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.

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Marc W. McCord

Dec. 12, 2011, 4:18 p.m.

Max, if my numbers are high, then we are truly in worse shape that I thought. And, that is possible. My numbers are rough estimates based upon several scientific, peer reviewed studies on the topic of water on earth.

And, you are very correct about industry not having the answers to problems they create.  While they claim to have been frac’ing for over 60 years that claim is in serious need of qualification. What was done up until about 10 years ago was vertical well fracturing using water and sand. The slickwater, horizontal fracturing that is being done today uses many very hazardous chemicals to reduce corrosion in drilling pipes, reduce friction of fluids, sand and gas through the pipes, weaken or dissolve the rock and dirt, increase hydraulic pressure during the frac’ing process and other purposes. There is little similarity between what was done even 15 years ago and what is being done today.

But, it is not really about getting and selling gas. It is more about getting leases on potential fields and then selling those leases (and the leaseholder companies) to investors or larger companies before anybody finds out what a fraud this whole thing is.

Claims that what goes down a gashole (wellbore) or what is found down the hole cannot ever come back up into our groundwater aquifers or to the surface are just pure lies, and industry knows it. Landmen have zero integrity. They just want to make the big bucks by getting leases signed while the getting is good.

The amazing thing to me is how stupid the average person really is. First, the gas companies will tell you that what they put down there can never come back up because it is too deep and there are too many “impermeable” rock layers that protect the groundwater and surface. Then, when gas is found in water wells, creeks, rivers or lakes industry claims it is because the stuff has always been there, and that it comes from rock layers below the well, aquifer, creek, river or lake, and is a naturally recurring event.

For some crazy reason average people fail to see the contradiction in those two claims. The reason for that is a general lack of education and intellectual curiosity. Very few are going to be the next Jed Clampett because of natural gas exploration.

Michael Hiner

Dec. 12, 2011, 5:29 p.m.

Dr. Durand should have also stated that by SEC regulation, E&P companies must list reserves in recoverable volumes categories, not in-place volume.  Even reserve estimates from foreign national oil companies, USGS, and reserch companies are published with statistical qualifications due to the uncertainty of estimating rock volume, pore space, and fluid type, along with many more variables.

Unconventional wells tend to have short lives and need peak production rates in the early stages to offset investment cost and return on investment.  After that, the lower rate of production has significantly less cost burden.  Honestly, E&P companies calculate the margins very carefully.  There is a lot of work performed to estimate drainage areas and recovery from multiple zones in a reservoir.

Conventional wells have longer production periods.

Reflecting—the government is telling us we need to free ourselves of foreign imports.  It rightly points out that our need for oil and gas imports puts us at a disadvantage when dealing on whatever policy issue that surfaces.  Everyone else, including the green industry and congress, has jumped on the bandwagon to use the declaration as a marketing sound-byte.

On deepwater drilling—how does one tell the rest of the world not to drill their deepwater wells?  Can you imagine the response from the government and people in Brazil?  I think they would make some comment about American arrogance telling them how to develop their country and improve the lives of their people.  Another analogy—we can’t drill off Florida, but Cuba can.  Tough pill to swallow.

Kind regards,

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 12, 2011, 7:26 p.m.

Mr. Hiner, I am not certain that Dr. Durand is aware of SEC regulations or other exclusively American laws and regulations, though he may well be. He is a Canadian of French descent, and his work was aimed at more the technical engineering analysis of available data with regard to the reliability of claims being made about recoverable reserves versus total estimated reserves, the latter being the basis of most claims made by O&G companies as to their asset value when attracting investment capital. He was just looking at the practical side of earning enough from what is recovered to pay the debts of E&P.

While government is, indeed, telling us that we need domestic energy to reduce foreign imports let us not forget that government is getting that information from industry whose objective is to maximize profits regardless of who else takes a hit in the process. Jimmy Carter funded numerous alternative energy research programs, and one of the very first acts of Reagan, upon becoming president, was to end those subsidies for alternative energy development at the behest of Big Oil.

In the early- to mid-70’s we were well on our way to sustainable, renewable energy, as well as other fossil fuel alternatives to oil. We were looking at tar sands, shale oil, shale gas, wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal and other potential alternatives. That all ended with Reagan and Big Oil money.

We cannot afford to allow politicians to make critical decisions about which way this country will go because they will always bend to their big donors, and that will never the common man. We have to demand change and progress that cleans our environment and lowers our cost even if that means a little less profit for the uberwealthy who will just get it back anyway when us little people spend a little more to buy a few things to make us feel all warm and fuzzy.

Until the people demand change, and really mean it, change will never come regardless of who promises it. We need to start by changing every single member of Congress and replacing them with citizen-legislators who do the work because they truly care about the country and because they want to be patriots in more than name only.

If others cannot compete at lower profit margins, then let them file for bankruptcy. That is the whole essence of the capitalism that corporate America loves so much. He who builds the better mouse trap wins!

Bruce F

Dec. 12, 2011, 7:49 p.m.

Mr. McCord,

You seem to play it fast and loose with history.  Carter’s Synfuels program was a complete failure.  Once Reagan decontrolled oil prices fell thru the floor eventually reaching below $10/barrel.  I had clients whose businesses in solar failed because of this….. the only way alternative energy had any chance is if government intervened by forcing prices of fossil fuels thru the roof.

Perhaps Obama and Reid should explain to the American people in these dire times why they see a greater good jacking up monthly utility costs.  Frankly, natural gas is going to be our future and Obama is livid that he is in no position to crap cap and trade down our throats.

Cap and tax and tax and tax some more is little more than liberal government seeking another source of funding in order to accomplish to socialist wet dreams of massive redistribution.

If government controls healthcare and energy it pretty much would have a strangle hold over the economy.  But socialists who think the way Europeans live is the way we should live do not care how much they ravage the 99%.

You are another dilusional liberal that believes solar and wind will result in lower energy costs.  Name one thing these but-munches in government get their hands on that actually costs less in the end.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 12, 2011, 8:35 p.m.

Bruce F, you are the perfect example of somebody playing fast and loose with history. Under Carter everything was in the initial stages of research, and numerous college and university programs were seeking answers to possibilities. Nobody expected all of them to be a success, especially in those infant years, but you have to start somewhere.

It is possible that none of the alternatives being considered and tried would have succeeded, but that reaseach was a necessary first step. It is purely idiotic to believe that ANY fossil fuel is our answer to a secure energy future. Only the truly close-minded believe that crap. We are quickly running out of recoverable reserves of all fossil fuels.

And, it is NOT Obama and Reid who are raising your energy prices. The blame for that goes to energy speculators, most of whom are the very top eschelon of the O&G industry flipping energy stocks among themselves and thereby raising the price several times over before making the products available to the public. It takes a Republican to blame Obama or any government official for rising prices that are controlled exclusively by industry and its speculators.

There IS one thing that Obama and a Democratic Congress could do (if he had such a Congress), and that would be to pass and sign into law a bill requiring all traders in energy futures to actually pay for their purchases at the time of the trade and take possession of the product before selling to another buyer. That would immediately end speculation in energy futures and lower the price of oil to what oil economists say it really should be - around $35-40 per barrel.

And, only an idiot would even suggest that governrment should play a role in competing against industry. It is the role of government to establish fair and balanced rules by which business operates so that the common man does not get screwed in the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

It is the role of business to earn an honest dollar for a fair and honest product or service. In your world business wins when it plunders everything possible to make a lot of money for a very few while screwing up the entire planet for everybody else. If business was honest, then we would not even need government!


