Journalism in the Public Interest

Fracking Cracks the Public Consciousness in 2011

The year brings a bumper crop of studies, intensifying health concerns, and a landmark development when environmental regulators conclude hydraulic fracturing likely caused groundwater contamination for the first time. 

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Jan. 4, 2012, 12:06 a.m.

I have read all of the comments above and have nothing to add.  However, I would like to pose a question.  Is it possible with fracking in NYand PA that we could contaminate Lake Erie?

Steve H

Jan. 4, 2012, 10:25 a.m.

Mike H, they usually drill water wells with air or water. Some are even still drilled with cable tool. Then the water formation is flowed or pumped through the same path of penetration which washes the muddy water out.

And drilling mud is lot heavier than water and the wells are often a little as six feet apart on the surface so that’s a lot of contaminated mud and water going into the ground and even potable water formations.

That also says nothing about the practice of actually illegally disposing of drilling mud by purposely using it to drill surface with just to get rid of it. That is the kind of “self regulation” going on right now.

Steve H

Jan. 4, 2012, 10:30 a.m.

DRT, I don’t have the faintest idea about Lake Erie but if I were you folks in New York and Pennsylvanian what I would be worried about is where your drinking water comes from. And if your water comes from underground aquifers and water sheds than I would not let them fracture there.

Gudrun Scott RN

Jan. 4, 2012, 10:26 p.m.

Regarding how to avoid water contamination- it is not only about the fracking, it is the problem of getting rid of the waste products- as someone wrote- they pretend to drill a well to just get rid of the drilling mud.  When waste water that contains radioactivity, heavy metals, salts 10 times more than ocean water, bromides that combine to form carcinogenic toxins, pyrites that will oxidize to form sulfuric acid, bacteria that pollute water if brought up from the depth let alone the frack chemicals that are added to the frack fluid all this together is FEDERALLY UNREGULATED and not regulated by many states either—although the industry is aware of this waste since 1930.

The problem is that the waste is preferred to be dumped near where the industrial size drilling is going on to save on transportation cost.

The advise that one should avoid fracking near a body of water does not address the waste problem that threatens the area as a whole.

Example: Hanford Washington has injections wells for radioactivity but is underused because the drilling is going on too far away from there. 

On the other side, Ohio has 177 injection wells and was in CBS nightly news tonight that some wells near Youngstown are going to be shut down because USGS experts say that the injection of fluid and the location of the wells means that earthquakes are being caused by this injection.

Pa has only a couple of injection wells and now with Marcellus they are looking what to do.  NY also has only a couple of such injection wells. 

This is one bottleneck of the industrial size concept- no place to throw away the waste to.-

Whether or not fracking the well nearby or not is not even the only issue because were the waste is dumped is the problem even if there is no leakage or spill from the drilling.

The important thing is to stop the madness of this industrial size drilling for gas that is sinking in price and that will promote global warming with climate instability just at a time when we will need potable water to grow enough food.

Bob Higgins

Jan. 4, 2012, 10:48 p.m.

Shut down fracking, phase out nuclear, move away from fossil fuels, feel the breeze, drift on the tides, here comes the sun…little Darlin.’


Jan. 6, 2012, 7:44 a.m.

It was already obvious that the PSU independent study was predisposed to find no water pollution from fracking. I have not read the research parameters of pollutants they were testing for, but my guess is that they are about as far away from fracking chemicals as grape Kool-Ade, Earl Grey tea and Kryptonite. Additionally, the 200 wells were not randomly chosen—because OMG! who wants to test water that catches on fire at the tap? So for bit of chump change Penn State again sells its name, this time for a study industry can cite as our water supply is destroyed.

Interesting that the $88mil donor, Terrence Pegula, is a fracking billionaire. On Jan 21, 2011 PSU announces the switch to natural gas. Feb 6, 201, Pegula makes his donation. Then, in Oct 2011, Penn State’s “independent” study shows no pollution from Marcellus shale gas fracking at selected wells, except for OOPS!
“... researchers did report find­ing higher lev­els of bro­mide in pri­vate drink­ing water wells. They con­nected it to drilling, not to the frack­ing process. But they have since attrib­uted the high lev­els of bro­mide in all but one well to lab errors.”

