Tag Archives: fossil fuels

Oil companies fracking into drinking water sources, new research shows


By Neela BanerjeeTanker trucks for hauling water and fracking fluids line up near a natural gas flare in Williston, N.D. Fracking has touched off a nationwide oil and gas boom, and with it, worries about public health and the environment. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP)Tanker trucks for hauling water and fracking fluids line up near a natural gas flare in Williston, N.D. Fracking has touched off a nationwide oil and gas boom, and with it, worries about public health and the environment. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP)

Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.

Though researchers cautioned their study of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, employed at two Wyoming geological formations showed no direct evidence of water-supply contamination, their work is certain to roil the public health debate over the risks of the controversial oil and gas production process.

Fracking involves high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack geological formations and tap previously unreachable oil and gas reserves. Fracking fluids contain a host of chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins.

Fears about possible water contamination and air pollution have fed resistance in communities around the country, threatening to slow the oil and gas boom made possible by fracking.

Fracking into underground drinking water sources is not prohibited by the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted the practice from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. But the industry has long held that it does not hydraulically fracture into underground sources of drinking water because oil and gas deposits sit far deeper than aquifers.

The study, however, found that energy companies used acid stimulation, a production method, and hydraulic fracturing in the Wind River and Fort Union geological formations that make up the Pavillion gas field and that contain both natural gas and sources of drinking water.

“Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and millions of gallons of fluids containing numerous inorganic and organic additives were injected directly into these two formations during hundreds of stimulation events,” concluded Dominic DiGiulio and Robert Jackson of Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences in a presentation Tuesday at the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco.

The scientists cautioned that their research, which is ongoing and has yet to be peer-reviewed, “does not say that drinking water has been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing.”

Rather, they point out that there is no way of knowing the effects of fracking into groundwater resources because regulators have not assessed the scope and impact of the activity.

“The extent and consequences of these activities are poorly documented, hindering assessments of potential resource damage and human exposure,” DiGiulio wrote.

Underground sources of drinking water, or USDWs, are a category of aquifers under the Safe Drinking Water Act that could provide water for human consumption.

“If the water isn’t being used now, it doesn’t mean it can’t be used in the future,” said DiGiulio, a Stanford research associate who recently retired from the Environmental Protection Agency. “That was the intent of identifying underground sources of drinking water: to safeguard them.”

The EPA documented in 2004 that fracking into drinking water sources had occurred when companies extracted natural gas from coal seams. But industry officials have long denied that the current oil and gas boom has resulted in fracking into drinking water sources because the hydrocarbon deposits are located in deeper geological formations.

“Thankfully, the formations where hydraulic fracturing actually is occurring…are isolated from USDWs by multiple layers and often billions of tons of impenetrable rock,” said Steve Everley, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, an industry group.

Industry officials had not seen the Stanford research.

DiGiulio and Jackson plotted the depths of fracked wells, as well as domestic drinking water wells in the Pavillion area. They found that companies used acid stimulation and hydraulic fracturing at depths of the deepest water wells near the Pavillion gas field, at 700 to 750 feet, far shallower than fracking was previously thought to occur in the area.

“It’s true that fracking often occurs miles below the surface,” said Jackson, professor of environment and energy at Stanford. “People don’t realize, though, that it’s sometimes happening less than a thousand feet underground in sources of drinking water.”

Companies say that fracking has never contaminated drinking water. The EPA launched three investigations over the last six years into possible drinking water contamination by oil and gas activity in Dimock, Pa.; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyo. After initially finding evidence of contamination at the three sites, the EPA shelved the investigations amid allegations by environmentalists and local residents that the regulator succumbed to political pressure.

Jackson said the Stanford study’s findings underscore the need for better monitoring of fracking at shallower depths. “You can’t test the consequences of an activity if you don’t know how common it is,” he said. “We think that any fracking within a thousand feet of the surface should be more clearly documented and face greater scrutiny.”