Dec. 13, 2011, 8:30 a.m.

Great posts.  Your reference to the continuing role of commodities bubbles is spot on.  As usual a 1936 law designed to prevent the kind of wild commodies speculation we now have was circumvented in 1991 by Goldman Sachs.  While both parties nibble around the edges of the real issue (i.e., conservatives blame government regulations and Democrats talk about hybrid cars) our culture of institutional corruption aided by our lazy corporate media and millions of low information voters rolls on unopposed.

From Matt Taibbi’s “Griftopia”:

“So what caused the huge spike in oil prices [to $4.11 a gallon in 2008]? Take a wild guess. Obviously Goldman had help – there were other players in the physical-commodities market – but the root cause had almost everything to do with the behavior of a few powerful actors determined to turn the once-solid market into a speculative casino. Goldman did it by persuading pension funds and other large institutional investors to invest in oil futures – agreeing to buy oil at a certain price on a fixed date. The push transformed oil from a physical commodity, rigidly subject to supply and demand, into something to bet on, like a stock. Between 2003 and 2008, the amount of speculative money in commodities grew from $13 billion to $317 billion, an increase of 2,300 percent. By 2008, a barrel of oil was traded 27 times, on average, before it was actually delivered and consumed.”


Dec. 13, 2011, 3:31 p.m.

Gasfracking as Alternative to Hydrofracking

A process is available today to alleviate most of the environmental concerns posed by hydraulic fracturing and actually produce natural gas wells that have a higher flow rate and greater total volume of NG than hydrofracking. It is called “gasfracking” and was invented by Gasfrac Energy Services Inc of Alberta, Canada.

Instead of water and toxic chemicals, it uses a propane gel called “Liquified Propane Gas” or “LPG”. Along with methane, propane is one of the gases that are pumped out of natural gas wells, and virtually 100% of the LPG is recovered. It contains no toxic substances that can pollute the groundwater.

After fracking, the pressure that caused the rock to fracture is released. The propane gel, which has a specific gravity that is much lower than hydrofracking fluids, then returns to its gaseous phase and can be pumped out, along with the newly released natural gas. It also is much less viscous and thus does not adhere to rock surfaces or the proppant injected into the cracks. It can then be reused or pumped through natural gas pipelines to refineries. Consequently, there is no need for “evaporating ponds” that allow volatile chemicals in fracking fluids to enter the atmosphere and seep into groundwater.

Many environmentalists do not want any shale fracturing to be done because it still contributes to global climate change. I get that. However, at present, there are no viable substitutes for fossil fuels on a scale large enough to supply our total energy needs. Hopefully, that will change in the near future. Drilling for natural gas is therefore here to stay for the near term.

Consequently, the most urgent thing that needs to be done right now is to stop the pollution of ground and surface water, as well as the atmosphere, by the process of hydrofracturing. We still have a little time to reverse global warming. However, about 50% of hydrofracking fluid with its witch’s brew of toxic chemicals remains in the ground forever. Putting an end to this process should therefore be an even higher priority than reversing climate change.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 13, 2011, 4:08 p.m.

Gwain, I concur with most of what you stated, and I have no real argument except for the part about environmental damage, which is hardly limited to groundwater and surface water pollution, air pollution and soil contamination.

There is also the issue of radical changes to the subterranean layers of strata that supports the surface. It has been clearly proven that frac’ing and injection well operations result in ground subsidance, sinkholes and earthquakes. This is a major cause for concern.

In Dallas, XTO Energy (ExxonMobil) has a permit request in place to frac a well near the dam an Joe Pool Reservoir and another at Mountain Creek Lake. Chesapeake Energy has already frac’ed a well just 850 feet from the spillway and dam at Joe Pool, even though the BLM and USACE require a minimum 3,000 foot setback from any critical infrastructure at a USACE-controlled dam.

If fracturing the strata upon which dam sit results in sinkholes and/or earthquakes that, in 5, 10 or 20 years, result in a failure of the dam footing, and the dam breaks, then 10,000 or more people stand to lose their lives, and at the very least their homes and possessions. USACE is currently trying to get Chesapeake to shut down that well site, but Chesapeake is refusing. Meanwhile, USACE is currently working on developing a strategic plan for dealing with all future attempts to frac near a dam, spillway or lake that can be applied universally across the nation.

DFW International Airport recently shut down a Chesapeake injection well on airport property because it was causing earthquakes beneath the runways. A runway integrity failure could cause a crash of a departing or incoming flight that would kill a lot of people, and it would result in part or all of the airport being shut down, which would result in a major financial collapse on a local, regional, national and international scale - DFW is the third busiest airport in the US and one of the busiest in the world.

So, while we are very concerned about water, air and soil issues there are also myriad other legitimate issues with which we are also concerned, and they ALL take precedent over obtaining fossil fuels regardless of the consequences. As I have long said, piss poor planning on your part does not constitute an urgency on my part. We knew this was coming long ago, but we chose to ignore it when we had opportunities to get the jump on alternative energy development.

Mankind has lived on this rock for 200-400,000 years. We never used a drop of oil or a cubic foot of natural gas until about 1860, but nothing EVER survived on this planet without an abundance of clean water, air and soil - PERIOD! Fossil fuels make life easier, but they are not absolutely essential to our survival. Clean water, air and soil ARE essential to our survival.

We only have one environment. If we destroy it, then we will become as extinct as the dinosaurs. The difference will be that we will have done to ourselves what nature did to the dinosaurs. They had no choice in the matter. We DO!

Dan Alters

Dec. 14, 2011, 4:04 p.m.

I haven’t been here in months, but not much has changed.  The “environmentalists” wail about hydraulic fracturing and the gas industry bloggers spin the latest happenings to suit their benefactors.

Hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus shale may or may not be bad - actually no one knows yet.  What hardly anyone discusses is the certain adverse impact of thousands of well pads, hundreds of large gas compressor stations, thousands of miles of access roads, and thousands of miles of various size gas pipelines in Pennsylvania.  I won’t see the end of this downhill slide in my lifetime, and I doubt if anyone already present will see the return of Penn’s Woods.

Bruce F

Dec. 14, 2011, 4:13 p.m.

Come on.  There are over 250,000 holes in the ground from oil drilling going back more than a century now….. in Pennsylvania.

The beauty of this state will not be taken away unless the local politicos allow it to happen at the same time lining their pockets.

These apocolyptic comments serve no purpose.  This country is remarkable in terms of overall energy conservation.  The new reality is that one cell phone, one IPAD requires the infrastructure, backbone, and back office equivalent of what it takes to run a refrigerator/freezer.

Unless we are planning on going back to living in the dark ages we need to meet these energy needs while conserving at the same time.  But suggesting that wind and solar power which cannot be economically stored and cannot be relied on for a significant portion of the US power can somehow be the backbone of energy policy is just plain silly.

Talk about destruction of the views.  Drive HWY 95 from Vegas to Laughlin and you see all the open areas that Harry Reid is willing to fill in with solar panels.  When the sun reflects off the panels at the right time of day it is downright dangerous to be driving the 95 north from Laughlin back to Vegas.

With all the solar that NV can produce it cannot be transported any distance and oil and nat gas can be put in a pipeline at one end of US and arrive substantially intact at the other end of the US.

