Federally commissioned report, California Council on Science and Technology: Fracking is at shallower depths than previously realized, “It turns out that they’re fracking right around the water table”

Fracking may endanger groundwater in California by David R. Baker, August 28, 2014, San Francisco Chronicle
Fracking for oil in California happens at shallower depths than previously realized and could pose a risk to precious groundwater supplies, according to a federally commissioned report released Thursday.

The report found that half of the oil wells fracked in the state lie within 2,000 feet of the surface, close to aquifers. Hydraulic fracturing uses a high-pressure blend of water, sand and chemicals to crack rocks containing oil or natural gas. Those cracks can sometimes extend as far up as 1,969 feet – not far from the surface.

“In California, hydraulic fracturing is occurring at relatively shallow depths and presents an inherent risk for fractures to intersect nearby aquifers,” reads the report, from the California Council on Science and Technology.

Water wells in Kern County, where most of California’s fracking takes place, lie 600 feet to 800 feet below the surface, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management commissioned the report last year after losing a lawsuit brought by California fracking opponents, who argued that the bureau couldn’t lease land for hydraulic fracturing without first studying its environmental risks. The lawsuit prompted the bureau to stop selling leases to companies interested in fracking the Monterey Shale, a vast geologic formation that lies beneath the southern San Joaquin Valley and nearby coastal hills.

With the report’s release, the bureau signaled on Thursday that it would start offering leases in California again. The report will provide guidance for safe drilling operations, said Jim Kenna, the bureau’s California state director. The report delves into issues ranging from the amount of water used by fracking in California – an amount significantly smaller than in other states – to the possibility that disposing of fracking waste water deep underground could trigger earthquakes. “With these pieces in place, we will be able to both contribute to meeting America’s energy needs and implement appropriate, safe and responsible measures to protect groundwater and other critical resources,” Kenna said.

Fracking opponents consider the report flawed. The authors themselves noted that much of the information they hoped to find about fracking and other forms of well stimulation – particularly acidizing, the use of acid to open up oil-bearing rocks – does not yet exist. The report also expressed skepticism that the Monterey Shale would produce the kind of oil production boom seen in North Dakota and Texas. The federal government recently slashed by more than 95 percent its estimate of how much oil could be pumped from the Monterey Shale using current technology.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the report contains too many warning flags to support more fracking. Her group brought the lawsuit that led to the report.

“It turns out that they’re fracking right around the water table,”
she said. “We shouldn’t be polluting our air and water for a treasure trove that may never materialize.”

The oil industry insists that fracking doesn’t pose a danger to groundwater, although the industry has often argued that the depth of fracking wells will protect aquifers. [Encana gave the Rosebud community that well used falsehood too]

The Western States Petroleum Association said it is studying the council’s report. … “Public discussion on all aspects of well stimulation in California helps ensure the debate on hydraulic fracturing is fully informed, properly balanced and inclusive,” the association said. [Emphasis added]

CCST Releases Report on Well Stimulation Technologies Press Release, August 28, 2014

CCST has released an independent report that reviews well stimulation technologies, including hydraulic fracturing, used in on-shore oil reservoirs in the state of California. This study was commissioned by the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and will inform BLM’s oil and gas policies in California.

The findings of this CCST report describe current well stimulation activities in California, how, when and where they are currently applied, where they might be applied in the future and how this practice differs from other states. … This independent scientific assessment of the available facts presents information for public use and will help to guide regulation and policymaking. A second expanded report on the same topic is currently in preparation for the California Natural Resources Agency in response to Senate Bill 4.

“Responsible decision making requires good science to balance economic potential with environmental concerns,” [ Why not focus on the harms instead instead of merely concerns?] said CCST Executive Director, Dr. Susan Hackwood. “This report provides the most objective, up-to-date, peer-reviewed assessment available to inform thoughtful policy making in California, while also characterizing issues that require further study.”

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), with help from the Pacific Institute, developed the report findings under the guidance of a steering committee of experts chartered by CCST. The steering committee, chaired by Dr. Jane C. S. Long, consisted of 12 subject-matter experts drawn from many of the major research institutes in the state as well as experts from other states with experience in well stimulation technology. “The people of California should know that the scientists conducting this study brought a wide variety of expertise, extensive experience and open minds to this assessment,” Dr. Long said. “We conducted a careful and fact-based review that achieved consensus on all conclusions.” Dr. Jens Birkholzer, project leader for Berkeley Lab added, “Participating scientists at the lab have been working to understand and ameliorate the impacts of hydraulic fracturing for some time and the lab was pleased this expertise could be of service to BLM and the state.”

… The report arrives at 11 main conclusions. Key among them are:

Well stimulation in California is different than in other states. Available data suggest that present-day well stimulation practices in California are different from other states such as Texas and North Dakota primarily due to differences in the geology of the petroleum reservoirs.

Information from well records indicates that hydraulic fracturing has been the main type of well stimulation applied in California to date and is performed on an estimated average of 100 to 150 wells per month, which is a modest level of activity compared to about 2,900 per month in the U.S. as a whole reported by FracFocus. Generally, hydraulic fracturing in California tends to be performed in shallower wells that are vertical as opposed to horizontal; requires much less water; but uses fluids with more concentrated chemicals than hydraulic fracturing in other states.

