The week that was: Fracking special

Posted on | June 28, 2010 | 3 Comments

To read about how advances in hydraulic fracturing technology led geologists and energy companies to believe that a previously uneconomic source of natural gas might be tapped in the Marcellus Shale and Appalachian Basin, click on the map to be taken to an overview from

Josh Fox’s documentary “GasLand,” broadcast last Monday on HBO, planted the suggestion that as former Vice President Dick Cheney was waging his “war on terror” in the wake of 9/11, his energy task force set America on a path capable of poisoning the drinking water supply of New York City, along with that of Pennsylvania, Delaware, parts of Ohio and West Virginia.

In May 2001, the report of the National Energy Policy Development Group gathered by former Halliburton CEO and then Vice President Dick Cheney concluded, "Most new gas wells drilled in the United States will require hydraulic fracturing." Click on the blue highlighted recommendation to be taken to the report.

Were the charge directed at almost anyone else, one would have to dismiss it out of hand, but Mr Cheney’s track record begs the question: How bad is it? I decided to check for myself and spent a week on ProQuest, a database available to just about anyone with a library card and access to a computer. The result is this cross-section of articles, announcements and reports on the gas extraction technology known as hydraulic fracturing, “fracing” or “fracking.”

The links after the jump offer but a snapshot of the gas drilling boom that Mr Cheney surely helped to migrate from Texas throughout the Intermountain West, West, Southwest and South into the Northeast. Many of the cited articles come from the Tulsa-based publication Oil &  Gas Journal, which captured an angle missed by every other organ — that being how hotly the gas industry was concerned with keeping natural pollutants out of its fracking water just as the public began panicking about fracking chemicals in its drinking water.

Some ProQuest searches turned up only page after page of patent application notices for fracturing chemical recipes, a wildly lucrative area to judge by a $98m lawsuit brought in a Texas case involving Halliburton.

Honing in on the Northeastern boom, Pennsylvania State University is so deeply involved with the gas industry that it’s hard to know where one stops and the other begins. If there is a father of the rush into the Marcellus Shale, it is probably Penn State geologist Terry Engelder. His home page carries a 2008 UPI report valuing his scientific contribution to “U.S. energy resources by a trillion dollars, plus or minus billions.”

Water takes a back seat in this world of decimals and dollar signs. This 2009 PSU extension sheet on water needs of hydrofracking quotes “regulators” estimating that gas operations in the Marcellus Shale will be “roughly 10 billion gallons per year.” This is unconvincing. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection reports 3,917 wells permitted since 2005. Those alone could account for nearly 12bn gallons of water and nearly 60m gallons of fracking chemicals already in the system over the last five years, provided that the gas wells have only been fracked once. Given that the whole point of the process is that regular re-fracking can keep recalcitrant wells productive, and new wells are being permitted all the time, the 10bn gallons a year estimate looks meaningless, trashy even. This much the industry will tell us about what’s in those tens, probably hundreds, of millions of gallons of fracking chemicals: In 2004, it agreed to stop fracking with diesel. (February 16, 2011 update:  A January, 2011 congressional investigation reveals that this didn’t happen, and that between 2004 and 2009, frackers used more than 32m gallons of diesel, half  in Texas, also roughly three million gallons respectively in Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Dakota and Wyoming and more than a million in Colorado.)

Depressingly, the coverage of fracking and America’s natural gas boom was most remarkable for the absence of  discussion about the role that conservation might play as the US searches for energy sources to bridge the transition from fossil fuels to something less punishing for the planet. This made me wonder if in Mr Cheney we might not have had the Vice President we deserved.

The week spent on ProQuest reading about fracking also convinced me that whoever is editing the Wikipedia entry is seriously on the ball.

For more on an Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency review on hydraulic fracturing, click here. To follow progress on the Frac Act  now before Congress designed to undo the infamous “Halliburton clause” of  the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and to require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations, click here.