While liberals want to pour billions into green wet dreams there is a reality that Obama has done everything possible to suppress.  That natural gas is at the very least the most efficient fossil fuel during any transition period but if it remans this cheap there is no incentive to move away from fossil fuels.

Steve H

Dec. 14, 2011, 4:47 p.m.

Marc W. McCord

While I agree there are some real concerns with fracking and drilling in general I sure can’t agree with the numbers provided by Prof.Dr. Marc Durand came up with.

I was a roughneck, driller, and flow tester for more than 35 years and almost every gas well we drilled is still producing. Even in the Pavilion area mentioned in the article many of those gas wells are 20 years old and still producing.

The actual case I’ve seen is the reason natural gas is so desirable is because just like in Pavillion it cost about $1 to $1.5 million to drill a well and it would take less than a week or so to pay for itself and then produces for 15 or 20 years at pure profit.

Steve H

Dec. 14, 2011, 5:01 p.m.

Michael Hiner
“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), “

Well now the oil embargo (which actually last all of two weeks) and the energy crisis of the 1970’s was the largest con game ever run on the American Public and it worked like a charm to scare Americans into allowing the Oil monopoly to get their way when we actually should have started converting to alternative energy instead.

I would watch news reports showing gas lines in California going back a mile or more. Then we would get in the crew car and drive out to the drilling rig and see oil overflowing storage tanks and oil companies digging emergency dirt pits to hold the overflow. My friends down at the Amoco Refinery were working seven days a week 10 hours a day patching and repairing storage tanks that had not been used in 25 years.

All that was was the oil monopoly shutting down refining because Congress had said no the the Alaskan Pipeline and slapped wind fall profit taxes on the major producers.

That’s the last time the government stood up to the oil monopoly.

Steve H

Dec. 14, 2011, 5:14 p.m.

@ Bruce F

I think you’re being awfully naive about what can happen in Pennsylvania. I believe oil and gas companies have already discharged radioactive formation water into waste water treatment plants that can’t detect radiation let alone remove if before discharging the water in to rivers that other towns and cities down stream use for their water sources.

Also hydraulic fracturing has been around quite awhile but nothing like the frac jobs they are doing today and the number of wells and their proximity. Lots of directional wells are only six feet apart at the surface and a couple acres apart in the pay zones. That’s a lot of drilling pollution and facturing.

And its obvious to me that the gas companies have most people in Pennsylvania either bought off or just fooled. You really should take a look at Pavilion or the country around Pinedale Wyoming sometime. I think you might change your mind.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 14, 2011, 6:39 p.m.

Steve, I have no idea upon what you are basing your information, but I am VERY knowledgeable about frac’ing. Around here, it costs about $2.5 to 3 million to frac a well. There is little production flow in some places. Grand Prairie, adjacent to Dallas on thesouthwest side, has 96 producing wells, and last year the entire industry only paid GP residents $134,000 in royalties according to the information that is listed on the website of the Texas Railroad Commission (the regulator of oil and gas in Texas) and the website of Chesapeake Energy.

I will grant you that are SOME wells that produce gas at profitable flows, but many, possibly most, do NOT, and that is a fact. While I do appreciate your perspective as a roughneck I think I will place my trust in a professor of applied geological engineering who holds several doctorate degrees in related disciplines and who has a storied history of working in the industry as an engineer. And, I will raise you one Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Professor of Geological Engineering and Structure Mechanics at Cornell University. Both of these widely recognized experts have a differing opinion than you about slickwater, horizontal fracturing.

It is also a fact that we current produce far more natural gas than we can ever use! There are very few cars running on the stuff, and only a few power plants. Many American homes are totally electric. Many commercial and industrial buildings use steam and electricity.

The current market rate is below half of the breakeven cost, and the reason for that is that we have far more gas than we have market for it, which is precisely why industry is working to build export terminals that will ship our domestic energy overseas where it will fetch a higher price. And, that will NOT free us from foreign energy imports or lower the cost to American citizens. If the cost got any lower, then the O&G industry would probably abandon the product altogether.

The current breakeven cost is about $11 per mcf, and the current market rate is less than $4 per mcf. It does not take a “rocket surgeon” to calculate what a losing proposition THAT is!

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 14, 2011, 6:47 p.m.

Bruce, if you want to know the truth about Pennsylvania hydraulic fracturing, then please visit where you can read and view photos showing the truth about this issue.

Denial is NOT a river in Egypt!

Steve H

Dec. 14, 2011, 11:06 p.m.

Marc W. McCord

Whoa now mark let’s be clear about some things here. I was there when they didn’t just frac Pavilion ENCANA blew that country up with liquid CO2 and have been lying about it ever since.

I’ve watched the millions of gallons of frac fluid and and sand come out of the wells in Pinedale. Those are $10 to $15 million per well and those pay for themselves in 90 days and produce for 20 years. And do the math yourself. The Pavilion wells average a little less than 1 million cubic of gas per day. Pinedale wells are more like 8 to 15 million cubic feet per day. And what’s natural gas selling for? Its $3 per MCF and mcf is thousand cubic not millions.

And had you been paying attention I’ve already pointed out we’ve already got more natural gas wells than we have pipeline capacity for. We’ve got thousands of wells shut in out here and probably more every where else. Not to mention more leases than the gas companies could drill in the next 20 years.

But the boom is on for you guys out there because they are drilling there and building the new Pipelines to Louisiana so you can pay all those transportation costs when they ship natural gas back up the Eastern seaboard because whether they know it or not they are going to switch from heating oil to natural gas.

Here’s one thing I’ve seen all my oilfield life. The oil monopoly stays 10 years ahead of the government and 20 years ahead of the general public.

Steve H

Dec. 14, 2011, 11:09 p.m.

In case I have not made myself clear I think anyone who lives within the water shed that feeds New York and huge sections of the east coast (which includes Pennsylvania) are fools if they allow that area to be drilled and hydraulically fractured.

Michael Hiner

Dec. 14, 2011, 11:29 p.m.

So much discussion, so little time.

Marc—there is a big difference from area to area on how wells produce, and the character of the formations, reservoirs, and production rates.  You all can rail about numbers and production rates and at the end of the day be half wrong all of the time.  Marcellus is not Bossier, Barnett, Eagleford, and so on, including pavillion.  I think the professors would be a little concerned if they knew their numbers were being applied in blanket statements.  They would not survive a peer review. 

Goodness I was buying gas during the embargo.  I remember the UK saying they would produce the North Sea fields at full rate in order to stand up to OPEC.

I suppose we can go green sometime after 50 years, if we are realistic about replacing oil and gas, at a cost for alternatives that would bankrupt the country. 

So too, I would help save the planet and buy a PC made of wood components in order to rid ourselves of those so-called horrible plastics that are derived from hydrocarbons.  Can you imagine the internet running on string and tin cans?  I guess then a hacker is one who cuts the string.  A local are network would be from the upstairs to the kitchen.  And broadband would be high tension string stretched along power lines.  Reality check.

Have any of you finished reading the EPA report yet?


Dec. 15, 2011, 4:38 p.m.

A couple of things:

There’s an unsubstantiated rumor that the frac fluids did not come from the fracking process, but from a fracking contractor that illegally dumped the chemicals near the wellsite. Is that a possible culprit for the pollution. I have no idea if it’s even possible.

Second, CO2 doesn’t burn.

Third, we are not producing more natural gas than we can use. If we were, where would we put it? There’s only so much storage space in North America.