The Stanford study focuses on Pavillion, in part because of DiGiulio’s familiarity with the area when he served as an EPA researcher in the latter stages of the Pavillion water study. Industry and the state of Wyoming questioned the EPA’s methodology after its 2011 draft report found the presence of chemicals associated with gas production in residents’ well water. In June 2013, the EPA turned over the study to Wyoming regulators, whose work is being funded by EnCana, the company accused of polluting the water in Pavillion.

The EPA study looked at whether chemicals migrated upward from fracked geological zones into people’s well water. The Stanford research does not explore the possibility of migration, focusing instead on the injection of fracking chemicals directly into geological formations that contain groundwater.

The EPA does not keep track of whether underground sources of drinking water have been hydraulically fractured as part of oil and gas development, said Alisha Johnson, a spokeswoman. “EPA does not maintain a database of all the wells being hydraulically fractured across the country,” she said in an email.

In their presentation, DiGiulio and Jackson noted that the EPA considers the Wind River formation and the Fort Union stratum below it to be underground sources of drinking water. The conventional image of tight geological formations where fracking occurs is that they are monolithic stretches of rock. But the scientists say the geology of the two formations is mostly sandstone of varying permeability and water.

“People think these formations are impermeable, and so they wonder, ‘Why are you worrying about water?’” DiGiulio said. “But it is an extremely heterogeneous environment, with areas of low and high permeability mixed together and with many lenses conducting water.”

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LA Times.

#UK’s new #energy and #environment #ministers opposed #green energy


Matthew Hancock called for cuts to wind power subsidies while Liz Truss claimed renewable power was damaging the economy.

Britain's new minister for energy, business and enterprise, Matthew Hancock, at 10 Downing Street.Britain’s new minister for energy, business and enterprise, Matthew Hancock, at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

The new set of Conservative environment and energy ministers announced on Tuesday bring a track record of opposing renewable energy, having fought against wind and solar farms, enthusiastically backed fracking and argued that green subsidies damage the economy.

New energy minister, Matthew Hancock, signed a letter to David Cameron in 2012 demanding that subsidies for onshore windfarms were slashed. “I support renewable energy but we need to do it in a way that gives the most value for money and that does not destroy our natural environment,” he said at the time.

Hancock, who takes over from Michael Fallon, also opposed new turbines in his Suffolk constituency, arguing: “The visual and other impact of the proposed turbines is completely unacceptable in this attractive rural corner of Suffolk.”

New environment secretary and former Shell employee, Liz Truss, dismissed clean renewable energy as “extremely expensive” and said it was damaging the economy during an appearance on BBC Question Time last October.

“We do need to look at the green taxes because at the moment they are incentivising particular forms of energy that are extremely expensive,” she said. “I would like to see the rolling back of green taxes because it is wrong that we are implementing green taxes faster than other countries. We may be potentially exporting jobs out of the country as our energy is so expensive.”

In 2009, as deputy director of the free-market thinktank Reform, Truss said energy infrastructure in Britain was being damaged by politicians’ obsession with green technology: “Vast amounts of taxpayers’ money are being spent subsidising uneconomic activity,” she said. Research from the London School of Economics recently concluded that green policies were not harming economic growth. Continue reading

Fracking: Answers on link between injection wells and quakes


Graphic shows earthquakes in Oklahoma over the past three days; 2c x 3 1/2 inches; 96.3 mm x 88 mm;Graphic shows earthquakes in Oklahoma over the past three days; 2c x 3 1/2 inches; 96.3 mm x 88 mm;

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — States where hydraulic fracturing is taking place have seen a surge in earthquake activity, raising suspicions that the unconventional drilling method could be to blame, especially the wells where the industry disposes of its wastewater.

Fracking generates vast amounts of wastewater, far more than traditional drilling methods. The water is pumped into injection wells, which send the waste thousands of feet underground. No one knows for certain exactly what happens to the liquids after that. Scientists wonder whether they could trigger quakes by increasing underground pressures and lubricating faults.