… Recent reports from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) have indicated there may be a new class of very deep unconventional reservoirs in the source rocks themselves, especially in the Monterey Formation. The 2011 EIA report suggested 15-billion barrels of recoverable oil in these source rocks but a subsequent 2014 correction by EIA reduced the estimate to 0.6 billion barrels. Recovering these resources would certainly require well stimulation. However, Berkeley Lab investigators found no reports of successful production from these deep source rocks and had questions about the EIA estimation methodology. The study’s review of the two resource projections from deep source rocks in the Monterey Formation developed by EIA concluded that both these estimates are highly uncertain.

… In California a hydraulic fracturing operation can consume between 130,000 to 210,000 gallons of water per well on average, compared to about 4 million gallons per well used on average in the Eagle Ford Formation in Texas. The study estimates that California operators conduct 100 to 150 well stimulations per month, which currently requires about 150 to 400 million gallons (450-1,200 acre-feet) of water per year. Even with the relatively low water use of California operations, hydraulic fracturing can contribute to local constraints on water availability given the extreme drought in the state.

… The toxicity of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids warrants further review now that SB 4 requires disclosure. Based on the voluntary database FracFocus, most of the chemicals used in California well stimulations are not considered to be highly toxic. However, a few of these chemicals, especially the biocides and corrosion inhibitors, are acutely toxic to mammals. No information could be found about the toxicity of about a third of the chemicals and few of the chemicals have been evaluated to see if animals or plants would be harmed by chronic exposure.

Mandatory disclosure should improve our understanding, as previous data acquired from FracFocus does not consistently disclose all chemicals and may not always be complete or accurate. [Will industry best practices and the drive for higher profits and less liability ensure full chemical disclosure never happens?]

Some chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing may become incorporated in the water that is produced along with the oil (“produced water”). In some cases, operators dilute produced water with fresh water for use in agriculture and some produced water is pumped into unlined pits where it could seep into the groundwater. Current practice and testing requirements do not necessarily protect against adding produced water contaminated with hydraulic fracturing fluid to water used in agriculture.

… The scientific review carefully assessed the direct environmental, climate, and public health impacts of well stimulation within the limits of available data. Records filed with state agencies before the enactment of Senate Bill 4 do not comprehensively record well stimulation events. Voluntarily submitted data, such as those available on FracFocus, although very useful, are not required to be either complete or accurate. The limitations of the data are described throughout the report in order to transparently qualify the conclusions. [Emphasis added]

State shuts two more oil field disposal wells in Kern by John Cox, August 26, 2014, Bakersfield Californian
California regulators have shut in two more Kern County oil field disposal wells, bringing the total to 11 facilities idled since the start of July. State Oil and Gas Supervisor Steven R. Bohlen issued emergency orders Aug. 18 closing the facilities as of noon Saturday. California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources disclosed the orders publicly Tuesday afternoon.

Both wells are northeast of Bakersfield. One of them, located in the Round Mountain field, is operated by Santa Monica-based Macpherson Oil Co. State records say the well injected more than 9 million gallons of produced water — the saline fluid that typically comes up along with oil — into the Olcese formation last year. Bakersfield-based Gray Development Co. LLC owns the other well. Located in the Kern River field, it injected nearly 4 million gallons of produced water into the Santa Margarita formation last year, state records show.

DOGGR had approved operation of both disposal wells, as it had with 12 other Kern facilities the division issued emergency closure orders for last month. Three of those have since been allowed to resume operation. DOGGR is under orders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to re-examine its oversight of injection wells. The EPA has expressed concerns the facilities may be injecting waste into federally protected groundwater. Bohlen’s orders say both wells closed this month may contain water suitable for irrigation or domestic purposes and may not have contained oil or gas at the time injection began.

The orders call for the wells’ operators to provide chemical analyses, reports and other information to DOGGR and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

July 18, 2014: California Halts Injection of Fracking Waste, Warning it May Be Contaminating Aquifers

“Sometimes, I wonder where we are going….”

“Don’t be a nerd.”

On the way to the slaughter house

2014: What’s Missing from Canada’s Academic Fracking Debate? “The Gritty Truth.” Qu’est-ce qui manque dans le débat sur la fracturation hydraulique au Canada?

2014: Whycocomagh MUST WATCH “Trust Us” Patronizing Propaganda; Nova Scotia Frac Panel Chair Dr. David Wheeler and member Dr. Maurice Dusseault: “Ordained” Conflicts of Interest? Who’s Next?

2014: Compton California hit with lawsuit by Western States Petroleum Association; Claims that the city doesn’t have the right to try and avoid frac pollution

2014: Fracking Beyond the Law: Despite Industry Denials, Investigation Reveals Continued Use of Diesel in Hydraulic Fracturing

2014: American Chemical Society: A new look at what’s in ‘fracking’ fluids raises red flags but does not name the toxic chemicals of concern

2014: What took so long for this to be reported? Oil companies fracking into drinking water sources, new research shows LA Times

2014: Harper government enabling the frac harm cover up? Environment Canada criticized for leaving fracking chemicals off pollutant list saying not enough frac chemicals used – 362,000 litres of diesel invert lost underground near Alberta family home ]

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