Fourth, companies are making money by fracking. Sometimes, it’s the liquids that pay the bills, not the gas, but frack jobs pay the bills.

Fifth, fracking is almost certainly not what is causing the pollution, it’s likely a poor cementing job, which can happen with any kind of drilling - oil or gas - or it’s surface water pollution from poor containment. I wish reporters could get that fact straight. Fracking by itself has been a very safe process, it’s the ‘fracking chain’ (drilling and cementing, water disposal, trucking, etc) that has caused some of these accidents. Also, it hasn’t been proven that the pollution was caused by Encana. Encana has issued a press release that calls into question much of the EPA’s data. Maybe the EPA has an explanation for everything, but the whole story hasn’t come out yet.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 15, 2011, 5:39 p.m.

Jason, a couple of things (several, actually):

First, there is no truth to the rumor that ” the frac fluids did not come from the fracking process, but from a fracking contractor that illegally dumped the chemicals near the wellsite.” That is certainly possible in some cases, as we know it to be a fact, but that is hardly the case in every situation.

Second, whoever said that CO2 burns, and why is this relevant?

Third, it is a fact that we ARE producing more natural gas than we can use, and it is NOT being stored anywhere except in the well, sealed in by the wellhead. This (shutting in a well) has been a common practice
since the 1860’s when drilling first commenced. It is being done today. Apparently, you have very limited knowledge about this issue to make such a blatantly false and absurd ascertion.

Fourth, it is fact that MOST companies ARE NOT making a profit drilling for natural gas. Again, you are speaking without the facts to support your claims. It costs about $2.5 to 3 million to drill a well in Texas. Nationally, it can cost more or less depending upon the rock formation being frac’ed. The cost of recovering natural gas is about $11/mcf, but the market rate is less than $4/mcf. And, not ALL gas wells bear liquid hydrocarbons. Here in Texas most of our gas comes up “dry”, unlike gas in some other areas that requires much more refining at a higher production cost.

Fifth, you are playing semantics with the issue. Frac’ing REQUIRES casing and cementing. It is all a part of the process. You cannot seperate it into component parts and make the claims you did. The fact is that every single part of the process is harmful to the environment and to people exposed to the produced liquids, gases and released natural elements such as radon, uranium, selenium, cesium and other radioactive elements that are part of drilling into deep shale layers.

Drilling companies are having major problems disposing of used drilling pipes due to radioactive contamination. Many metal recyclers are refusing to accept drilling pipe because they have no way to manage the radioactivity. This is frequently resulting in some drilling contractors digging holes a few feet deep and burying their used pipes that are too corroded from frac fluids to be used again.

Poor casing jobs have, indeed, been to blame is SOME cases, but you are merely parroting the industry line when you make statements likes the ones above. The EPA has fingerprinted hydrocarbons in some drinking water wells and perfectly matched it to the frac fluids of nearby gas wells from which those hydrocarbons migrated. Who gives a damn how they got there? The problem is that they ARE getting there, and that seldom happened before frac’ing. In many cases it NEVER happened at a particular location BEFORE frac’ing occurred nearby.

You really need to do some research before embarrassing yourself further by making statements like the ones above. If you want to engage in a discussion, then that is great, and having a differential opinion is welcome, but making patently false statements will get you called out by people who actually are involved in this issue and understand what is going on.

I, for one, am not opposed to frac’ing as long as it is done safely where it does not harm people, animals, plants, the environment or property values. I also recognize the need for fossil fuel energy while we develop alternatives that are renewable and sustainable, neither of which is the case with fossil fuels.

If you need one resource, of the many available, to do some research, then you might start with - you will find a world of information, much of which you will doubt or deny, to give you a starting position.


Dec. 15, 2011, 5:55 p.m.


FIrst off, I don’t really appreciate your tone. I may not be as well-informed as yourself, but I hope that I deserve a civil tone.

I’m not sure I understand your position on the supposed oversupply of natural gas. You state that drilling for natural gas is wildly unprofitable.

Why are these companies drilling all these wells? In the long run, this sprint to lose money should be very helpful for the environmental lobby as they will eventually run out of money, killing the industry.

I would submit that you may be wrong and those companies are actually making money.

I honestly don’t understand how you can arrive at the conclusion that we have more natural gas than we can ever use when we are, in fact, using it all. I suggest you look at the EIA’s website where they provide quite detailed information on the sources of supply and demand in the US and how they quite nearly balance. To use your words, it is false and absurd to state the otherwise.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 15, 2011, 6:16 p.m.

Jason, fortunately for me I am not burdened by whether or not you like my tone. My concern is facts, and yours are woefully incorrrect.

As to why people are drilling wells that are not profitable, I can give you two immediate justifications. There are probably numerous others.

First, drilling permits are issued with time limits set for getting pipe in the ground. Often, land leases carry the same stipulations. So, even if it is not profitable to produce gas a company will drill anyway so that they can secure the leasehold. This is a common practice.

Second, if a company with deep pockets and huge revenues drills wells that are not profitable, then they get tax write-offs.

In either case, the company has a secure leasehold that it can allow to sit idle until such time as rates increase enough to make production profitable (Economics 101.)

I frequent the EIA website often, and I have never seen anything to substantiate your claims of a blance between production and commercial sales of the product, but just so you know, gas is not considered to be “produced” until it comes out of the wellhead, so if a wellhead is shut in, and no gas is coming out, then there is no production. It has to reach the commercial pipelines to become produced gas, and it is easy enough to limit the amount being taken to what is required to meet existing demand. That does NOT prove your point. It merely implies that your point is off the mark by pretending that all gas from drilled wells is “produced” gas, when it is not.

Bruce F

Dec. 15, 2011, 6:19 p.m.


There are plenty of sources that confirm we have multiple decades of natural gas. 

Fracking is still a small percentage of nat gas supplies.  We have thousands of wells drilled the old fashioned way that are still delivering natural gas.

There may be a need for further regulation.  There may be a need to prohibit fracking above 1,500 feet or however close to the surface some of this fracking is being done.  But a solution can be found so that we can continue to benefit from cheap natural gas and forget the greens wet dreams of solar, bio, wind, clean coal… .whatever.

Our transition fuel is going to be nat gas.  Unless Obama decides he wants to flush hundreds of thousands of energy sector jobs.


Dec. 15, 2011, 6:37 p.m.


Thanks for the feedback. However, I’m afraid I still don’t quite understand your reasoning.

So, these companies are drilling to maintain their leashold, spending tens of millions of dollars per well. And then they walk away. Because there’s WAY too much gas being produced.

Alright, when will they start making money? Never? Why are they spending all that money to maintain a lease when there will ALWAYS be too much gas in North America?

I just don’t understand why you suppose these companies are spending all that money just in order to lose most of it.


Dec. 15, 2011, 6:56 p.m.

I would also point out that production numbers are the only number that we can get. Not even the company that drilled for the gas can know how much gas is in the well.

To state that we have too much gas based upon a number that nobody can know is more than a little misleading.

Michael Hiner

Dec. 15, 2011, 10:38 p.m.

Where are Ibsteve and Barry when I need them?

You are wrong on one point.  The drilling and fracking process should be broken down into individual components, as each part of the drilling and development process have significantly different work flows.  The cost of drillng and completing varies regionally but is preditctable or uniform within a more localized producing area.

