Veteran energy reporter Andrew Nikiforuk keys off Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea, a world-recognized fracking expert, to get to the bottom of four big claims used by industry to reassure the public.
IN THIS SERIES
Fracked fuel far more dirty than industry, governments claim. Final myth in series by Andrew Nikiforuk, 10 Jan 2013
Part 4, Final in a Series on Fracking Shale Gas: How Clean Is It? Fracked fuel far more dirty than industry, governments claim by Andrew Nikiforuk, January 10, 2013, TheTyee.ca
Many scientists, including Ingraffea, now suspect that the rapid development of unconventional gas deposits such as shale and coal bed methane could result in such huge methane releases that they could help tip the planet into an “alternate climate system.” … Most of the problem comes from leakage. … The scale of leakage rates has stunned researchers. In a city like Boston the local gas delivery system leaks as much as five per cent of the product according to new research from Boston University geographer Nathan Phillips. The study, the first of its kind, found pervasive methane leaks throughout an aging delivery system (some 3,300 leaks) that damaged trees and wasted millions of dollars. [Emphasis added]
Part 3 in Shale Gas Series: How Often Do Fracked Wells Leak? When industry says hardly ever, that’s a myth. It’s a documented, chronic problem by Andrew Nikiforuk, January 9, 2013, TheTyee.ca
One of the boldest claims made by the shale gas industry goes like this: oil and gas companies have drilled and fractured a million oil and gas wells with nary a problem. In other words fracture fluid or methane leaks are “a rare phenomenon.” But industry data disproves this dubious claim says Cornell University engineer Anthony Ingraffea, the main source for this series, who has studied the non-linear science of rock fractures for three decades.
Moreover industry studies clearly show that five to seven per cent of all new oil and gas wells leak. As wells age, the percentage of leakers can increase to a startling 30 or 50 per cent. But the worst leakers remain “deviated” or horizontal wells commonly used for hydraulic fracturing.
In fact leaking wellbores has been a persistent and chronic problem for decades. Even a 2003 article in Oil Field Review, a publication of Schlumberger, reported that, “Since the earliest gas wells, uncontrolled migration of hydrocarbons to the surface has challenged the oil and gas industry.”
Methane, by its very lightness, wants to go up. Where ever drillers have not properly sealed and cemented wellbores in deep shale rock, the gas will escape and move through rock fractures (existing or industry-made ones) into groundwater, stream beds, water wells and even the basements of houses.
Aging can affect leakage too. Old and decaying cement jobs largely explain why offshore oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico report leakage rates as high as 60 per cent after 16 years of service. Abandoned wells also can become major pollution portals.
The Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority reports that 18 per cent of its deep offshore oil and gas wells have integrity problems, while Australia struggles with chronic leaks from fractured coal bed methane wells.
“Anything that ages starts to fail,” explains Ingraffea. “I’m 65 and I’ve had a knee replaced.”
How much of Alberta is leaking?
Based on industry reports to regulators as opposed to independent audits, about five per cent of Alberta’s 300,000 oil and gas wells now leak. But a 2009 study by Alberta scientists Stephan Bachu and Theresa Watson found that so-called “deviated wells” (the same kind right angling used for fracturing shale gas and tight oil formations) typically experienced leakage rates as high as 60 per cent as they age. Moreover “high pressure fracturing” increased the potential to create pathways to other wells, the atmosphere and groundwater.
Theresa Watson, now a member of Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board, also disclosed that an increase in the number of water wells in heavily fractured oil and gas fields would increase “the likelihood that gas, due to migration through shallow zones, can accumulate in buildings.”
Alberta’s energy regulator does not yet keep track of leaking wells in a rigorous or transparent fashion but it does note in a 2011 Field Surveillance Report that leaks and methane migration are routine items of “high risk noncompliance” that companies voluntary disclose to the regulator. In Alberta the industry remains largely self-regulated.
Leaking of toxic fracture fluids is also common because only 25 to 60 per cent of diluted chemicals and water used to blast open shale or coal formations are ever recovered.
