The EPA has issued its draft plan to study the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water in the U.S. Two state regulatory authorities have absolved frac’ed wells from responsibility for contaminating drinking water in Colorado and Texas. Maryland’s top einvornmental regulator urged lawmakers to impose a two-year moratorium on frac’ing, as Maryland’s legislature considers additional laws to regulate the practice. Meanwhile, the boom in shale gas drilling continues.
EPA ISSUES DRAFT PLAN TO STUDY HYDRAULIC FRACTURING
The EPA has issued its long-awaited plan to study hydraulic fracturing in the U.S., as requested by Congress, after many public meetings. The EPA’s Science Advisory Board has scheduled a public meeting to review the plan on March 7-8 in Washington. EPA says it will have preliminary results of its study in 2012. The draft plan can be found here.
- The plan elects to study the effects of frac’ing only on drinking water, not on air quality.
- The study will research five areas of inquiry:
1. How might large volumes of water withdrawals from aquifers and surface water impact drinking water resources?
Frac’ing uses 2 to 4 million gallons of water per well. EPA will gather data on water use and hydrology in shale areas on North Dakota (Bakken Shale), Texas (Barnett Shale), Colorado (Raton Basin) and Pennsylvania (Marcellus Shale), and will construct models to examine the impact over 10 years of frac’ing on sustainable water use in these areas.
2. Chemical Mixing: what are the possible impacts of releases of frac fluids on drinking water resources?
EPA will study the potential health threats if the chemicals used in frac’ing are released into drinking water. EPA says that 15,000 to 60,000 gallons of chemicals are added to the average 3 million gallons of water used to frac a well. It intends to gather information from the industry on what chemicals are used, and it will identify possible release pathways for those chemicals to get into drinking water.
3. What is the potential for releases into drinking water during the frac’ing of a well?
What kinds of well malfunctions would cause frac fluids to enter drinking water, and what is the likelihood of such releases? What is the potential for frac fluid to migrate through natural or man-made pathways created by the frac’ing process? EPA will conduct laboratory testing of the processes that occur in formations subject to the chemicals at the high pressures associated with frac’ing.
4. What are the possible impacts of releases of flowback and produced water on drinking water?
EPA will study the methods for storage and handling of flowback water and their risk to drinking water.
5. What are the possible impacts of flowback treatment and disposal methods on drinking water?
EPA will study the impact of frac’ing chemicals on sewage treatment plants.
TEXAS RAILROAD COMMISSION PROPOSAL FOR DECISION ABSOLVES RANGE RESOURCES FROM RESPONSIBILITY FOR GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION IN PARKER COUNTY
The examiners who heard evidence of alleged contamination of water wells in Parker County by two Range Resources Barnett Shale wells have issued a proposed decision finding that the natural gas in the wells came from a shallow gas formation unrelated to Range’s wells. The proposal for decision can be found here: Range PFD.pdf For background on this case, see my previous posts here, here, here and here. After an extensive review of the evidence, the examiners said:
Based on the evidence, the examiners conclude that gas produced in the Lipsky water well and other area wells is from the Strawn formation which is in direct communication with the Cretaceous aquifer in which the water wells are completed. Some of the water wells even penetrated the Strawn formation. There is no evidence to indicate that either the Teal well or Butler well is the source of gas production in area water wells. When the appropriate parameters are used in a fingerprinting study, it is clear that the gas produced from the water wells is from Pennsylvanian rock (Strawn) which is significantly different in composition than Barnett Shale gas.
Unfortunately, neither the EPA nor the landowner appeared at the RRC hearing, so the result will be criticized as not the result of a fully contested hearing; but the evidence produced by Range and summarized in the proposed order is quite convincing that the gas in the water wells comes from the Strawn formation. The Commission is expected to adopt the examiners’ proposed decision.
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Absolves Pioneer of Groundwater Contamination Claim
In a similar case in Las Animas County, Colorado, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission found that Pioneer Natural Resources’ Alibi well was not the source of groundwater contamination to a water well abouve 1,300 feet from Pioneer’s well. No traces of frac fluid or gas were found in the water well.
Meanwhile, frac’ing of shale wells continues unabated in Texas, especially in the Eagle Ford, and based on reports of success and economic impact, is unlikely to be slowed. Anadarko issued a news release reporting that it had increased the average estimated ultimate recoveries (EURs) for its Eagle Ford wells to more than 450,000 barrels of oil equivalent per well, and that it intends to double its 2010 drilling activity in the Eagle Ford to more than 200 wells in 2011. Rosetta Resources said its wells on the Gates Ranch in Webb County have EURs of 7.2 billion cubic feet equivalent per well, with 49% being oil, condensate and natural gas liquids. Petrohawk reported that a new frac’ing technology created by Schlumberger has increased initial production in its Eagle Ford wells by 32% to 37%, and it intends to use this new frac technique on all of its wells in the Eagle Ford. And University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute for Economic Development has issued an economic study of the Eagle Ford Shale, estimating that it generated close to $2.9 billion in revenue in 2010, 12,600 full-time jobes, and $47.6 million in local government revenue. It estimates the economic impact to South Texas over the next ten years at $21.5 billion in total economic output, supporting approximately 68,000 full-time jobs.