There is a difference between shutting-in a well or delaying the completion program.  Many operators in the last 2 years have shifted more of their portfolios to unconventional oil drilling.  But they are still drilling gas wells because they also must maintain supply volumes for contracts to power companies and other consumer entities.  If I was an operator I would delay the completion process until the market indicated its direction.  But as people note, contract obligations must be met or the operator faces a number of adverse consequences.

Bruce F is correct in spirit to suggest that regulations should be reviewed for impact and protection of aquifirs.

As for radiation, I think the residents in the Marcellus have a greater threat from naturally occurring radon concentrations that are very well documented by state and federal agencies, than the scale from dill pipe. Just an observation.

Steve H

Dec. 15, 2011, 11:44 p.m.

Gee Jason you are the most knowledgeable novice about drilling and production I think I’ve ever seen.

But let’s be clear about a couple things. Instead of some contractor dumping chemicals, the drilling process itself is forcing chemicals back into the formations including ground and water well formations from the first second the bit hits the earth and they kick in the mud pumps.

Then they set surface casing and drill from there. Where you encounter natural fractures in nearly every formation you drill through. Again drilling mud seeping back into those fractures all the time. Its not uncommon to loose 10,000 barrels in some places.

Ok now on shallow wells we’re done and all we have to do is set production casing and frac. If its a deep well then its another string of casing and a production liner. Three more places for the cement to fail.Will the cement hold. Who cares. We’re rigging down and moving the rig.

Now the production crew comes on to perforate and frac. We’re going to shoot holes in that casing and alleged cement with explosive charges and plug that annulus, and pump on it till something breaks or blows up. And in a lot of places we’re going to do that 10 or 20 times on the same well.

And then its on to the next well just as fast as we can. And we are gone before you know what happened to you.

But I bet you know that your own self.


Marc W. McCord

Dec. 16, 2011, 2:12 a.m.

Michael, you are the one who is wrong, and I will cite a perfect example.

Let’s say two people engage in a gunfight. One could die from a direct hit that kills him instantly. One could die from a direct hit that allows him to bleed out until he dies. One could receive a wound that leaves him with lead poisoning or gangrene that eventually kills him.

What is the common denominator? In either case somebody is dead, and exactly what caused it is irrelevant. The root cause is the gunfight. The rest is merely academic.

The fact is, one simply cannot explore for and produce natural gas without first drilling into the earth, a process that, in and of itself, produces comtaminants into groundwater aquifers if the drill bit penetrates an aquifer. So, from the very outset there is an environrmental exposure problem that those without in-depth knowledge of this process fail to comprehend.

Next comes the casing pipe and cement job to protect down to the level “far enough below the freshwater aquifers” that “nothing will come back up to pollute that water”, and we already know that pipes and cement jobs fail frequently.

Then, after the production pipe is put into place it is perforated with high-intensity explosive charges that blow through the pipe and fracture the earth OUTSIDE THE PIPE.

Next, frac fluids are pumped down the casing pipe at pressures of 6-15,000 psi to further fracture the shale layer and inject the proppants that hold open the fractures so that gas can flow back into the production pipe and up to the wellhead.

Since ALL of these things have to happen to get the gas I fail to understand how you can be so cavalier in pretending that you can separate the various stages as if any one of them is isolated and unrelated to the whole process.

You are trying to sell a semantics game and I am not buying it. Either you don’t know what you are talking about, or else you do know and you are just lying about it. If you want to sell that load of b.s., then I suggest you find somebody less knowledgeable about this issue than myself, because I know that you are full of it, and I am calling you on it.

Michael Hiner

Dec. 16, 2011, 7:08 a.m.

Drilling is not a vanilla process.  Every company works independently on the design of their wells, each with the intent to drill as efficiently as possible.  In some cases companies air drill the well, dependent on location, cost, and objective.  In some cases the upper sensitive section is drilled with water.  In others when they finally encounter pressures greater than the hydrostatic head they will switch over to water based mud.  That usually occurs after the near-surface protective casing is set.

You are correct that there are times cement jobs can fail.  But it does not happen at the frequency you suggest.  If it did our skies would be like Kuwait, after Saddam torched the oil fields.  It does happen sometimes, and the cause can have any number of variables.

The issue in any investigation such as pavillion is to isolate the problem in order to get to the root cause, then fix it, and then do everything possible to prevent it from happening again.  If you want to go to analogies, people die in car accidents and plane crashes.  When those sad tragedies occur we focus on discovering the root cause.  We don’t ban cars and airplanes.

We should be focusing on the points and counter points being made by the EPA and the operators.


Marc W. McCord

Dec. 16, 2011, 12:08 p.m.

Michael, you are completely missing the essential point.

Long before any casing pipe or cement is placed in the ground a hole about 18 inches in diameter is drilled, usually to a depth of at least 1,000 feet, which is supposed to be far enough down to be sufficiently below any groundwater aquifers. The very process of drilling through all those rock and soil layers opens a migration pathway into groundwater aquifers through which the drill bit passes.

In that 18-inch hole there are layers containing all sorts of radioactive isotopes and toxic, carcinogenic and neurotoxic elements that are harmful or fatal to humans if contacted. Before the casing pipe and cement are installed there is NOTHING to prevent migration. Anybody claiming otherwise is either illiterate or a liar.

ALL casings and cement fail eventually, and that is a scientific fact. Frac fluids are VERY corrosive, which is why drilling pipes have to be replaced frequently, and it is also why some of the frac fluid is comprised of anti-corrosives that will kill you if you drink them. The failures may occur long after a well has been sealed on the surface at the end of a well’s useful production life, but that does nothing to prevent what is occurring below ground level where nobody can see or monitor it.

Since only about 20-50% of all frac fluids come back up the wellbore as “flowback water” that means that 50-80% of the stuff remains in the ground. IF casing cement fully sealed around the annulus of the wellbore, then perhaps migration into freshwater aquifers would not an issue, but that is simply NOT the case. There will always be some degree of open channel where rock and dirt were removed in the drilling process that allows for migration regardless of what anybody tries to tell you, and whether or not you accept and believe that fact is of no consequence.

Consider this: What does it take to contaminate our fresh water supply? One gallon of gasoline can pollute 750,000 gallons of fresh water – most frac chemicals are far more toxic, carcinogenic and/or neurotoxic than gasoline, and have far greater consequences. The amounts of toxic, carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals added to fresh water during the hydraulic fracturing process amount to tens of thousands of gallons, often in excess of 50,000 gallons. Industry likes to tell us that the amount of toxins added to the water is a small percent of the total water, and that is true. For a well using 1.5, 9 or 13 million gallons of water for every fracture 50,000 gallons is not very much. But, when you consider how little toxins are required to pollute a very large amount of water, then that is actually a very large number. If it were merely gasoline, then that amount would pollute about 37.5 billion gallons of water, and that is a very significant number.

If one extrapolates that quantity over the 15,000 wells in the Barnett Shale alone, then the amount of water pollution potential is on the order of 562.5 quadrillion gallons of water – just in the Barnett Shale - and that does not even take into consideration the Eagleford Shale, Haynesville Shale, Fayetteville Shale, Marcellus Shale or the numerous other shale “plays” (as the industry likes to call them) across America. Can we really afford to contaminate this much fresh water? Quite obviously, the answer is “NO!”

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 17, 2011, 1:09 p.m.

Steve, let’s do some math, shall we?