In a 2004 report the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency factually noted that “if fracturing fluids have been injected to a point outside of the well’s capture zone, they will not be recovered through production pumping and, if mobile, may be available to migrate through an aquifer.” … Evidence is also growing that toxic fluids used for hydraulic fracturing can also migrate into adjacent water bodies. A 2012 study in the journal Ground Water warned that hydraulic fracturing opens more pathways for the movement of both fluids and methane. And a recent study by the US Environmental Protection Agency in Pavilion, Wyoming, found that toxic fluids had contaminated local water supplies. So what is it, myth or reality, when industry claims that leaks are rare? The scientific truth is irrefutable says Ingraffea: “Fluid migration from faulty wells is a well-known chronic problem with an expected rate of occurrence.” Inadequate well construction and monitoring remains a persistent industry problem. The health implications are also serious. The migration of methane or fracking fluid has repeatedly contaminated groundwater across North America or polluted the atmosphere with methane, a potent greenhouse gas. [Emphasis added]
Part Two in Shale Gas Series: How Hard on the Landscape? Industry’s claim that clustered wells preserve forests and farms is a myth, says expert by Andrew Nikiforuk, January 8, 2013, TheTyee.ca
Part One in Shale Gas Series: Myth and Realities, Nikiforuk tackles top claims fracking industry uses to reassure public by Andrew Nikiforuk, January 7, 2013, TheTyee.ca
Industry and government repeatedly claim that hydraulic fracturing is safe because it is a well-regulated technique proven in the field over 60 years. It that myth or reality? A good person to ask is Anthony Ingraffea, a short and engaging scientist who knows how to separate fact from fiction in the shale gas industry. On Dec. 14 of last year the Cornell University engineer, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the science of hydraulic fracturing, gave a stunning talk on the myths and realities of unconventional shale gas development to a room full of Calgary academics and oilmen. He did so with some trepidation in the oil and gas city, even though he has given some 120 public talks on the subject over the last four years to rural and urban audiences. “The playing field isn’t level,” he told the Tyee. “Oil and gas companies are tremendously wealthy and have very loud speakers. They can buy TV and full page ads and place them wherever they want.”
As a consequence, Ingraffea feels it is his duty as a scientist to provide missing information, challenge outright lies, and expose the uncomfortable science about mining methane from shattered rock. True to form, Ingraffea presented science, little known by the public, that was highly critical of the practice of hydraulic fracturing. He documented proven and repeated cases of groundwater contamination due to shale rock fracturing as well as chronic methane leaks (a climate change driver) at nearly seven per cent of all new well sites. “I don’t imagine things. I don’t blog things,” he told an attentive audience of more than 100 petroleum types and academics. “I’m a licensed professional engineer in the state of New York. I’m trying to be as accurate as possible.” … Most petroleum engineers know the truth too. A 2008 presentation delivered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, included a slide that jokingly called hydraulic fracturing a proven technology except for a long list of unknowns and uncertainties including “How Deeply they Penetrate; Their Vertical Extents; Their Symmetries About the Wellbore; Their Geometries At the Perimeter; Which Directions They Go; What their Conductivities Are.” …
New rules on hydraulic fracturing must be developed to protect public health as well as water supplies. These rules must be actively monitored and enforced. That means full disclosure on fracking fluids, widespread groundwater baseline monitoring, no-go zones and regulatory bodies that actually defend the public interest as opposed to promoting development. “Industry will have to accept greater transparency which they will actively refuse.” Concludes Ingraffea: “The primary purpose of government is to protect the people. You should not make public policy before you have done the science on fracturing.” [Emphasis added]
TRANSLATION OF FRACKING SHALE GAS SERIES IN FRENCH:
3. Gaz de schiste – ces fuites qui fuient Traduction libre d’une entrevue avec Andrew Nikiforuk et Tony Ingraffea – Nikiforuk interviews Ingraffea, French translation of third part in a series by Ami(e)s du Richelieu
2. Gaz de schiste – dur, dur sur le paysage Traduction libre du 2e reportage d’une série d’Andrew Nikiforuk suite à une conversation avec Anthony Ingraffea – second article in a series by Nikiforuk after an interview in Calgary, translated by Ami(e)s du Richelieu
1. Gaz de schiste: les mythes et la réalité Traduction libre d’une entrevue avec Andrew Nikiforuk et Tony Ingraffea – Nikiforuk interviews Ingraffea, French translation of first part in a series by Ami(e)s du Richelieu
[Refer also to: Alberta Plays Catch-up on Frack Front Regulator acknowledges water risks, says hydraulic fluids disclosure will be required.
Fracking Contamination ‘Will Get Worse’: Alberta Expert Tighter regulations to protect groundwater needed, says U of Alberta geochemist.
Truth Comes out on ‘Fracking’ Toxins Who finally tells us the nasty chemicals used for shale gas drilling in Western Canada? The US Congress.
Fracking and Quaking: They’re Linked And scientists, the military, and frackers themselves have known it for years.
We’ll Frack Alberta’s Next Election, Vow Landowners Drilling accident fuels rebellion demanding halt to hydraulic fracturing.
How to Attack a ‘Fracking’ Film Documentary ‘Gasland’ shows flaming tap water caused by gas drillers ‘fracking.’ Industry speed dials its PR flaks. ]