The Marcellus Shale Formation in the Delaware River Basin. Click here for the Delaware River Basin Commission's page on natural gas drilling.

“Halliburton pioneered fracturing more than 50 years ago and continuously develops new and innovative products and services.” — Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall, “High Court skips Halliburton case / Award to BJ Services stands,” Houston Chronicle, April 6, 2004*

In 1949, engineers from Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Co. gathered in an Oklahoma field to experiment with a new drilling technique: They pumped gasoline, napalm, crude oil and sand into the ground under enormous pressure in hopes of stimulating oil from a 4,882-foot-deep well. — Halliburton’s interests assisted by White House,” Los Angeles Times, October 14, 2004

The jury rejected these arguments, found Halliburton to have infringed claim 17, and awarded damages in the amount of $98.1 million. After the district court denied its motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial, Halliburton appealed. — Decision, BJ Services Company v. Halliburton Energy Services, Inc, US Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, August 6, 2003

Over the last four years, the Bush administration and Vice President Dick Cheney’s office have backed a series of measures favoring a drilling technique developed by Halliburton Co., Cheney’s former employer. The technology, known as hydraulic fracturing, boosts gas and oil production and generates $1.5 billion a year for the company, about one-fifth of its energy-related revenue. — Halliburton’s interests assisted by White House,” Los Angeles Times, October 14, 2004

…it was one of the largest assemblies of hydraulic horsepower (hhp) capability for a Barnett shale frac, with a pump rate about 30-40% higher than frac jobs on similar wells. Halliburton Corp. assembled trucks with the capability to deliver 61,000 hhp in order to maintain the necessary delivery rate. This was delivered by 34 pump trucks of two types: the older “twin” trucks were each capable of providing 800 hhp, and the new HT3,000 prototype trucks, manufactured in Duncan, Okla., supplied 3,000 hhp each. — “Small operator pumps big frac in North Texas Barnett shale,”  Oil & Gas Journal, March 7, 2005*

The U.S. currently produces roughly 30 trillion cubic feet of gas a year, and these numbers are dropping. According to Engelder, the technology exists to recover 50 trillion cubic feet of gas from the Marcellus, thus keeping the U.S. production up. If this recovery is realized, the Marcellus reservoir would be considered a Super Giant gas field. — Science Daily reporting on the work of Penn State geosciences professor and gas industry consultant Terry Engelder, “Unconventional Natural Gas Reservoir In Pennsylvania Poised To Dramatically Increase US Production,” January 21, 2008

A slick-water frac in a horizontal Marcellus well will probably use several million gallons of water. Based on information from the Barnett Shale play, a horizontal well completion might use more than 3 million gallons. — The Marcellus Shale — An old ‘new’ gas reservoir in Pennsylvania” by John A. Harper, Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, Pennsylvania Geology, Vol. 38, No. 1, Spring 2008

Whereas the percentage of chemical additives in a typical hydrofrac fluid is commonly less than 0.5 percent by volume, the quantity of fluid used in these hydrofracs is so large that the additives in a three million gallon hydrofrac job, for example, would result in about 15,000 gallons of chemicals in the waste. — “Water resources and natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale,”  Soeder, D.J., and Kappel, W.M., U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2009–3032,

In 1994, an organization known as Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation … alleged that the Safe Drinking Water Act required regulation under federal guidelines over hydraulic fracturing operations. In 1995, EPA denied the petition because it determined that hydraulic fracturing did not fall within the definition of “underground injection” … because the principal function of these wells is not the underground emplacement of fluids; their principal function is to produce coalbed methane gas. — History of litigation concerning hydraulic fracturing to produce coalbed methane,” S. Marvin Rogers, State Oil and Gas Board of Alabama Chairman, Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission Legal and Regulatory Affairs Committee, January 2009

Based on the information collected and reviewed, EPA has concluded that the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coalbed methane wells poses little or no threat to US drinking water system and does not justify additional study at this time. — Executive Summary, “Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reserves,” US EPA, June 2004