According to what you stated above, “I’ve watched the millions of gallons of frac fluid and and sand come out of the wells in Pinedale. Those are $10 to $15 million per well and those pay for themselves in 90 days and produce for 20 years. And do the math yourself. The Pavilion wells average a little less than 1 million cubic of gas per day. Pinedale wells are more like 8 to 15 million cubic feet per day. And what’s natural gas selling for? Its $3 per MCF and mcf is thousand cubic not millions.”

You are correct in that mcf represents “thousand cubic feet”. MMCF would be million cubic feet because there are a thousand thousands in a million. So, if natural gas is selling for $3 per thousand cubic feet, and a well is producing a million cubic feet per day, then that would be a production rate of $3,000 per day. That would be about $90,000 per month. If a well costs $10-15 million to drill, frac and complete, then the payout to breakeven, at 1 mmcf per day, would require at least two and one half years to start producing a profit.

Obviously, a higher output produces better results in a shorter timeframe. But, it is a fact of physics that gas flow begins to slow immediately after the well is first opened due to a loss of pressure from within the earth, which is precisely why wells have to constantly be re-worked at a cost nearly equal to the original process. That was Dr. Durand’s whole point about output projections.

Regardless of the false claims made by industry nobody knows how much gas is REALLY down there or how much can and will be recovered. That is why it is called “speculation.”

As long as there is gas in the hole it will continue to rise to the surface if it is not trapped. The issue is at what flow rate. Most wells lose viability after a few short years, which is precisely why so many have been cemented, capped and abandoned. In Texas, it is a requirement of law that a permit has to be obtained before cementing, capping and abandoning, so if the industry is playing by the rules, then we know exactly how many wells are cemented, capped and abandoned. Of course, we both know that not all companies play by the rules which is one reason why so many problems exist.

Wells that continue to produce viable flows for many years are the exception rather than the rule. If that were not the case, then there would be no need for constantly drilling new wells because the O&G industry would be getting more gas than they can possibly sell from those existing wells.

Steve H

Dec. 17, 2011, 4:36 p.m.

Whoa now agin Marc W. McCord.

I clearly said the wells around PAVILION FLOW TEST AT ABOUT 1 MILLION CUBIC FEET A DAY. But those wells are only 3,000 to 5,000 feet deep and its only takes two weeks to drill the well, frac and produce it. Hence they pay for themselves in about two weeks.

Now the wells in the Pinedale anticline cost about $10 to $15 million to drill, frac, and produce. But they produce at 8 million to 15 million cubic feet of gas per day.

Try doing your math with the realities.

Steve H

Dec. 17, 2011, 4:59 p.m.

Hey Marc W. McCord let’s quit trying to bullshit the general public here.

The amount of gas wells will produce as well as the facking techniques they use are different in every locale. But the same ratio prevails. They are not going to drill, frac and produce wells that don’t pay for themselves in less than a year and produce for 10 to 20 years afterwards.

Where the argument of “let’s wait until all the facts are in” argument falls a part is the same thing. Different locales, different drilling plans, and different frac and production processes.

In Pavillion they blew that country up fracking with liquid CO2.

Over there in Pindedale they are using the millions of gallons of water, a cocktail of chemicals, and sand. In one of those situations where you don’t get half what you pump down back.

Down in Rifle Colorado they are just fracking and producing in straight shot simple fracs.

And yes of course when you first tap the formation the pressure might be 5,000 PSI or 15 million cubic of gas per day and as soon as you let it flow it might fall to less than 1,000 PSI and only 7 million cubic per day. But you shut that well in and 24 hours later you might be back up to 2,500 psi and shut in for more than that it will go back up to 5,000 psi and 15 million per day.

That’s what fracking does. The gas formations are tight. In other words the gas is locked up in sandstone or ancient seabed formations.Fracturing literally fractures those formations, with cracks running in all directions, and the purpose of the sand they pump is to get in those cracks and hold them open. Then the gas has an escape route. And if it falls below desired production levels you just frac again.

Now you want borderline production check out the wells in Louisiana. They are drilled about 5,000 feet down and then about 5,000 feet horizontal. They come at about 25 million cubic feet a day and then rapidly drop off radically. But they would still be making a profit if they fell back to 1 million cubic feet per day.

Now the Marcellus shale wells come in at about 1 million cubic feet per day. But I get those wells don’t even cost $1 million.

So stop trying to confuse the uninitiated.

Steve H

Dec. 17, 2011, 5:18 p.m.

In the gas world you have two opposite extremes. One is low pressure high volume and on the opposite end of the scale is high pressure low volume.

In other words you might have a well at 1,000 psi or less but that sweet heart will produce about a million per day for 20 years.

Then you might have deep wells that can generate 15,000 to 20,000 PSI at the well bore but when you open them and let them flow they will drop off to zero PSI in 24 to 48 hours. Those they tend to plug and abandon. But in proven fields they know what it takes to make them flow and they don’t care about anything else.

PS Another big boom right now is in far northeastern Colorado. Right in middle of that farming country.

They claim they are drilling surface with fresh water, which actually still pollutes because muddy water (which can’t be prevented because you are drilling the earth) is heavier than water.

But they lose mud on surface so they start pumping the soured mud from the last production job, and lost circulation material and just don’t tell anyone. Even though everyone on that drilling rig knows the mud is already “soured” (actually beginning to ferment) and they are pumping it back into the ground water and water well formations.

And try to keep that straight. Ground water and well water are two entirely different things. You cannot drink ground water. Too many natural surface chemicals and run off. But well water which is usually in deeper formations is “potable.” In other words its pure enough to drink coming right out of the ground. Potable water formations are below ground water formations and much easier to pollute and impossible to purify again.

Steve H

Dec. 17, 2011, 5:29 p.m.

PS I don’t care how deep the wells are or what procedure and chemicals they use to frac with. The common denominator is after awhile you can light your tap water or even a creek on fire because the entire country is fractured and the gas rises like it always does.

You guys do know about gravity don’t you? Gas is lighter than the earth. You might have to trust me on this one but given the choice of rising to the atmosphere or plunging back down to the earth gas is going to rise every time. And it will carry what ever is with it including all the carcinogenic chemicals in natural gas formations as well as the water and chemicals they pumped down.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 17, 2011, 7:58 p.m.

Steve, I have generally agreed with much of what you have said, especially your comments to Bruce, Michael and others, but these last few posts of yours are just pure hogwash!

You are now making up stuff and re-inventing the meanings of words. Scientifically, ANY water that is not surface water is groundwater regardles of what YOU call it. Some is freshwater and some is brackish. The freshwater is usually found no deeper than about 1,000 feet, whereas the brackish water is much deeper.

As to your claims about well depth, you need to check your facts. Most wells around Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas are MUCH deeper than 5,000 feet, often running 8,000 - 12,000 feet below the surface before going horizntal. This information is readily available on teh websites of many drilling cocmpanies, as well as the Texas Railroad Commission (for Texas wells) and TCEQ, which monitors water and air quality in Texas asa the local agency working on behalf of EPA.

I agree about the mud and contaminated water getting into drinking water aquifers - that happens all the time with the drilling process, but to try and claim that there is a difference between drinking water wells and groundwater is just pure b.s. Water wells get their water from subterranean aquifers. Those are not just isolated pockets of water down there waiting for somebody to tap them. That is why Dimock, Pennsylvania had a whole community’s water wells contaminated by migration of benzene, methane and other hydrocarbons after Cabot Oil and Gas frac’ed gas wells nearby.

