(From NEOGAP website)
MYTH: Your water will be safe from drilling and fracking because there has never been a proven case of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.
REALITY: Hydraulic fracturing fluids contain dozens of toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, biocides, ethylene glycol, and hydrochloric acid, chemicals which have known adverse health effects and which are being injected through and near aquifers used for drinking water.11 A large proportion of fracturing fluids remain underground, and these fluids have been known to travel thousands of feet from wells.12 Also, cases of methane migration into water wells are increasingly being documented.13
Despite this growing evidence, oil/gas industry representatives frequently claim that there are no documented cases of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.
Now, the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization engaged in the debate over the safety of fracking, has unearthed a 24-year-old case study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that unequivocally says such contamination has occurred. The report, from West Virginia, states that “the residual fracturing fluid migrated into (the resident’s) water well.”14
And, this is probably not an isolated incident. “Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.”15
Thanks to a special exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, companies don’t have to disclose the chemicals they use in fracturing fluids. Without this information, it can be difficult to prove scientifically that the contamination was from hydraulic fracturing and to link particular chemicals with specific oil/gas wells. If there were full disclosure and radioisotope tagging during hydraulic fracturing for each well, it’s unlikely that the industry could make this claim or continue to deny responsibility or liability when wells are contaminated.
Current Ohio oil and gas regulations allow drilling right next to important streams and in floodplains. Although they require baseline testing of water wells before drilling commences within 300 feet of said water wells, under the Ohio Revised Code, this applies only in urbanized—not in rural—areas.16
A recent example of the kinds of incidents that have raised concerns is contained in a news report from Canton, Pennsylvania, involving a well owned by Chesapeake Energy:
Workers have stopped the flow of drilling fluids from a natural gas well in rural northern Pennsylvania that leaked the chemical-laced water for two days following an equipment problem. Thousands of gallons of brine water used in the hydraulic fracturing drilling operation leaked from the out-of-control well following the equipment failure Tuesday night. Some of the drilling fluid crossed farm fields and entered a stream…17
MYTH: There has been a complete lack of conclusive evidence that fracking causes contamination of watersheds and other potential health risks.
- Both EPA and the oil and gas industry acknowledge that a portion of the injected fluids remain stranded underground and are never recovered. In EPA’s treatment of fluid recovery efficiencies in the 2002 draft of their report on hydraulic fracturing, they cited four different studies that show recovery efficiencies ranging anywhere between 25% and 60%. More recently, a Halliburton representative stated that as much as 50% of the fracturing compounds are trapped beneath the ground and left unrecovered.
- EPA acknowledges that fracturing fluid itself can move out of target formations, and industry literature warns that fractures can extend into water-bearing zones. The EPA presented data in their 2004 hydraulic fracturing report that show that hydraulic fracturing fluids follow natural fracture systems and that the fluids are able to move out of coal beds into adjacent formations. The Petroleum Technology Transfer Council’s manual for independent oil and gas operators outlines the risks of hydraulic fracturing stimulations penetrating into water-bearing zones even when shale barriers are present.
- The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that “underground injection activities” under the plain language of the Safe Drinking Water Act include hydraulic fracturing. The court’s 1997 decision states that: “Under the SDWA, “Congress directed EPA to regulate ‘underground injection activities’, including hydraulic fracturing, and therefore, the ‘clear statutory language’ requires ‘regulation of all such activities’.”
MYTH: Drilling is safe, and accidents rarely occur.
REALITY: Modern-day, industrial oil/gas extraction from deep shale formations is inherently risky, involving the transport and use of large amounts of chemicals, heavy machinery, drilling at intense pressures, and the release and processing of highly explosive methane. This is what one of the oil and gas developers said of the industry in its prospectus:
Oil and natural gas operations are subject to many risks, including well blowouts, craterings, explosions, uncontrollable flows of oil, natural gas or well fluids, fires, formations with abnormal pressures, pipeline ruptures or spills, pollution, release of toxic natural gas and other environmental hazards and risks… As we begin drilling to deeper horizons and in more geologically complex areas, we could experience a greater increase in operating and financial risks due to inherent higher reservoir pressures and unknown downhole risk exposures.19
Gas-related incidents occur frequently. In 2007, a house in Bainbridge Township was blown off its foundation and more than 19 water wells were permanently destroyed following “conventional” drilling of a gas well; residents had to wait for more than two years before a permanent alternate source of water (city water) was provided. Recently, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, five people died; and a neighborhood was destroyed following a gas pipeline explosion.20 Last summer, well explosions injured several workers in West Virginia; and in Pennsylvania, an explosion released polluted water and gas into the air and into streams.21
THE BIGGER ENERGY PICTURE
MYTH: Natural gas is a cleaner replacement for diesel and gasoline as a transportation fuel and a replacement for fuel oil for space heating
Reality: In these roles, natural gas has no advantage with regard to efficiency of use.
The EPA estimates that ‘green’ technologies can reduce gas-industry methane emissions by 40% (GAO 2010). For instance, liquid-unloading emissions can be greatly reduced with plunger lifts (EPA 2006; GAO 2010); industry reports a 99% venting reduction in the San Juan basin with the use of smart-automated plunger lifts (GAO 2010). Use of flash-tank separators or vapor recovery units can reduce dehydrator emissions by 90% (Fernandez et al. 2005).
Note, however, that our lower range of estimates for 3 out of the 5 sources as shown in Table 2 already reflect the use of best technology: 0.3% lower-end estimate for routine venting and leaks at well sites (GAO 2010), 0% lower-end estimate for emissions during liquid unloading, and 0% during processing.
Methane emissions during the flow-back period in theory can be reduced by up to 90% through Reduced Emission Completions technologies, or REC (EPA 2010). However, REC technologies require that pipelines to the well are in place prior to completion, which is not always possible in emerging development areas. In any event, these technologies are currently not in wide use (EPA 2010).
If emissions during transmission, storage, and distribution are at the high end of our estimate (3.6%; Table 2), these could probably be reduced through use of better storage tanks and compressors and through improved monitoring for leaks. Industry has shown little interest in making the investments needed to reduce these emission sources, however (Percival 2010).
Better regulation can help push industry towards reduced emissions. In reconciling a wide range of emissions, the GAO (2010) noted that lower emissions in the Piceance basin in Colorado relative to the Uinta basin in Utah are largely due to a higher use of low-bleed pneumatics in the former due to stricter state regulations.
Myth: Oil/gas drilling will be a windfall for Ohio. Some call it a “godsend.”
Reality: No. It will be a windfall for the energy companies. A godsend for Ohio?—hardly. The energy companies will make 87 percent of the profits—clearly the lion’s share—on most wells, as the standard lease grants that much profit to the energy companies and only 12 ½ percent to the landowners (and each landowner’s share is divided by the total number of landowners that are part of each drilling unit). That leaves only ½ percent for the State of Ohio.