Letters to the Editor, The Times
222 Lake Street
Shreveport, LA 71101
Re: Wednesday, May 13, 2015, John Cole Fracking Environmental Cartoon, Conversations Page
I understand that the media in general finds potential value in controversial issues. And that "fracking" has become a major point of contention in numerous communities across our country. However I expect my hometown newspaper to exercise some reasonable judgment even when it pertains to subjects covered on the Op Ed page. I find the John Cole political cartoon, "News Item: Fracking Chemical Found In Pennsylvania Well Water." particularly disturbing because it reinforces an idea that has largely been discredited by scientific investigation. The extreme focus on hydraulic fracture stimulation (fracking) obscures a number of more relevant issues associated with the oil and gas industry.
The vast majority of instances of well water (aquifer) contamination by natural gas is not related to fracking activity but to naturally occurring natural gas in shallow formations in close proximity to a fresh water aquifer. The incidence of natural gas in well water is not new and not limited to areas where oil and gas exploration and production occurs. Those opposed to the oil and gas industry would like to create the idea that the only way natural gas gets into well water is by industry related activity. The facts do not support that contention.
The mere fact that the geologic formation being produced is many thousands of feet in vertical separation from the fresh water aquifer and that within that quite large interval of separation are many dozens, if not hundreds, of intervening impermeable layers of rock should engender cautious skepticism regarding fracking as the cause of well water contamination. There are currently 2433 producing Haynesville Shale gas wells in NW LA. If fracking was a common cause of water well contamination it would have been an issue covered by local media long ago.
The general public is often not aware that natural gas is made up of a number of elements in addition to its primary component, methane. Natural gas also contains ethane, propane and heavier hydrocarbons. It can also contain small amounts of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. In the isolated cases where well water is found to contain natural gas and there is nearby drilling activity it is a very straight forward and unambiguous process to test the natural gas found in the well water and compare its composition to the natural gas being produced from the target formation. The Times published an instance of this in north Caddo Parish. Testing revealed that the composition of the natural gas in the well water was not a match to the natural gas being produced from 8,000 plus feet deeper in the Haynesville formation.
There are confirmed cases of drilling and production activity as the cause for natural gas contamination in well water. They are small in number and they are not caused by fracking. The following is a quote from an AP article published Sep. 15, 2014,
" The drilling procedure called fracking didn't cause much-publicized cases of tainted groundwater in areas of Pennsylvania and Texas, a new study finds. Instead, it blames the contamination on problems in pipes and seals in natural gas wells.
After looking at dozens of cases of suspected contamination, the scientists focused on eight hydraulically fractured wells in those states, where they chemically linked the tainted water to the gas wells. They then used chemical analysis to figure out when in the process of gas extraction methane leaked into groundwater.
"We found the evidence suggested that fracking was not to blame, that it was actually a well integrity issue," said Ohio State University geochemist Thomas Darrah, lead author of the study. He said those results are good news because that type of contamination problem is easier to fix and is more preventable.
The work was released Monday by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
The extreme fascination with the myth of wide spread water well contamination by fracking serves to obscure real issues which should be of public concern in addition to the well integrity problems outlined in the study. There are other issues which deserve greater public attention and debate such as Louisiana's growing orphan well problem. If we ever get past the unfounded accusations regarding fracking perhaps in the future we can focus on the oil and gas issues that really matter.
Skip Peel is a Shreveport based independent landman whose clients are individuals and companies that own or deal in significant land and mineral holdings.
A good response that I'm certain many in S'port will appreciate. Too bad we probably can't get it attached to the cartoon so the rest of the world will see it.
Very good response. Unfortunately, fracturing is an easy target... and it's easy to demonize the term. But your details are sound. It would be nice to see it in "large market" newspapers too!
Thanks, JHH. I'm working on a wider response because I would like to see some other O&G related environmental issues brought to the public debate. That effort is made more difficult when the media prefers to focus on invented controversy instead of science-based facts.
Good response, Skip. It's good you point out larger problems than fracking. You might take a paragraph or two and point out the benefits of fracking.
