “new” source of water. Of course, we COULD melt Antarctica and have ten times the amount of fresh water that we have today, but doing so would adversely affect the salinity of sea water and kill all fish and ocean plant life.

As I stated earlier, the earth is 75% water, but only 3% of that is fresh water, and 90% of the fresh water is in the icebergs of Antarctica. That means only 0.3% of the water on earth is available for all human, animal and plant consumption. At the estimated rate of over 100 billion gallons a year by 2012 that will be permanently contaminated due to frac’ing I would say that we have already passed the point of no return, and are winding our way toward extinction of all living organisms on this planet. We may or may not awaken in time to prevent it.

In much of Texas residents are on water rationing due to the shortage of available fresh water. In Dallas, our drinking water reservoirs are more than 25% BELOW conservation levels. Our state climatologist says that the current drought may last another 5 to 15 years. We don’t have enough water for our personal use, but somehow we have enought to allow frac’ing. That is because our elected officials are a bunch of moronic idiots who operate solely on greed and corruption, which is precisely why the EPA has to step in and do the job that TRC and TCEQ refuse to do.

Michael Hiner

Dec. 11, 2011, 9:10 p.m.

The reports by the OKlahoma Geological Survey and the USGS, clearly the distinguish the 5.6 magnitude earthquake from the fracking in a field.  The next strongest earthquake in Oklahoma was a 5.2 that occurred in 1952.  There has so far been no magnitude 6 or greater earthquake in recent history.

The swarm of micro-quakes that occurred with-in 24 hours of a fracking job at Eoal Field, were at similar depth.  It should also be noted the micro-quakes were in magnitude 1.0 to 2.8 and occurred within 4 Km of the field.

The US onshore rig count for early December was approximately 1,987.

It is very important in our discussions to be as accurate as possible.

McChord—What LNG plants are being used to export natural gas to India and China?

Michael Hiner

Dec. 11, 2011, 9:17 p.m.

Examination of Possibly Induced Seismicity
from Hydraulic Fracturing in the Eola Field,
Garvin County, Oklahoma
by AustinHolland
Oklahoma Geological Survey
Open-­‐File Report OF1-2011

love this: “The report also found that hydrologic pressure in the Pavillion area had pushed fluids from deeper geologic layers towards the surface. Those layers were not sufficient to provide a reliable barrier to contaminants moving upward, the report says.”

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 12, 2011, 1:50 a.m.

Mr. Hiner, I stand corrected. Apparently, my memory transposed the numbers. But, there was a series of 23 earthquakes in about 24 hours on November 6-7, 2011, centered about 44 miles NE of Oklahoma City. While the largest was 5.6, one other quake measured 4.7 was recorded a few hours later.

I probably misspoke about LNG exports. As of today we have no export terminals, but numerous companies are preparing to build those plants right now for the very purpose of exporting LNG with the two largest potential clients being China and India. Those companies are Dominion Resources Inc., Cheniere Energy Inc., Freeport LNG (in Freeport, Texas, partly owned by ConocoPhillips), COP, Sempra Energy (filed for a permit to export LNG from its Cameron LNG facility in Louisiana), Apache Corp. (Canada), Encana Corp. (Canada), EOG Resources (Enron Oil and Gas), the last three of which are joining forces to export from the LNG plant in Kitimat, British Columbia, and
Exxon Mobil Corp.

Marc W. McCord is right about all this.  Fracking is ruining our future.

Marc McCord—I take your points well about LNG export.  We are always trapped in this slippery game of market commodity pricing.  In our open market system, companies are free to take their product to any buyer for a higher price.  That seems to fly in the face of logic when we are so heavily dependent on foreign imports.  But here is the rub… How do we as society handle competition?  So far our population has demanded cheap energy.  If a supplier can buy foreign sources cheaper than domestic production is would seem logical to do so and export the cheaper product to the higher priced market.  The backlash of course is when the foreign marketers blackmail us, such as the what happened in the late 70’s with the Arab embargo, the foreign oil glut from over production in the 90’s (that was very damaging to domestic energy), Gulf War 1 spike, 9/11 oil spike, Gulf War 2 spike (speculators), Afghan spike, and so on…  If we shackle our industry and not allow exports are we willing as an economy to set a floor price to protect them (jobs and everyone’s retirement funds) during speculation and foreign production driven down-turns?  As well are we willing to let them sell at the well-head market price?  Remembering too how price controls have hurt the economy in the past.  Did you that our energy companies are often required to hedge a certain portion of production at fixed prices (longer contracts)?

All of this independent of our need for future development of alternative energy.
Your thoughts?

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 12, 2011, 1:44 p.m.

Mr. Hiner, I am merely pointing out what is happening, not trying to limit a corporation’s right to make a profit.

The issue is truth. The O&G industry is telling us that we need to free ourselves from dependence on foreign energy, especially Middle East energy, when it knows full well that the two countries from which we import the vast majority of our energy are Canada and Mexico. Saudi Arabia is a distant third, and the entire Middle East accounts for less energy imports than either Canada or Mexico, but telling the truth does not serve the needs of the O&G industry, so it lies through its teeth to protect its own interests.

The O&G industry also tells us that we have a 100, 200 or 300 year supply of natural gas that will free us from foreign energy dependence, depending upon whom you hear. Rick Perry recently made the 300+ year claim. That is completely bogus. As Dr. Marc Durand, Professor of Applied Geological Engineering at the University of Quebec at Montreal (retired) has clearly demonstrated by the scientific method, a gas well loses 70% of its production flow in the first year, and after 3-5 years a well is no longer commercially viable.

Dr. Durand has also demonstrated that only about 20% of the natural gas is recoverable, even with modern frac’ing technology. That means the real prospect of how much gas we can get is only about 12-40 years MAXIMUM, and selling ANY of it to ANY foreign country, regardlesss of the reason or rationale, reduces the amount that will be available to supply America’s energy needs and help free us from foreign energy imports.

Those were my points. I understand free market economics and the need to find the best price, both as buyer and seller, for any product or service used. Just don’t go around waving a damned flag and claiming that one’s motives are altruistic and patriotic when the truth is the only motive is corporate profits and shareholder equity regardless of the damage it causes to others.

@ Marc Your figures regarding the actual amount of fresh water in the world may be a little high in comparison to an extensive National Geographic article on this topic, but they are very close to NatGeo and those numbers put this issue into its larger context.  Actually, fracking is part of two larger issues:  one, of course, is the ultimate availability of fresh water, and the second is the fact that the O&G industry is running out of easy ways to get natural gas and oil.  The evidence is the use of fracking and deep water drilling resulting in the Gulf Oil spill.  Regarding the latter, one fact that emerged was the industry’s acknowledgement they do not have the technological knowledge to make deep water drilling safe.  I suspect the same is true for fracking as evidenced by the contaminated water reports.  The poster who stated solar and wind was a “wet dream” might be advised to visit the nearest public library to research industry claims that deep water drilling and fracking are safe.  The environmental community predicted all of this, and also the political fallout when fracking moved outside the sphere of historically “disposable” populations like the residents of West Virginia into more politically sensitive areas.  We are running out of fossil fuels to burn, we cannot extract what remains safely, and we are endangering our own population in the process.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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