And they say money can’t buy happiness.

bernadette callister

Jan. 6, 2012, 11:05 a.m.

I just heard the tail end of a conversation onWNPR. Where We Live and tried to call in to comment on what is not being said. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I traveled by Amtrak from Ct. to Seattle. On the return trip three people got on the train at Minah North Dakota, a landman, a drill man and a woman who owned a hotel. I asked about the bright lights seen across the entire scope of the night horizon and was told they came from oil rigs and trucks, bigs trucks. In the ensuing conversation they told me about the impact on the town of Wiliston North Dakota, a farming town of 3,000 people. The bank refused to take any more deposits because of the amount of money flowing like water and they were at risk of going backrupt due to the interest the bank had to pay on overnight balance. There is no hospital, if there is and accident, there is no place to go for urgent care, there’s no EMT, people who live in the town had private tranportation, that is they drove themseves 60 miles to the nearest hospital. For the workers the attitude expressed about dangerous situations and accidents was, Oh well. Four workers had died the week before in an explosion, Oh well, there are people flodding in from accross the country only too willing to take the job. There are so many people there is no place for them to live, they’ve constructed quonset hut type dwelling. The restruants and hotels can’t possibly keep up with the demands. Food, lodging, sanitation, and medical care are seriously comprimised. The most hazardous impact is driving your car. The weight of they big oiltankers has sunk the road bed up to the level of a cars wheel well. If you get into this rut you are likly not to get out in time not to be crushed by a speeding oil tanker unable to stop. Oh well. That seemed to be the prevailing attitude related to any social conscousness about the impact on this town. I made the comment that it sounded like the wild, wild west. They all three laughed and said exactly right, the wil, wild west meets the twilight zone. The land man said they were planning on consrtucting a spur road to connect with the interstate, 90, I believe, and they were tellin people whose land they were fronting to expect a big rig to pass every 18 seconds. This was a companion experience to the one I had on the trip in the other direction and elderly woman, I would say in her 80’s and her daughter where seated at the table and a man was seated next to me. They were from the same town, I’m not sure which town. The man had sold his generational farm property to the oil company for apparently a lot of money. The elderly woman was insensed by his comments and wanted to engage him in a discussion about the impact this made on his neighbors and the consequences it was having on residents who valued thier land and farms and he just laughed and baited her into a more and more emotional discourse. He got louder and mosre verbally abusive about the system and how it worked, at one point he attempted to put his arm over the back of the seat and stated I was his wife. The waitress very diplomaticaly came over and helped extricate me from my unpleasent situation. At that time I didn’t know anything about towns like Wiliston, only the crudness with which he was reveling in her distress and his pleasure at having made a fincial killing. In this conversation the elderly woman referred to the many town meetings and citizen registered concerns that were apparently inconsequential. These oil companies, there are two in Wiliston, if you go to Wiliston’s home page it is dominated by yhe name of the larger, have already spent billions to begin extracting oil; they’re not going anywhere! It’s beyond citizens will, rights, well being, or “political will”, whatever that means to do any thing about it. A few days after this very disturbing insight into the question of “fracking”, I heard on Morning Edition, a report about the fracking in North Dakota. The final question was related to enviormental impact. The response was, the company says there is no danger because they are drilling so shallowly there won’t be any enviornmental impact; not so. They are drilling shallowly now, but the practice is to go back and drill deeper when they’ve extracted the shallow oil and to continue drilling deeper and deeper. I wonder if that reporter was ever in Wiliston?

Bernadette Callister

Jan. 6, 2012, 12:51 p.m.

I have been a Registered Nurse for 45 years. I graduated form a school in Pittsburgh, Pa. We had many patients admitted with and die from black lung disease from coal mining, not a pleasant sight to say nothing of the patients experience. Still, after all the years of horror stories about coal mining, nothing has been done about that practice. It’s disturbing that after living through all the years of the dramatic impact on the quality of life related to the surrounding areas in Pa. as a result of coal mining, Pa. is venturing into another energy related practice that will not only impact those people directly in the industry but will expand the consequences to many more people. There is no experience like watching a person die from a condition brought on by greed, denial, and the misery of having to take on a life killing job to support thier family. There seems to be a sililarity to todays employment hardships and the rush to be employed without any concern on the part of the employers for the consequences to those desperate for jobs while they, the employers are making billions and can insulate themselves from the consequences to others.