The debate has gone way beyond science - but things like earthquakes scare people. You might also point out that the industry is working on water-less ways of fracking. It's the disposal of the water, not the fracking that may be causing the quakes. Plus, the drought has made a big change in how people view water.
It's not an easy op-ed to write and I appreciate your working on it.
Hopeful, there was not enough space for a guest column that would address the issues you suggest. Yes, I am interested in going into more detail and expanding the discussions to include issues other than fracking.
Disposal wells have been around for a very long time. Before fracking was widespread. The shallow, conventional reservoirs that were the focus of the first 80 + years of N LA O&G development have a much greater load of produced water than any unconventional reservoirs with which I am familiar. Although conserving water is good under any scenario it should be understood that Haynesville Shale wells do not have "produced" water". They do have "flowback" water which is relatively small in comparable volume. A single vertical Cotton Valley well drilled in the 1990's has more "produced" water than dozens, in not hundreds, of Haynesville Shale wells. The reason that there are literally thousands of disposal wells operating in NW LA is not associated with the Haynesville Shale. It is associated with a hundred years of wells drilled in conventional reservoirs. If you want to see a high produced water load check out the Nac B wells in the Caddo Pine Island Field. They can produce hundreds of gallons of water a day for less than one barrel of oil. Disposal wells are not the result of the increase in horizontal drilling in unconventional reservoirs.
The fact that some fracking fluids contain benzene and toluene is public record. Both of these chemicals are known carcinogens. The fact that some fracking fluid contaminates water supplies has been thoroughly documented by a study from Duke University and published in the National Academy of Sciences. Oil producing shale contains radium 226, uranium and radon 222, which can concentrate in fracking operations. When unstable radionuclides are ingested, they damage tissue as they undergo their normal fission process. Damaged cells may mutate, causing cancer.
The destruction of agricultural areas is painfully obvious. The thousands of heavy truck trips that ruin the peace and quiet of a rural settings and destroy road surfaces (paid for by local taxes) do not require a scientific study.
The oil and gas industry wants to pretend that everyone opposed to fracking is radical and emotional, but it is science that drives us to take action. It is a fact that well casings are destined to fail, a fact that fracking destroys air quality and covers communities in silica dust. All of these things have been confirmed by hundreds of doctors, independent scientists and medical organizations.
Only one emotion would lead to fracking. Greed. This is the prime motivator and also the impetus of much of the backslapping and bs flying around. Keep up the shilling, great to read. The suck up gets a little sickening but an anti emetic can take care of the discomfort, unlike the destructive ways of fracking.
I am familiar with the Duke study however I disagree on your opinion of the result. The study clearly states that aquifer contamination from fracking was found to be non-existent and that the small percentage of contamination cases that are linked directly to O&G activity is related to casing integrity issues. Here's a excerpt and link to a full article.
Duke University researchers say leaky well shafts, not hydraulic fracturing, caused methane contamination in Texas and Pennsylvania drinking water.
A group of Duke University scientists often accused of anti-fracking bias have published their most definitive research to date linking shale gas exploration with methane gas contamination of drinking water.
But their paper, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, exonerates fracking from the most serious environmental risks. The study blames the water contamination on leaky well shafts near the earth’s surface, not on the process of hydraulic fracturing itself, which takes place thousands of feet underground.
The distinction is critical because fracking foes base much of their opposition to natural gas drilling on the fear that fracturing shale rock poses an environmental danger. They worry that fracturing, or fracking, could cause toxic chemicals and radioactive elements to flow out through fissures and contaminate freshwater aquifers on which residents and farming operations depend.
Link to full article: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/business/article10060727.html
I further disagree that "it is a fact that well casings are destined to fail". Do you have supporting evidence?
Here is some basic background for those interested in the process of casing a well.
Well Construction & Groundwater Protection (Excerpt)
What are casing and cementing?
The existing industry standard for oil and gas casing was established by the American Petroleum Institute (API) ‡ in Specification 5CT. It specifies the length, thickness, tensile strength and composition of casing for a given situation and is the most commonly used standard for the selection of oil and gas casing.
Each full length of casing is often referred to as a casing string. Wells are typically constructed of multiple casing strings including a surface string and production string. These strings are set in the well and cemented in place under specific state requirements. The API has also established standards for cement types. These standards are covered by Specification 10A, which lists a variety of oil and gas cements.