Oklahoma has recorded nearly 250 small-to-medium earthquakes since January, according to statistics kept by the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s close to half of all the magnitude 3 or higher earthquakes recorded this year in the continental United States.

A study published earlier this month in the journal Science suggests that just four wells injecting massive amounts of drilling wastewater into the ground are probably shaking up much of the state, accounting for one out of every five quakes from the eastern border of Colorado to the Atlantic coast.

Another concern is whether injection well operators could be pumping either too much water into the ground or pumping it at exceedingly high pressures.

Most of the quakes in areas where injection wells are clustered are too weak to cause serious damage or endanger lives. Yet they’ve led some states, including Ohio, Oklahoma and California, to introduce new rules compelling drillers to measure the volumes and pressures of their injection wells as well as to monitor seismicity during fracking operations.

 In this June 26, 2014 file photo, Austin Holland, research seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, hangs up a chart depicting earthquake activity at their offices at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla.FILE – In this June 26, 2014 file photo, Austin Holland, research seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, hangs up a chart depicting earthquake activity at their offices at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. States where hydraulic fracturing is taking place have seen a surge in seismic activity, raising suspicions that the unconventional drilling method, especially the wells in which the industry disposes of its wastewater, could be to blame. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File) Continue reading

The #Telegraph: #Shell sails ahead without UK #shale


Oil and gas giant Shell is not tempted by fracking in Britain.

Shell’s Prelude floating liquefied natural gas vessel destined for Australia. Shell sees really strong LNG growth in the longer terms but little gain from fracking in BritainShell’s Prelude floating liquefied natural gas vessel destined for Australia. Shell sees really strong LNG growth in the longer terms but little gain from fracking in Britain. Photo: SEOKYONG LEE

Shale gas is likely to play an increasingly important role in powering Britain’s growth but don’t expect the country’s largest oil and gas company, Royal Dutch Shell, to help create a fracking-led energy revolution.

Andrew Brown, director of upstream international business and the man responsible for the main revenue-generating side of Britain’s most valuable company, is sceptical about the potential for shale oil and gas development in Britain.

“At the moment the UK position, you know, is not ranking for us,” Brown tells The Sunday Telegraph in an interview in his office overlooking the Thames. “This is a matter of just being disciplined about where we expect to get returns if our exploration is successful.

“It’s a matter of geology, costs, access, you know, it’s a combination of factors that would mean it’s not yet somewhere we would focus on.

“Capital is tight and we need to be very clear about where we want to spend that discretional dollar.”

Read the full story here.

Fracking is not a threat to water supplies in the South Downs


South Downs, Telscombe

A GLOBAL survey states deep fracking is ‘not’ a threat to water supplies in the South Downs.

The British Geological Survey states the risk of water supplies being contaminated in Britain is much lower than in the United States because almost all shale oil and gas is at least 650m below groundwater layers.

Many US homeowners have claimed that their water supply has been contaminated by methane leaks from fracked wells.

But companies in the US targeted shale less than 100m from chalk aquifers, which store water.

The distance to chalk water supply aquifers at the Weald basin in the South Downs is at least 650m.

The survey states that water supplies under the Downs should not be at risk from deep fracking, as long as vertical wells were drilled and ‘sealed safely’.

Dr Alwyn Hart, head of the air, land, and water research team at the Environment Agency, said: “We have strong regulatory controls in place to protect groundwater, and will not permit activity that threatens water and drinking supplies.”

Groundwater from the aquifers in the South Downs provide up to 70 per cent of the drinking water in the South East, making it one of the most important natural resources in the region.

Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas was among 25 people arrested at Balcombe in August 2013 during anti-fracking protests.

At court she was found not guilty of obstructing a public highway and a public order offence.

Brenda Pollack, south east campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “The survey is very interesting but we don’t think that it will eliminate the risk to the contamination of water.

“We believe the regulatory system is not strong enough.

“We don’t need to be trying to extract increasingly difficult fossil fuels when we need to be reducing our carbon emissions.”  Continue reading