Myersville Lawsuit and 2,000 Feet Frack Setback by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Frackers Admit Frack Can Go 2,000 + Feet ! by Chip Northrup, February 5, 2013, Shaleshock Media
Frackers are generally circumspect, to put it mildly, as to how far a frack can actually travel. Unless they are pinned down on it – which is what happened recently to Dominion Transmission, who admitted to 2,000 feet in a setback of fracking from an underground gas storage facility – because they had previously requested a 2,000 buffer zone around their own gas storage facilities. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that a gas company has requested and received a 2,000 foot buffer zone from fracking. To state the obvious, if a gas company will assert that a frack can travel up to 2,000 feet, then the setback distance of a lateral should be that or more from an aquifer, property line, or bottom of a water well. Governor Cuomo proposes half that distance as a separation between a horizontal lateral and an aquifer (1,000 feet) and only one quarter that distance between a horizontal and a water well (500 feet) – without justificationGovernor Cuomo proposes no setbacks at all for shale gas horizontals from an adjacent landowner the horizontal section can run right up to the property line or parallel the property line – which would put the frack almost a half mile into adjacent property.

See the FERC ruling here, page 11, at footnote 16.

“In addition to the geological information regarding the Sabinsville Pool, Dominion refers to information it presented in its recent application to establish a buffer zone around its Woodhull Pool in Steuben County, New York, showing that hydraulic fracture half length (that is, the length of the fracture from the well bore to the fracture tip) can extend hundreds to thousands of feet, with one example of almost 2,000 feet.”

The FERC was referring to the orders of certificates for Dominion’s 2,000′ frack setback request around their own underground gas storage facilities. Woodhull pool in Stuben County NY:

7. Dominion also seeks authority to establish a 2,000-foot, 5,472.27-acre protective boundary around the proposed active storage reservoir boundary.

Sabinsville underground gas storage facility in Tioga Co. PA:

4. Dominion proposes to establish a 2,000-foot protective boundary (buffer zone), comprising 4,703 acres, around the pool’s active storage reservoir boundary. The proposed buffer will include the Marcellus Shale, Onondaga Limestone, and Oriskany formations. The total acreage of the pool, with the proposed buffer, will be approximately 11,193 acres. Dominion asserts that a buffer zone is needed to protect the integrity of  its storage operations at the Sabinsville Pool from a potential breach that may be caused from hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus Shale by third-party production wells located in the vicinity of the storage pool. Dominion states that the protective boundary would reduce the risk of a breach in the confinement mechanism that has historically provided the vertical/stratigraphic containment of the storage gas.

Myersville Lawsuit and 2,000 Feet Frack Setbacks by Paul Roberts, February 4, 2013, Appalachian Independent
A prominent Eastern U.S. energy corporation on Friday sued a small town in Frederick County and state regulators that declined to consider a permit application on grounds that the company lacked proper zoning for its natural gas compressor station. Dominion Transmission, Inc., part of a sprawling electricity and gas distribution company with operations across half the country, filed suit in a Baltimore federal court. It asserts that local “ordinances, rules, and regulations are preempted by federal law in their entirety, and are thus null and void as applied” to the facility Dominion wants to build on its pipeline near Myersville, Md. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in December issued Dominion its permit to construct and operate the station. Myersville Town Council last month asked FERC to reconsider its approval but indicated it had no intention of amending its land-use master plan to allow such industrial activity.

The suit, sure to burden the town of 1,600 with major litigation costs, represents yet another facet in the evolving Marcellus shale dynamic — even before Maryland decides whether to allow drilling. A judge’s ruling in the case could not only affect future energy development state-wide, but the lawsuit’s filing has some in the General Assembly claiming it shows how vulnerable Maryland is to energy sector dictates. … MDE Secretary Robert Summers disclosed the agency’s decision in a letter to Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community on Jan. 17. And that “refusal to act on Dominion’s application,” Dominion claims, “is inconsistent with federal law and will prevent construction of Dominion’s compressor station….” In his letter, Summers cites state law prohibiting MDE from processing the application. “In the event of a dispute over zoning or land use approval,” he states, “the permit applicant and the local jurisdiction are responsible for resolving the dispute” before the air quality permit is sought.

Regulators in other states say fracking has contaminated ground-water. And scores of lawsuits settled on behalf of plaintiffs allege such contamination, though virtually all have ended with industry-imposed stipulations sealing the terms from public scrutiny. A governor’s order in Maryland, in place since mid-2011, has so far prevented drilling. But supporters of Mizeur and Zirkin’s legislation worry that a lawsuit — comparable to the one Dominion is pursuing against Myersville — could open the door to a court ruling that over-rides the governor’s action. “We need a law, something put in place by the legislature,” says Mizeur. “The industry’s game plan has been to wait it out, prevent the safety studies, and push to drill, despite the consequences. “We have to hit the pause button. There is too much at stake not to take the long view on this issue — to study it properly, and make an informed decision about the future of fracking in Maryland.”

In a different arena — though certainly related — is another FERC ruling related to Dominion. Issued Nov. 30, 2012, the ruling deals with Dominion’s original core business — gas transmission and storage — at a company facility called the Sabinsville Pool in north-central Pennsylvania.