And, around here there are MANY wells that have ceased producing viable flows in anywhere from a few days to a few months, then been cemented, capped and abandoned. Texas Railroad Commission has a whole section on its website detailing exactly where those wells are located. And, frequently, whenever contamination of a water well occurs the drillers claim the toxins and pollutants came from older wells that were abandoned, some without cementing and capping, long ago.

You appear to be trying to take a few isolated cases and projecting them over the entire industry. That dog don’t hunt! We have too much scientific data to counter those arguments. I have been appearing before local, state and federal regulatory agencies and municipal authorities regarding these matters for nearly three years, and we have had a tremendous degree of success in combatting urban frac’ing based upon the scientific facts that we have been able to present, and which has largely gone unchallenged by industry because they know that we are correct.

Like you, they practice the “if you can’t dazzle then with brillance, then baffle them with b.s.” philosophy. Trying to claim that somebody is not going to drill a non-producing well is just pure garbage. Since 1860, drillers have been drilling and hitting dry holes or ones that have extremely limited production. Fortunes have been won and lost on such speculation. If you guys knew exactly where to drill and how much has you would get, then your industry would be much richer and have a much lower cost of production.

Steve H

Dec. 18, 2011, 10:25 a.m.

Marc W. McCord I’ll take some of these points one at a time.

Here’s Louis Meeks describing drilling through several ground water formations trying to find potable water.

“So, there Meeks was on Dec. 19, 2005, watching his contractor drilling deeper, puncturing one layer after another of clay, shale and sandstone bedrock interspersed with overlapping aquifers that trapped fresh water beneath the ground like a giant natural filter. The drill bit hit 340 feet, but the water was still bad. At 440 feet, it wasn’t any better. Geologists say that 30 rock formations containing fresh water may lie beneath Pavillion — layers that supply drinking, irrigation and cattle water for almost all the rural residents in that part of the state. How many of those layers were no longer clean?

At 540 feet the new well still wasn’t drawing water suitable for the cattle trough, and Meeks’ contractor, Louis Dickinson, shut down the engines and brought the drill bit to a rest. But before Dickinson could finish the job, a distant rumbling began echoing from below. It grew steadily louder, like some paranormal force winding its way through the earth. “Then, holy mackerel,” says Meeks, “it just came on us.”

Now admittedly I don’t know the water tables and formations everywhere in the country. But out here you have to drill past ground water formations to get to drinkable water.

Steve H

Dec. 18, 2011, 10:44 a.m.

Marc W. McCord

If you go back and look at what I said you will notice I made no claims at all about well depths in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas but I’m sure its a safe bet that in those states gas and oil wells will be drilled from a few thousand feet to maybe as deep as 30,000.

So when I was talking about the drilling and fracking going on in Louisiana I was talking about a specific drilling program and relating what a friend of mine told me because he’s the “company man” (consultant) on that specific drilling program.

I hope this clarifies for you what I’m actually saying.

Steve H

Dec. 18, 2011, 11:24 a.m.

Marc W. McCord

Actually Marc its you taking the “isolated” incidences of dry holes and non-producing wells and trying to pretend that’s a common occurrence when its anything but common. If it was oil and gas companies would not be among the richest and most profitable companies in the world.

Also if you read the story on Meeks one of the problems in Pavilion was going back and fracking all the wells out there some of which were decades old.

So the point is this. Most gas wells produce for more than a decade not just a year or two as someone tried to claim. In fact the first well I worked on is still producing and that was close to 40 years ago now.

That’s the reason all this drilling and fracking is is going on now; the profits are huge.

Steve H

Dec. 18, 2011, 11:42 a.m.

I hope this isn’t redundant because I addressed the difference between what I called ground water and well water in an earlier post but have not seen it appear and I think this is a very important point although I admit I should have used “potable” instead of water wells.

The point I was driving at is in some places around here you can hit water at 30 feet, but the water would have to be treated and purified before it would be safe for humans to drink. While water at deeper depths is pure enough to drink coming right out of the ground.

I think a previous Pro Publica article illustrates what I was saying perfectly and demonstrates what can happen to potable water formations as well as more shallow ground water formations.

“So, there Meeks was on Dec. 19, 2005, watching his contractor drilling deeper, puncturing one layer after another of clay, shale and sandstone bedrock interspersed with overlapping aquifers that trapped fresh water beneath the ground like a giant natural filter. The drill bit hit 340 feet, but the water was still bad. At 440 feet, it wasn’t any better. Geologists say that 30 rock formations containing fresh water may lie beneath Pavillion — layers that supply drinking, irrigation and cattle water for almost all the rural residents in that part of the state. How many of those layers were no longer clean?

At 540 feet the new well still wasn’t drawing water suitable for the cattle trough, and Meeks’ contractor, Louis Dickinson, shut down the engines and brought the drill bit to a rest. But before Dickinson could finish the job, a distant rumbling began echoing from below. It grew steadily louder, like some paranormal force winding its way through the earth. “Then, holy mackerel,” says Meeks, “it just came on us.”

An explosion of white foam and water, chased by a powerful stream of natural gas, shot out of the ground where Meeks had drilled his well. It sprayed 200 feet through the air, nearly blowing the 70-foot-tall drilling derrick off its foundation, crystallizing in the frigid winter air and precipitating into a giant tower of ice.”

Steve H

Dec. 18, 2011, 12:54 p.m.

Marc W. McCord

Just in case neither of my previous posts appear on the difference between what I called ground water and well water I’ll try to explain it one more time.

First, I admit instead of saying there’s a difference between ground water and well water I should have said while technically any water below the surface is ground water not all of it is potable. In other words safe for human consumption when it comes out of the ground.

In fact there’s places around here where you can hit ground water at 30 feet. But it is highly polluted and fit only for irrigation if even that. So usually like in the Pavilion area for example you would have to drill through several polluted ground water formations before hitting a deeper formation with potable water.

And in some places around Wyoming water well depths exceed 4,000 feet. It just all depends on what formations are where.

But it should be pretty easy to see that potable water formations are usually below other ground water formations and that’s why they are more likely to be polluted by drilling and fracturing.

Which is more than a shame. Its the loss of a natural resource that human life depends on and needs for both present and future needs.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 18, 2011, 1 p.m.

Steve, I really do not have a clue where you are getting your information, but it is just flat out wrong! You need to stop listening to those “company men” and start looking at facts.

Here is one fact that is indisputable, and I would be interested in hearing you spin this one.

The cost of getting gas out of the ground is around $11/mcf. The current market rate is somewhere around $3.85/mcf, which is just barely more than a third of the cost of production. So, how does that add up to “huge profits”?

Oil and gas are speculative enterprises. Companies with deep pockets frequently bet huge amounts of money on some future profits that are not currently being realized. That is what is happening with O&G today.

The low current market rate in the US is precisely the reason why so many companies are building export terminals to ship our natural gas overseas where the rate is much better and where a profit CAN be made.

I do not know where you got your math education, but if you think a company can produce a produce for a cost that is three times higher than they can sell that same product, then you need to demand your money back because your instructor was woefully inadequate.

The ONLY people making money today are those who are flipping companies and making a windfall in the process. Companies and people with plenty of money can afford the tax write-offs until some future date when they start to show a profit.

Also, most of the money for exploration is investment capital. Chesapeake recently sold 25% of its stock to China to get money to fund its exploration projects, so they are not risking their own money, and neither are the vast majority of other drillers. They are risking investors’ money, and that’s a whole different matter entirely.