Brnadette Callister

Jan. 6, 2012, 12:57 p.m.

Obama, President Obama, should ride Amtrak cross country . He’d get a much better lesson in popular opinion and the plight of citizens that way. I thought this was a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”? They’re out there talking; is anyone listening?

Marc W. McCord

Jan. 7, 2012, 11:01 a.m.

On Thursday, January 5, 2012, Chesapeake Energy Nomac 17 near Stillwater, Oklahoma hit a shallow gas pocket at about 900 feet and burst into flames destroying the drilling rig. Thankfully, nobody was hurt.

But, this brings up the question of how a huge drilling company like Chesapeake failed to know that there was gas at the shallow level of 900 feet. This blowout occurred as the well was first being drilled. There was no casing pipe, cement, blowout preventer, gas separator, chokes or other suppression devices installed at the time of the blowout, though all were on-site.

To those who question how drilling for natural gas can contaminate a drinking water aquifer located less than 1,000 feet from the surface when the target gas zone is 5,000 to 15,000 feet below the surface this is one of many ways in which such contamination can and does occur.

While others debate the academics of whether or not gas well drilling and production can possibly contaminate water resources and potentially threaten lives, health, safety, property values, etc., here is a recent case that is very real. The drilling rig was completely destroyed. It is too early to determine the extent to which this blowout may have contaminated water or soil around the well pad.

Steve H

Jan. 7, 2012, 3:56 p.m.

Marc W. McCord

Sounds a lot like the blowout Louis Meeks had trying to drill a 300-400 ft water well near Pavillion Wyoming.

Marc W. McCord

Jan. 9, 2012, 12:48 p.m.

Steve, that does sound a lot like what happened when Meeks drilled his water well. The major difference is that Chesapeake is one of the largest companies in natural gas E&P in the world, and not even THEY could predict that they would hit a shallow pocket that would destroy the drilling rig. You would think that such an “expert” company would know what was beneath the ground where they were drilling, but you would be wrong! They didn’t have a clue!

I have some great photos from that rig site during the fire and after the collapse of the rig. They need no captions. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Steve H

Jan. 9, 2012, 3:03 p.m.

Marc, every well can be different but I’m betting if they hit enough gas to burn down their rig they either drilled into an existing well or they’ve got serious gas migration problems. I suppose it could have been just an odd pocket but I highly doubt it.

But it does go to show they never really know what’s going to happen on a well even if when you watch the pro oil and gas commercials they claim to.

Marc W. McCord

Jan. 9, 2012, 11:51 p.m.

Steve, that may or may not be the case, but public statements indicate that they think they hit a pressurized pocket about 900 feet beneath the surface. So far, they have issued no other statements of which I am aware, and I do not expect them to do so. This is not the type of publicity Chesapeake, or any other driller, wants.

Steve H

Jan. 16, 2012, 2:39 p.m.

Marc, that’s why I’m really so suspicious about the “pressurized” gas pocket explanation. That’s the only explanation that would either not be their fault or much worse indicate they have a serious gas migration problem most likely as a result of hydro fracking.

In my more than 35 years out there in the oilfield we never told the truth. We didn’t have to. Most our “government” inspectors and regulators didn’t even know what we did or how. So it was easy to lie to them.

I’m thinking that’s what’s going on here but you’d probably have to get to one of the roughnecks that was actually on tour at the time to find out what really happened I bet.

Marc W. McCord

Jan. 17, 2012, 1:12 p.m.

Steve, my reply will be in two parts because its length exceeds the limit of 5,000 characters.

You can believe me when I tell you it comes as no shock that oilfield workers would lie to regulators. It is the modus operandi for that industry to lie to people whenever it suits their purpose, which is precisely why they have no credibility when it comes to the health, safety, property values, or environmental protections related to exploration and production of natural gas.

