Skip to comments.Oil, gas members hear about 'fracking' myths (Expert: Oil, gas deposits far below water table)
Posted on 02/11/2012 10:35:14 AM PST by Dysart
Debunking myths about the use of hydraulic fracturing to access oil and natural gas deposits was a big part of a presentation during the Northeast Colorado Chapter of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association banquet at the Country Steak-Out Thursday.
Hydraulic fracturing -- sometimes called "fracking" -- is a process of pumping a water, sand and chemical mixture into shale formations under high pressure to break up rock and get oil and natural gas flowing more readily, said Dale Larsen, a sales representative for CALFRAC, who spent most of his career since 1978 as a petroleum engineer in fracking.
He has worked in the Denver-Julesburg basin for much of that time, especially in Weld County.
Some people believe hydraulic fracturing is a new and untested process, but it goes back to 1948, when it was first used in southwest Kansas, Larsen said.
People used to think that fracking produced fractures that went for thousands of feet, but tests are showing that the fractures usually go only 200 or 300 feet, he said, and the process does not create earthquakes.
Tests in some areas show places with fracking has no more measurable earthquake activity than other places, Larsen said.
Some people think oil companies are tapping into vast caverns of oil, but the oil or natural gas are actually throughout sandstone formations kind of like a sponge holding water, he said.
People also often think hydraulic fracturing uses far more water than it does, Larsen said. It only accounts for about 1 percent of the water use in the U.S.
"We're not really the big water users," Larsen said.
That does not mean oil explorers should not be sensitive to water use, though, he said.
Some worry about what companies are pumping into the ground, but it is 91 percent water and 9 percent sand, with about 1 percent of other substances, Larsen said.
Those additives are not so toxic, and are composed mostly of things like salt, borate salts, hydrochloric acid and guar resin, an emulsifier also used in foods such as ice cream, he said.
Over the years, companies experimented with various substances to find the best ways to crack the shale formations, including things like carbon dioxide, nitrogen and nitroglycerin, although experiments with that last substance did not last long, Larsen said.
Engineers learned that water and sand under very high pressure worked best, he said. This "mud" is sent down under about 4,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, although it can go higher than that. For comparison, a fire hose pushes water at 100 psi.
Wells have pipes put in them, and those have a cement casing around them to keep oil or gas from escaping. When the pipes have reached the desired areas, they are perforated with charges and then water, sand and chemicals are pushed into the sandstone to force oil and gas out.
However, the part of the pipe which passes through water table is not perforated, and the area where the fractures occur are thousands of feet lower than the water table, Larsen said. Groundwater rarely gets as far down as 1,000 feet.
According to Larsen, during more than 1 million fracturing jobs there have been no verifiable cases of water contamination. The rock between the fractures and the water table protects the water.
Although hydraulic fracturing was not part of the Safe Drinking Water Act, because it was considered too low to affect potable water, it is still regulated, he said.
Each state has an agency which watches over fracking, and they decide how deep steel casing must be and the nature of the cement sheath for any area, Larsen said.
Recently, Colorado added a new regulation which starts April 1 which requires the disclosure of the chemistry of chemicals pumped into the ground -- unless it would give away a trade secret, he said.
"They want to know what that is," Larsen said.
However, health professionals can learn about the chemicals if they suspect a person was contaminated, he said.
Some opponents of fracking say that it is impossible to track whether or not groundwater is contaminated, because the specific chemicals are unknown. Some also question the Colorado exception for trade secrets, since it still does not mean the public knows what is being pumped into the ground.
Despite existing regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency has done testing and will release the results later this year, Larsen said.
He said he hopes the agency will realize that fracking poses no threat to drinking water and will leave regulation to states.
There is federal regulation of at least one aspect of hydraulic fracturing. When water comes back up the pipe, it must be contained and either purified or disposed of safely, Larsen said.
Sometimes that water is filtered and reused, depending on what kinds of minerals may have mixed with it, he said.
Other times, it is disposed of in deep wells below the water table, Larsen said.
In the future, the industry will probably see more political involvement and oversight, he said. At the same time, there will be more shale oil and natural gas development using fracking, since the more easily accessible oil and gas is pretty much gone.
Oil production is on the rise, mostly in shale basins, Larsen said.
He said he expects to see water managed better, and the dream is to have fluidless fracking, but that is not yet possible.
There will be a focus on alternative energies, but those often require government subsidies to make them affordable, Larsen said.
Alternative energy advocates point out that the oil industry had subsidies to get started and still receives subsidies of some kinds.
Economies around the world are hungry for energy, making oil important and vital for the economy, Larsen said.
That may mean oil resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska may be opened up, he said. Some have said the area where an oil pipeline would run is not useful for vacationing or use by people.
Opponents of the pipeline say that this is a fragile ecosystem which would be disrupted with a huge pipeline going through it.
Also, Keystone XL pipeline which proponents would like to build from Canada to Texas will probably go through regardless of who is president in 2013, because it is so important economically.
Opponents of the Keystone pipeline worry that it could go through the environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sand Hills, which sit on top of a fresh water aquifer. They worry about spills getting into the groundwater.
Morgan County Commissioner Brian McCracken, Morgan County Commissioner Tony Carlson and Colorado State Sen. Greg Brophy attended the banquet and chatted with NECCOGA members.
And the EPA's smears to the contrary won't alter these facts.
For twelve years I designed high pressure instrumentation for fracking systems. At that time I needed to know what the fracking slurries were composed of so that my precision instruments could be designed to hold up in service.
The slurries are sand, water. and emulsifiers. The emulsifiers are typically casein (a milk product), gelatin and bean gums (guar, tragacanth, etc.). They aren’t poisons, most, in fact are edible. The small amount of hydrochloric acid or sodium hydroxide used is to buffer the pH of the slurry for maximum thickening, so that the sand doesn’t settle out quickly. As for how much they use, these people have an eye on cost. They don’t use any more than they need, less than 1 percent.
Bookmarking in anticipation of future ignorant, asinine, anti-drilling comments in the local liberal rag.
In Pennsylvania, we are near 100% recycling of the frack water. It gets cleaned and reused.
There are discussions between the industry and the PA Department of Environmental Protection to start using acid mine water as the base for hydraulic fracturing.
Tests will be conducted and the state may get its acid mine water issues tackled for free by the gas industry.
Of course, the enviro-whackos keep lying and using emotion.
That is why the industry is using terminology like “stimulation” rather than fracking.
Marcellus Natural Gas —— clean American-produced energy with a 100-year supply ——— somewhere a Sheik is crying.
Thank you for your expertise, it’s folks like you that make FR the best and most informative site on the web.
Sometimes he's a jerk. Me, too sometimes.
And that's where these discussions belong--at the state-industry level. It's pretty simple, Federal oversight here in indv states isn't provided for in the Constitution, and EPA/Obama maneuvering to impose their will violate it. Again.
Furthermore, when ground water is encountered in a drilling operation (based on my experiences) more often then not the operation has to be aborted / moved because the drilling water falls into the groundwater flow and precludes the flushing of mud from the hole.
As was proven by the global warming e-mail scandal, greenies will tell any lie they believe will advance their agenda.
Excluding citric acid, sand, and water, have you worked with these, and any comments on their safety profile, track record?