And, nobody anywhere is drilling holes 30,000 feet deep that I have ever heard of. In Texas and surrounding states the wells usually go down 6-15,000 feet, and turn horizontal for 3-5 miles. The Ellenberger formation, into which companies are pumping flowback water, is about 15-18,000 feet below the surface, and the injection well process is the root cause of earthquakes and sinkholes where none have previously existed. Nobody with whom I am familiar is drilling and frac’ing below the Ellenber formation. Am I wrong about that?

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 18, 2011, 1:09 p.m.

Steve, thanks for the clarification of what you said about groundwater.

Actually, the entire drilling process is a detriment to any aquifer through which is passes starting with the minute the drill bit penetrates the aquifer. Even if there was no brine water or otherwise polluted water above a freshwater aquifer there are plenty of contaminants in the soil and rock that are carried downward with the drilling process so that penetration of a freshwater aquifer results in contamination of that aquifer.

Before and after casing pipe and cement have been shoved down the hole pollution occurs. Fracturing the earth to get gas also opens pathways that allow migration of toxic, carcinogenic, neurotoxic and radioactive elements to enter groundwater aquifers, which are the source of ALL water wells.

On these points we are in agreement. I was merely correcting your inaccurate statements about the definition of “groundwater”, some of which is freshwater and some of which is brackish.

Steve H

Dec. 18, 2011, 2:19 p.m.


Where do you come up with $11 MCF to get the gas out of the ground?

Because Exxon Mobil for example is one of the most profitable companies in the world and 50% of their production comes from natural gas.

So where are you coming up with this $11 MCF figure which I find just ridiculous?

Take a look at this story right here in Pro Publica and then try to tell me these companies are losing $4 per MCF

Who Are America’s Top 10 Gas Drillers?

It also has to be pointed out there’s really no such thing as companies and competitors because its all pretty much one great big world oil monopoly were everyone invests in each other’s projects.

And while I used 30,000 feet as the extreme end there’s the “Tiber well about 250 miles southeast of Houston in U.S. waters. At 35,055 feet, it is as deep as Mount Everest is tall, not including more than 4,000 feet of water above it.”

And while you are right about most wells being somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 feet wells 20,000 to 25,000 feet are pretty common and there’s more than a few that deep in Texas I’m pretty sure.

Also around here they drill 20,000 to 25,000 feet wells and produce H2S (poison) gas out of them.

So I don’t think the simple fact you haven’t heard of something or are unaware of something proves it does not exist.

Steve H

Dec. 18, 2011, 2:34 p.m.

If any of you have not read:

Hydrofracked? One Man’s Mystery Leads to a Backlash Against Natural Gas Drilling, right here on Pro Publica I can’t recommend it highly enough to illustrate we are up against.

But what I wish I could show you are the headlines in newspapers which quoted State environmental quality officials saying Louis Meeks had the most tested water in the state and they could find nothing wrong with it.

Then the EPA tested his water and other water samples around Pavilion, called a public hearing, and advised Pavilion residents to stop using their well water immediately.

Steve H

Dec. 18, 2011, 2:42 p.m.

If you do happen to be someone who has your own water well be sure to have your water tested and the results documented BEFORE hydraulic fracking comes to a gas zone near you.

Lack of what they called “baseline data” is what stops most efforts to prove the oil and gas companies polluted water sources. No matter how much pollution is in it now if you can’t prove there was no pollution before the gas companies walk away free as birds.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 18, 2011, 3:56 p.m.

Steve, it was not me who came up with the production cost of about $11/mcf. Those are widely-claimed numbers from the O&G industry. Representatives of XTO Energy, Chesapeake Energy, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality,Texas Railroad Commission and many others have often stated that figure in public hearings and internal documents. THAT is where I got the number, and I believe it to be correct. Either that, or else they are misrepresenting costs to the SEC and potential investors illegally. Neither would surprise me.

While there MAY be a well somewhere that is really deep, as to which you allude, it is hardly a common practice. And, we are not talking about offshore wells in this discussion, which is exclusive to onshore drilling, so let’s not confuse the issue with irrelevant data.

I echo your admonition about testing to establish a baseline BEFORE any frac’ing is done in relative proximity to one’s water well. Unfortunately, many people cannot afford such testing and many more never even know that frac’ing is about to be done near them if it is not on their own property.

My belief is that the drilling companies should be required to have baseline testing done by at least two completely independent scientific testing labs prior to any drilling, and that they should be required to post non-revokable bonds of at least $50 billion before drilling to cover the environmental cost of cleanups when they have problems.

Since you want to take up “offshore” in this discussion I will remind you of what happened when the blowout preventer on Deepwater Horizon failed in the Gulf of Mexico last year. The O&G companies had no clue how to prevent it, how to contain it or how to remedy the damage they caused. Much of that oil is still polluting the ocean floor and is still suspended particles in ocean water that adversely affects sealife.

The O&G industry is full of frauds and miscreants who have always lied to government, lied to citizens, lied to shareholders and lied to everybody else about what they are doing, what “expertise” they have and how much money they stand to make. That is a fact!

I also agree with you that there is really just one big, worldwide oil consortium that seeks to hedge its bets by having multiple players all working with each other toward one common goal - getting as rich as possible. I believe that they want to soak the world for every penny they can get regardless of the consequence, because that the game they play.

There is very little integrity in the O&G industry. I called out one XTO representative before the Dallas City Council for an outright lie he told to the Grand Prairie City Council in an open public meeting that was recorded on videotape, and which is available for public viewing on the GP city website. Until that indsutry finds some integrity and starts being truthful there are a lot of people who are going to reject just about every claim they make, and for good reason. I would lump the O&G industry, bankers and insurance companies below used car salesmen on an honesty scale.

Steve H

Dec. 18, 2011, 4:20 p.m.

Well Marc something has to be way off somewhere because here’s what I came up with.

“In that chart they are saying that the Haynesville Shale, which produced gas, has F&D at $14.34 per boe, or $1.43 per mcf. Pinedale which is a tight gas field in Wyoming produced gas at $1.163 per mcf while the Barnett Shale in Texas produced gas at $1.407 per mcf.”…

Also again I think I read this right here in Pro Publica but in some instances (and I suspect many) the gas producers do have baseline data on water wells but refuse to share it of divulge it.

They could also track the frac fluids and where they go using low level radiation that shows up on some of their logs. But you can bet we’ll probably never get that information out of them.

Steve H

Dec. 18, 2011, 4:23 p.m.

Well Marc something has to be way off somewhere because here’s what I came up with.

“In that chart they are saying that the Haynesville Shale, which produced gas, has F&D at $14.34 per boe, or $1.43 per mcf. Pinedale which is a tight gas field in Wyoming produced gas at $1.163 per mcf while the Barnett Shale in Texas produced gas at $1.407 per mcf.”

And those figures come from oil and gas evaluation reports
which for some reason I can’t link.

Also again I think I read this right here in Pro Publica but in some instances (and I suspect many) the gas producers do have baseline data on water wells but refuse to share it of divulge it.

They could also track the frac fluids and where they go using low level radiation that shows up on some of their logs. But you can bet we’ll probably never get that information out of them.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 18, 2011, 4:39 p.m.

Steve, what is the source of those numbers for production cost? Those numbers are pure bullshit. If there was ANY credibility to them, then last year Grand Prairie would have received FAR more than the $134K paid for production on 96 functional gas well.

Can you provide a source for those claims?

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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.

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