Near Dominion’s Sabinsville Pool, a company fracking wells requested a setback of as little as 500 feet from the storage pool boundary. But the commission instead set the protective buffer zone at 2,000 feet, because it “believes that there is a real possibility that drilling and completion activities in the vicinity of the Sabinsville Pool could have a detrimental affect on its integrity.” Perhaps most interesting in the document is the extensive discussion among the energy companies about the lack of research into underground fractures that occur during well completion. Dominion engineers argued to the commission that they knew of no “proven model or technology that can be rigorously applied to predict accurately the location and extent of encroachment” of fractures caused by horizontal drilling in the Marcellus shale.

The FERC order reads like a case study in how American regulatory agencies, lacking “rigorous” scientific findings to suggest acceptable limits, continue to permit drilling that uses explosive charges — set off over and over, hundreds of times per well, at more than 5,000 wells in Pennsylvania alone. Some are no more than a mile from the next well, in an area with a record of natural seismic activity. This technology is also used at waste storage wells, in which chemicals and liquids from fracking are injected deep underground. Scientists and regulators in multiple states have blamed those wells for causing earthquakes.

In this case, the commission accepted Dominion’s request for the 2,000-foot setback because that distance was the “appropriate boundary” provided under Pennsylvania law and also, based on the record reproduced in the filing, because Dominion had presented evidence at other hearings showing “the length of the fracture from the well bore to the fracture tip can extend hundreds to thousands of feet, with one example of almost 2,000 feet.”

Those concerned about the incomplete scientific knowledge of myriad issues surrounding shale gas development often focus on concerns that fractures in rock could inadvertently connect. This could allow gas from improperly cemented well bores — the rate of casing failures in Pennsylvania, according to state regulators, is 7 percent in the first year alone — to escape and migrate through these fractures to water-bearing strata above. In fact, Pennsylvania regulators documented this exact occurrence near wells drilled in the county adjoining the Sabinsville Pool. The state levied a $900,000 fine against Chesapeake Energy, and the company later settled lawsuits that forced three families from their homes, including Jared McMicken’s. 

In Maryland, 1,000 feet is generally the setback required from the well bore to an adjoining property line. This was thought to be sufficient 20 years ago. Last year, the General Assembly passed a law presuming industry liability for damages within 2,500 feet of the well bore; however, no regulations have been adopted establishing a new setback distance for well construction. If a drilling permit was issued tomorrow, 1,000 feet remains our protective buffer zone. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

Restrict shale gas fracking to 600m from water supplies, says study, Researchers recommend ‘absolute minimum’ safe zone of 600m between fracking and aquifers by Press Association, April 25, 2012, The Guardian
Controversial “fracking” for shale gas should only take place at least 600 metres down from aquifers used for water supplies, scientists said on Wednesday. A new study revealed the process…caused fractures running upwards and downwards through the ground of up to 588 metres from their source. [Emphasis added]

Hydraulic fractures: How far can they go? by Davies, R. J., et al, April 21, 2012, Marine and Petroleum Geology (2012), doi:10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2012.04.001
The maximum reported height of an upward propagating hydraulic fracture from several thousand fracturing operations in the Marcellus, Barnett, Woodford, Eagleford and Niobrara shale (USA) is ~588 m. Of the 1170 natural hydraulic fracture pipes imaged with three-dimensional seismic data offshore of West Africa and mid-Norway it is ~1106 m. … Constraining the probability of stimulating unusually tall hydraulic fractures in sedimentary rocks is extremely important as an evidence base for decisions on the safe vertical separation between the depth of stimulation and rock strata not intended for penetration.

Figure 3. (a) Map of the globe showing location of the eight datasets. Red font e datasets for stimulated hydraulic fractures, blue font e datasets for natural hydraulic fractures (pipes). (b) Seismic line from offshore Mauritania showing a representative vertical pipe imaged on 3D seismic reflection data and its vertical extent. (c) Graph of stimulated hydraulic fractures in the Marcellus, Barnett, Woodford and Eagleford shales (after Fisher and Warpinski, 2011) and including unpublished data provided by Halliburton for the Niobrara shale. Inset e extract of the graph showing how the vertical extents of fractures were measured. All depths are in true vertical depth (TVD). The black dashed line e depth of the stimulation of the hydraulic fractures. Coloured spikes e separate hydraulic fractures propagating upwards and downwards from the depth of stimulation
Source: Davies, R.J., et al.

Fracking requires a minimum distance of at least 0.6 kilometres from sensitive rock strata Researchers from Durham University, Cardiff University and the University of Tromsø looked at thousands of natural and induced fractures from the US, Europe and Africa. … Fracture heights are important as fractures have been cited as possible underground pathways for deep sources of methane to contaminate drinking water. … Professor Richard Davies, Director of Durham Energy Institute, Durham University, said: “Based on our observations, we believe that it may be prudent to adopt a minimum vertical separation distance for stimulated fracturing in shale reservoirs. Such a distance should be set by regulators; our study shows that for new exploration areas where there is no existing data, it should be significantly in excess of 0.6 km. [Emphasis added]

Fracking fouls water by Gayle Streifford, November 24, 2012, New Observer
1) The shale gas formation should be at least 600 meters (1,968 feet) from the aquifer or surface water (Source: Richard Davies, Durham University, England]) In Lee County the shale formation is not only less than 600 meters from the aquifer, the shale actually pierces the aquifer and rises to the surface.
2) Because of these characteristics, and because the gas companies will pump millions of gallons of water containing cancer-causing chemicals into the shale formation, your drinking water will be contaminated and it will be irreversible. What regulations can protect your water from these chemicals when it’s inevitable that fracking will result in contaminated water? ]

This entry was posted in Global Frac News, Other Legal. Bookmark the permalink.