Cementing is the process of placing a cement sheath around casing strings. Although Class A (Portland) cement ‡ is the most common cement used in the oil and gas industry, the actual type of cement can be tailored to the individual well, depending on what the state’s rules allow. For example, some wells penetrate formations that are difficult to cement because of their porous nature or due to a substantial water flow within the formation. In such cases, additives like cellophane flake and calcium chloride are sometimes added to the cement to seal off such zones, quicken the cement hardening process, and prevent washout of the cement.
Why casing and cementing are an important part of groundwater protection.
Casing strings are an important element of well completion with respect to the protection of groundwater resources because they provide for the isolation of fresh water zones and groundwater from the inside of the well. Casing is also used to transmit flowback fluids from well treatment. In this regard, surface casing is the first line of defense and production casing provides a second layer of protection for groundwater. As important as casing is, it is the cementation of the casing that adds the most value to the process of groundwater protection. Proper sealing of annular spaces with cement creates a hydraulic barrier to both vertical and horizontal fluid migration. Consequently, the quality of the initial cement job is a critical factor in the prevention of fluid movement from deeper zones into groundwater resources. In some states it is common for state personnel to witness the running and cementing of casing strings, while in other states the submission of a completion report which details the amounts and types of casing and cement used in the completion of the well is considered sufficient evidence of proper well construction. In a few states such as Alaska, Michigan and Ohio, an additional verification method using geophysical logs such as Cement Bond Logs (CBL) and Variable Density Logs (VDL) may be required. By measuring the travel time of sound waves through the casing and cement to the formation, the CBL shows the quality of bonding between the casing and the cement. The VDL performs a similar function to measure the bond between the cement and the borehole. By measuring the quality of the cement to casing and cement to formation bond, the sealing quality of the cement in the space between the casing and the borehole (called the annulus)can be evaluated.
For more information about the regulatory requirements of each oil and gas producing state, go to the Regulations By State page or the report State Oil and Natural Gas Regulations Designed to Protect Water Res....
Link to full article: https://fracfocus.org/hydraulic-fracturing-how-it-works/casing
After a casing string is cemented it undergoes a pressure test to confirm its integrity. The whole process is highly regulated, reported and inspected.
Modern wells pose very little threat to the contamination of ground water however concern about older wells is a valid issue. There are wells in my parish that are over one hundred years old. And literally thousands that are over fifty. Casing materials and procedures for abandoning a well have evolved over the decades. The older the well, the more likely it is to be a source of contamination if improperly plugged and abandoned. There are many thousands of wells in Louisiana that were never properly abandoned and therefor pose a real threat. Those "orphan wells" are one of my major concerns and I don't hesitate to criticize the sate and the industry for not doing a better job to address the problem.
I guess the one point upon which we agree is the damage done to public roads and the failure of the industry to mitigate that damage. I have criticized the industry on that point in the past on multiple occasions.
You did a super great job on explaining things. Your answer should be posted in the Times.
Thanks. It was.
My apologies to Mr. Starrh. I didn't review him, only Examiner.com. When you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. Perhaps Mr. Starrh published elsewhere in a publication with a more reliable reputation. If so, please provide a link. Once again you fall back on accusations that the citizens of NW LA are uninformed and/or willing to abide the pollution of their land and air because the area is so depressed and they need the royalty monies. I can assure that is not the case. As to The Times, although it is a far cry from the locally owned paper it replaced and that I grew up with, it beats Examiner.com by an obvious and wide margin to the unbiased simply by cursory review.
It's conceivable that Mr. Aiello despite his political science degree could be a qualified and unbiased reporter. However for anyone who knows the basic of exploration and production, even independent landmen, Mr. Aiello losses credibility in the very beginning of his article with this,
"Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is an environmentally risky oil production method of pumping under pressure large volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to bubble to the surface heavy tar-like oil left in depleted oil wells and to reach deep deposits of oil and natural gas."
Fracking neither "bubbles to the surface" any hydrocarbon nor is it used for "heavy tar-like oil left in depleted oil wells". It is indeed "used to reach deep deposits of oil and natural gas".