Quakes in Gas Fields Ignored for Years, Dutch Safety Agency’s report a relevant read for any fracking zone; Fox Creek frac quakes make AER play deregulation with you and your loved ones: “Red Light = Green Light”

USGS calls for data on fracking-induced tremors, Some states rich in shale experiencing dramatic rise in seismic activity by Daniel J. Graeber, February 20, 2015, UPI
Research published by the U.S. Geological Survey calls for greater transparency for driving efforts to moderate tremors tied to hydraulic fracturing. … “Improved seismic networks and public access to fluid injection data will allow us to detect induced earthquake problems at an early stage.”

The number of earthquakes reported last year in Oklahoma was more four times greater than in 2013. The USGS report said the general increase is not tied to natural processes.

Co-author William Ellsworth, a geophysicist with the USGS, said the main goal of the study was to “motivate more cooperation among the stakeholders — including the energy resources industry, government agencies, the earth science community, and the public at large — for the common purpose of reducing the consequences of earthquakes induced by fluid injection.” [Emphasis added]

Quakes in Gas Fields Ignored for Years, Dutch Agency Finds, Safety board’s report a relevant read for any fracking zone by Andrew Nikiforuk, February 20, 2015, TheTyee.ca

report from the Dutch Safety Board has accused the oil and gas industry and Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs of willfully downplaying the risk of earthquakes caused by the rapid depletion of Europe’s largest gas field. 

The board’s conclusions offer lessons for other regions coping with earthquakes caused by fluid injection and hydraulic fracturing.

Ever since the shale gas industry changed the seismic record of states and provinces like Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and British Columbia, many industry lobbyists and regulators have been quick to deny and dismiss citizen’s concerns about the seismic hazards. [For an exemplary example, refer below for the AER’s red light = green light, two tiered system for Alberta]

The Groningen field, which lies under a 900 square-kilometre area in the northern part of the Netherlands, has been drained by a consortium — Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij, or NAM — jointly owned by Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell since the 1960s.

The Dutch government, a minor petrostate, is highly dependent on revenues from gas extraction, pulling in an average of 12 billion Euros or US$16.3 billion a year.

According to anti-drilling group De Groniger Doem Beweging (The Groningen Ground Movement), approximately 60 per cent of the 60,000 homeowners in the Groningen region have recorded earthquake damage to their homes over the last decade. Many homes now remain unsellable in the industry-made earthquake zone.

Designed to ‘optimize revenues’

According to the Dutch Safety Board, until 2013 the government acted as though “the safety of citizens in Groningen with regard to induced earthquakes had no influence on decision-making.”

The extraction of gas in the Netherlands was designed first and foremost to “optimize revenues” to Big Oil and the government, and “safety interests” were not embedded in the system, the report found.

Swarms of small earthquakes started to rumble through the area in 1986 and then accelerated in the 1990s. The extraction of the gas decreased pressure in the 2,900-metre deep formation. With this loss of pressure, rocks started to compact and the land above started to sink by as much two centimetres a year, causing earthquakes.

Due to the exponential increase in earthquakes, scientists recently reported that half of the inhabitants of northeast Groninegen “are now living with a feeling of anxiety or fear and wish to move out.” The quakes not only shake the ground but end with a loud bang.

But for almost 25 years, the consortium, Exxon, and Royal Dutch Shell “categorically maintained that the earthquakes could not have anything to do with natural gas extraction,” the report found.

Yet since the 1920s, science has shown that fluid withdrawal from hydrocarbon formations can invite rock formations to collapse, sink and fracture, resulting in swarms of earthquakes. The oil and gas industry has caused major subsidence and tremors in Texas, California, Alberta, and Kuwait.

After first denying links to the earthquakes in the 1990s, NAM then assured residents a decade later that the quakes would only cause slight damage and never exceed 3.3 magnitude.

But then, on Aug. 16, 2012, a 3.6 earthquake rocked the village of Huizinge in the northern Netherlands. [AER says quake of that magnitude would just be like a truck driving past, and cause no damage]

It caused extensive damage to more than 2,000 buildings and prompted significant public anger about government and industry misinformation. Since 2013, earthquakes now visit the region on a weekly basis.

Reluctance to investigate

In North America, most industry lobbyists and regulators have acted no differently than those in the Netherlands on the subject of earthquakes caused by fluid injection or hydraulic fracturing.

Despite scientific studies showing that the injection of wastewater from fracking operations has caused more than 500 earthquakes greater than a magnitude of three in Oklahoma in 2014 — it is now more seismically active than California — state regulators, for example, maintain a definitive link has not been established.