The EPA report was reviewed by a seven-person panel: a senior technical advisor at Halliburton, a manager from an industry-funded research institute who previously worked for Halliburton, a senior engineer with BP Amoco and two academics who had worked for the energy industry. A sixth member, a state regulator with an engineering background, also had worked for Amoco. The final member was an expert on hydraulic fracturing from Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. — Halliburton’s interests assisted by White House,” Los Angeles Times, October 14, 2004

The "Halliburton Clause" in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Click on the text to be taken to the bill, which became law in August 2005.

Senator Inhofe (R-Okla.), Chairman of the Environment & Public Works Committee, introduced two energy-related bills today. One clarifies existing law that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing. Another bill clarifies and reiterates Congressional intent in the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act (CWA) that uncontaminated storm water discharges from oil and gas exploration, production, processing and treatment sites are exempt from the burdensome and costly EPA storm water program. — Inhoffe introduces hydraulic fracturing and stormwater bills,” Majority Press Release, April 18, 2005

“Unless someone threw a Bic lighter down the well, it’s a sure sign of contamination.” — University of Alberta geochemist Karlis Muehlenbachs, “Firewater,” Canadian Business Online, August 14, 2006

“Typically, drinking water wells are 50-100 ft deep. We work to make sure hydraulic fracturing fluids don’t make their way to shallower levels.” — David E. Bolin, deputy director of Alabama’s state oil and gas board to the US House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee on October 31, 2007, “Onshore drilling threatens environment, House panel told,” Oil & Gas, November 12, 2007*

A typical Marcellus well returns between 2 million and 3 million gallons of water from hydraulic fracturing, and most of it has to be trucked off site … That amounts to about 600 tanker trips for each well. — Gas drillers face ocean-sized problem,” the Scranton Times-Tribune, August 25, 2008

Click on the text for the notice of 56 hydraulic fracturing projects approved for Consumptive Uses of Water for April, 2010 alone by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

… both Susquehanna River Basin Commission representatives noted that, in the aggregate, water withdrawal for well drilling would equal perhaps 28 million gallons per day, which is about half as much as PPL Corp.’s nuclear Susquehanna Steam Electric Station in Salem Township. — Gas drilling raises water concerns: Agency said Susquehanna River has enough water, but withdrawal timing is key,” The Wilkes Barre Times Leader, October 22, 2008

As frac jobs grew larger, it became uneconomical to use frac tanks to store water. The most common solution placed the frac water in lined or unlined earthen pits that are open to the atmosphere. As a result, dust, rain, and surface runoff can contaminate the water. ” — Biocoides control Barnett shale fracturing fluid contamination,” Oil & Gas Journal, May 18, 2009*

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) joined U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and Jared Polis (D-CO) today to introduce companion Senate and House bills, the FRAC ACT — Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, amending the Safe Drinking Water Act. The legislation would repeal the exemption provided for the oil and gas industry and would require them to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes. — Companion bills introduced to protect drinking water,” Press release, Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette, June 9, 2009

New technology that uses hydraulic pressure to blast previously unreachable gas out of rock formations was driving a “silent revolution” in the US energy market, with “far-reaching implications” for the rest of the world.– International Energy Agency economist  Fatih Birol quoted in “World gas glut will weaken Russian grip on Europe,” The Times of London, November 11, 2009

Including Delaware Bay, the Delaware River Basin comprises 13,539 square miles in four  states (New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey).  Eighteen and a half percent of the basin, or 2,362 square miles, lies within portions of Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Schoharie, Greene, Ulster, Sullivan and Orange counties in New York.  This acreage overlaps with New York City’s West of Hudson Watershed; the Basin supplies about half of New York City’s drinking water and 100% of Philadelphia’s supply. — Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement On The Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Mineral Resources, September 2009

