Fracking Developments around the Midwest

9 Feb 2012

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been in the news again recently.  Opponents may take some solace from  the recent comments of Ohio’s Republic Attorney General (reported here) that Ohio needs to toughen its laws on fracking, although he certainly isn’t for banning it outright.

The Pennsylvania Legislature also passed legislation (some of which is here) which I have not studied, but which reportedly enacts chemical disclosure requirements similar to Michigan’s while it also preempts local regulation. Pennsylvania’s Governor Corbett (R) is expected to sign the bill.

In short, this is an area that is rapidly evolving and may be very different in a few months than it was a few months ago.

Leave a Comment to “Fracking Developments around the Midwest”

  1. Doug Kilmer, P.G. 17. Feb, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    Hydraulic fracturing is certainly a contentious subject in these times, and as of late it has become a hot topic in the Utica Shale play in Ohio. The results and impact of U.S. EPA’s upcoming fracking study should also be interesting. In my opinion, hydraulic fracturing is like many other energy extraction methods, and for that matter most manufacturing and production methods – it comes with inherent risks, which can be effectively managed if the work is performed correctly and with the proper controls.

    Fracking’s reputation is disappointing, and frankly in most cases, undeserved. Less than accurate and thorough reporting has colored this energy extraction method in the name of sensationalism. Fracking certainly does pose potential concerns to Underground Sources of Drinking Water (USDW) if not deployed in a responsible manner, and it could have devastating effects, but it cannot be argued that the technique has provided a new opportunity for U.S. energy production that we may come to need to provide affordable energy.

    A singular problem with the public’s perception of fracking is the misunderstanding that many of the suspected cases of fracking-related contamination of aquifers and water wells are not specifically related to the fracking process itself. Fracking occurs at depths generally greater than 5,000 feet, where rock in the targeted production zone is broken up to promote gas flow into the wellbore. This occurs thousands of feet below the aquifers of concern. Poor construction and cementation of the gas well’s casing that penetrates through a USDW is more often the issue – and this is a controllable problem. These cases represent a very small portion of the number of well operations that have been performed, though it could be said that one is too many. Properly conducted, managed and monitored, the entire fracking process provides too much potential and opportunity to discontinue its use. At the same time, those that utilize this technology must be ever more vigilant and disciplined in its application. Not just as those seeking affordable energy for the country, but also as stewards of our environment.

    Here in Michigan, fracking may just be getting started to promote development of the Utica/Collingwood Shale play but State regulators are already wary of its most recent incarnation on the scale required for the deep shales. Michigan’s well casing rules are more rigorous than some of the other States in which fracking is commonly performed. MDEQ has also implemented the use of the Water Withdrawal Analysis Tool (WWAT), which is different than most other States deeply involved in fracking. The WWAT is a simple model used by the MDEQ to evaluate potential impacts of large volume groundwater withdrawals for industrial uses. In this case, it is being applied to the evaluation of large volume withdrawals to provide the make-up water for fracking operations (e.g., fracking a single well can require 1-5MM gallons).

    There are other environmental issues that – in my own opinion – must be successfully managed to conduct safe and responsible hydraulic fracturing operations. Fresh water use, flowback water management and chemical use are more immediate concerns. Flowback water, which returns to the surface as the well is developed, contains a mix of the original fracking fluid chemicals, natural brines from the target formation and petroleum constituents. Ideally, this fluid should be recycled to minimize the demands on freshwater sources, but cost-benefit analyses on a case-by-case basis dictate its final disposition. Considerations such as availability of water, surface impoundment availability and well pad proximity all are part of the equation.

    Rigorous regulatory oversight of fracking is justified, and Michigan has the start of a regulatory framework for deploying this technology in the State. Numerous operators have been using it in the shallower Antrim Shale wells, but not on the scale that is causing the national uproar. The decreasing market price of natural gas may slow down fracking’s use for a short period of time, but it is likely to come. Soon. Hopefully by then, Michigan’s citizenry will be better informed, and a more contemplative and collegial environment will exist for the rationale discussion of the use of hydraulic fracturing.

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