Apparently, people who argue against the possibility of migration fail to comprehend even the most basic principles of hydraulic fracturing, which is that holes are blasted into the walls of the casing pipe and outward into the surounding shale strata for the express purpose of releasing gas and oil to flow back into the pipe.

Let me repeat that for those who are slow on the uptake - holes are blasted into the walls of the casing pipe and outward into the surrounding shale strata where no casing pipe or cement exists, so there is no longer any “containment” of frac fluids, gases, naturally-occurring radioactive, toxic or caustic elements or chemical compounds other than what is afforded by the natural barriers presented by the rock and soil formations between the surface and the reaches of fractures created or naturally-occurring as a result of blasting and subsequent frac’ing.

No oil and gas E&P company representative can accurately and factually tell us how far, in which direction or how many fractures will occur when they blast holes in a casing pipe and then pump frac fluids, under enormous pressure, into those fractures in the shale formation.

Nobody can factually and accurately tell us that the fractures will be contained within the shale layer because that is not the case, and they know it. The very use of many of the frac chemicals to dissolve and weaken rock so that it breaks down to release natural gas and oil causes a failure of the “impermeability” of the shale strata, which anybody with even a passing knowledge of geology knows is a fragile, easily broken rock formation.

There is no such thing as “impermeable rock”. ALL rock is composed of pockets of air to some degree or another, and all rock strata has natural fissures, some of which are expanded by frac’ing, and others that are caused by the blasting and frac’ing itself. Therefore, it is a lie to claim that frac fluids and gas cannot migrate, and we know that happens because “fingerprinting” has found gas from frac’ed wells in surrounding water wells in Texas, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Colorado and many other places.

Just as you alluded to, we know that migration can and does occur. In the case of the blowout in Oklahoma a few days ago you may be correct about their hitting an existing well or a pocket of gas that migrated. Who knows? Certainly, the roughnecks do not know. No offense to you, but roughnecks are not engineers or geologists - they are field hands who do the dirty work, and they are not qualified to say what did or did not cause something to happen. They can be very good eye witnesses to what actually occurred, but that is about the limit of their ability to analyze and determine the cause.

Marc W. McCord

Jan. 17, 2012, 1:14 p.m.

Regarding what you suggest as a possible cause, if it relates to hitting an existing gas well, then can I assume you mean a gas well casing pipe, and if that is the case, then why did they not know where that casing pipe was laid? By law, they are supposed to plot and chart every well listing where the vertical wellbore was located, how deep it went, which direction and how far it extended (if directional or horizontal) and a hundred other technical points that allow future drillers to avoid hitting an existing well. And, since these drillers are all “professionals” who “know their stuff”, then why would they drill where they already know an existing well is located?

As for a migrating gas pocket, the only way to test for that of which I am aware is to put some kind of tracer in a wellbore at one point and then see where it turns up remote to the wellbore. Who knows how long that could take? It could be minutes or decades depending upon the nature of the migration path. At any rate, it becomes largely an academic exercise in futility.

In most cases roughnecks are not authorized, nor willing, to speak on behalf of a company for which they work. Doing so would get them fired and their future prospects with other companies would be severely hampered. Roughnecks will parrot a company line 99.9% of the time unless they are ready to seek a new line of employment.

What we know right now is that Chesapeake is saying that they hit a pressurized pocket of natural gas at about 900 feet below the surface during the initial drilling of the wellbore. That may or may not be true, but they are the “experts”, and why would they lie to us? (Asked tongue firmly planted in cheek!)

As you accurately pointed out, most state and federal regulators and inspectors have very limited knowledge about the industry they regulate, and they are not really qualified to do anything other than report what they are told, which is precisely why the general public is not protected by the very agencies that were created to protect us. This is not by accident. It is the purpose of politicians and the industries that buy them to pretend to be protecting us when, in fact, they are protecting the vital financial interests of those they regulate.

If that were not the case, then somebody would be asking what I mentioned at the start - how can anybody claim that migration into groundwater aquifers, airspace pockets within remote rock strata, the soil, the surface of the earth and the air above the surface of the earth cannot occur when the earth is full of natural and man-made holes, cracks, fissures and other migration paths that are either created or expanded by the very technique of hydraulic fracturing that purposefully goes outside the security of casing pipes and cement?

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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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