The three spills, on Sept. 16 and Sept. 22 at the Heitsman 4H well in Dimock Township, all involved a Halliburton-brand lubricant gel mixed with water that is injected underground at high pressure to break apart the shale. About 8,400 gallons of the mixture were spilled and up to 1,900 gallons leaked into a nearby wetland and Stevens Creek. — Department of Environmental Protection allows Cabot to resume gas fracking in Susquehanna County,” Scranton Times-Tribune, October 17, 2009

“None of the issues in Dimock have anything to do with hydraulic fracturing.” — Cabot spokesman Kenneth S. Komoroski, “Dark Side of Natural Gas Boom,” New York Times, December 7, 2009

“This is a field where there is almost no research.” — Former professor at the Colorado School of Mines Geoffrey Thyne, “Gas drilling: What we don’t know,” ProPublica, December 31, 2009

“I have ordered that all of Cabot’s permit applications for further drilling in any region of the state be put on-hold, indefinitely, until the region’s homeowners receive their new water treatment systems, the fines are paid, and the wells are plugged. Gas migration is a serious issue that can have dire consequences to affected communities and we will not allow Pennsylvania’s citizens to be put in harms way by companies that chose not to follow the law.” — Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger, “DEP Takes Aggressive Action Against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp … Suspends Review of Cabot’s New Drilling Permit Applications, Orders Company to Plug Wells Install Residential Water Systems, Pay $240,000 in Fines” April 15, 2010

Workers lost control of the well on the Punxsutawney Hunting Club grounds, and it unleashed a combustible 75-foot fountain of natural gas and toxic wastewater. — Marcellus well blow out: Dark side of economic gain,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 13, 2010

Last December, the oil behemoth–notorious for funneling millions of dollars to climate-change skeptics–announced a $31 billion deal to buy XTO Energy, one of the largest U.S. natural gas producers. — Et tu, Exxon? Oil industry giant hedges its bet on climate change,” Sierra Magazine, March/April 2010

Any internal document in which risks of the technique were considered will be impressed into service by the insurers seeking to escape coverage responsibilities, and it will not stop there. — Hydraulic fracturing liabilities suggest insurance coverage,” Oil and Gas Journal, May 24, 2010*

The proposed regulations will require drillers to treat drilling wastewater to 500 mg/l or to drinking water quality at the discharge pipe if they choose to return drilling wastewater to rivers and streams. Drillers have several options to dispose of wastewater in Pennsylvania, including: reuse or recycling; disposal in deep caverns when permitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; or full treatment to the 500 mg/l for TDS standard. — Press release, “Governor Rendell Praises Regulatory Panel Vote Protecting PA’s Stream, Rivers from Drilling Wastewater,” Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, June 17, 2010

… serious concerns have been raised about hydraulic fracturing’s potential impact on drinking water. — “EPA announces a schedule of public meetings on hydraulic fracturing research study,” US Environmental Protection Agency, June 18, 2010

*Stories only available through registration or via ProQuest.

This post has been updated. A previous holder-post has been deleted with its contents fracked into this post, along with a link to a kitten in a water glass courtesy of the ever-mirthful David Zetland. A further update added links and remarks as to the water budget for fracking in Pennsylvania and links to the excellent October 14, 2004 Los Angeles Times special report “Halliburton’s interests assisted by White House.”


3 Responses to “The week that was: Fracking special”

  1. Review: Will ‘Gasland’ Light a Fire? : AWRA Water Blog
    June 28th, 2010 @ 9:10 pm

    […] Note added on 29 June 2010: Emily Green tracks the hydrofracking – shale gas nexus. […]

  2. tamara boole
    January 28th, 2011 @ 12:15 am

    please send me a map that shows all the places in the us whre fracking is done. I am especially interestedin california.
    thank you
    tamara boole

  3. EmilyGreen
    February 1st, 2011 @ 10:23 am

    Tamara, thanks for the question. The map atop the post shows the locations of the gas “plays” in the US.

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