Fracking fiction, fracking facts

George Sharpe
Investment Manager – Merrion Oil & Gas
George Sharpe, Merrion Oil and Gas investment manager

What we don’t understand, we fear. The environmental obstructionists have played on that by spreading fear and innuendo regarding fracking.  Prior to New York’s politically motivated fracking ban, State Sen. Tom Duane said, “Hydraulic fracturing is a new process by which a slurry of toxic chemicals are pumped into horizontal wells. It is a threat to our water supplies, and should be banned statewide.”  Here are the facts that were ignored by this fiction.

  1. Hydraulic fracturing is not a new process, but has been common practice on over 90 percent of the wells drilled in the US for the last 65 years.  Horizontal wells have also been around for more than 30 years.  What is relatively new is the technique of doing multiple hydraulic fracs (as many as 50 separate frac stages) along the entire length of the horizontal section, with each individual frac equivalent to a single vertical well.
  2. The downhole fracking process itself is absolutely NO threat to ground water.  More than a million wells have been fracked over the last 65 years, and there has not been a single documented case of the fractures growing from the deep producing formation up into shallow groundwater. Because of the deep layered sediments, it is physically impossible (similar to a stack of bricks, where a crack in the bottom brick doesn’t propagate through the overlying bricks). 
  3. The phrase “toxic slurry” conjures up the vision of boiling witches brew, and certainly fans the flames of fear and emotion.  In truth, what is being pumped is over 99 percent water and sand, and the handful of chemicals being used can all be found in one household product or another.  Now that doesn’t mean you should drink it, but it wouldn’t kill you if you did.
  4. Water use is another issue, as each frac stage requires approximately 250,000 gallons.  It may sound like a lot, but put in perspective, it is a very small percentage of the total water use nationwide.  For example, a typical golf course requires more than 500,000 gallons of water every single day. 
  5. Much of the water used in a frac job flows back, and as much as 80 percent of the produced water is recycled and used on subsequent frac jobs. The water that is not reused is injected into a disposal well, typically into a deep sandstone containing salty ancient sea water.  As a side note, disposal wells have been linked to numerous minor earthquakes in Oklahoma. In a seismically active area, the long term water injection lubricates the faults, allowing them to slip. The State of Oklahoma is addressing that issue, and is either limiting disposal volumes and/or disposal wells to areas that are “seismically quiet.”
  6. While fracking itself doesn’t affect surface or ground water, oil and gas activity certainly can. During the process of trucking water to location, pumping it down hole, producing it back, and trucking it to a recycling facility, there can be human and mechanical errors which cause occasional spills. However, those spills tend to be small, isolated incidents that are reported and cleaned up when they occur.
  7. Since the frenzy caused by the ‘mock-umentary’ “Gasland,” most states now require sampling all adjacent ground water wells before and after the fracking process.  The lack of lawsuits over the before and after samples is the proof in the pudding. While this sampling requirement is another costly regulation, at least it provides factual evidence that the adjacent water wells were unaffected — should the obstructionists actually be interested in the facts. 

Still don’t believe me?  Ask the EPA.  After five years of study, they published a report in April of this year that found “no widespread, systematic impact on drinking water sources.”  They acknowledged the occasional spill, but concluded that “the number of cases was small compared to the number of fracked wells.”  Sadly, it just made the obstructionists scream louder.  Close your ears.  The truth will set you free!