The governor also appears unconvinced: “At this point in time, I don’t think we have enough information to truly understand what is causing earthquakes,” Gov. Mary Fallin recently told the Tulsa World.

States dependent on oil and gas revenue, such as Texas, have also been reluctant to hire seismologists. British Columbia only hired a seismic hazard specialist after more than 200 mini-quakes rumbled through the Montney shale gas formation last year.

Dutch gas field quakes plotted

Quakes in the Groningen fields. Source: NAM.

Yet Dutch scientists warn that the induced events in the Netherlands reveal an exponential growth rate with a doubling time of 6.24 years. They also say the pattern of increased seismic activity in places like Oklahoma are “very similar to the distribution of induced events in the Groningen field.”

The Dutch Safety Board has now called on NAM and the Ministry of Economic Affairs to “acknowledge that that they have failed to act with due care for the safety of their citizens.” 

“Uncertainty is an inextricable feature of underground activities,” the board added. “Uncertainty and reducing uncertainty should be the principle guiding the activities of the parties concerned including citizen communication.”

The Netherlands Human Rights Committee condemned the failure of the state and industry to protect citizens from earthquake risks.

According to the committee, the government is supposed to protect its citizens from physical harm. But in Groningen, industry and government excluded citizens from science and information vital to their wellbeing.

“Participation is a fundamental human right. Citizens have the right to take part and decide about the way their land… is managed,” the committee told Dutch News.

Industry is now considering the possibility of injecting nitrogen into the aging Groningen gas field at an estimated cost of $6 to 10 billion Euros. Engineers think that the nitrogen might maintain pressure in the gas field and thereby prevent further land sinking.

A 2013 technical report on seismic hazards in Groningen by NAM made some belated admissions. It calculated that the region could be hit with a catastrophic earthquake with a magnitude as high as 5.5. The report added that “predictions of the seismic hazard range are believed to be conservative.”

In reaction to the blunt report, Dutch Economic Affairs minister Henk Kamp acknowledged that “Many people in Groningen are suffering damage because of the earthquakes, no longer feel safe in their own homes and are seriously concerned.”

In response to public protests, the government ordered Exxon Mobil and Shell Oil to slow down the removal of gas from the field last year. [Emphasis added]

AER: Master Deregulator!  

UK frac quake “red light” is 0.5 M

In Alberta, it’s 4.0 M

LCC/2014/0101 Roseacre Wood, Roseacre and Wharles, Fylde Appendix 9 by Lancashire Council, 2014

0.5ML is the red light threshold in the Governments traffic light system mitigation measure.

… The traffic light system requires monitoring by remote seismometers buried at the surface or at depth to undertake real time monitoring as part of the hydraulic fracturing process to inform, the duration and intensity of fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing stages to ensure that prescribed limits of induced seismicity are not exceeded – 0.5ML – the red light threshold to be used to limit induced seismicity to below the level that may be felt by humans. [Emphasis added]

Oil and gas companies must report earthquakes near Fox Creek, new rules say by Sheila Pratt, February 19, 2015, Edmonton Journal
New rules for oil companies using hydraulic fracturing in the Fox Creek area should [“should” is one of the oil and gas industry’s favourite escape hatch words; the “No Duty of Care” AER is industry] prevent stronger earthquakes, the Alberta Energy Regulator announced Thursday.

After a cluster of earthquakes possibly associated with “fracking” in the region, the regulator decided to bring new regulations, said Todd Shipman, AER manager responsible for seismic monitoring.

“We want the ability to prevent the large events, so we are asking companies to modify their operations when they hit a level 2.0 on the Richter scale,” he said.

In January, the Duvernay area 260 kilometres northwest of Edmonton recorded two significant earthquakes, including a 4.4-magnitude event 33 kilometres west of Fox Creek. That came after a cluster of 18 seismic events a month earlier.

Some of those earthquakes “appear to be related” to fracking, a process that involves injecting high-pressure fluids, sand and chemicals underground to crack open rock layers and release oil and gas, Shipman said.

Companies must now record seismic activity as low as 2.0 on the Richter scale in an eight-kilometre radius of their wells. At that level, they must immediately take action to reduce the impact of their operations to prevent the quake from growing.

At 4.0 magnitude, companies must immediately cease operations until the regulator approves restarting, says the new order.

The science shows the earthquakes associated with fracking can start small and be stopped before hitting the level at which people can feel the shaking, about 4.0 level, Shipman said.

“Lots of small earthquakes are never felt and the key is to manage it so they do not become a problem,” he said, adding that a similar system is used in British Columbia.

Companies should be able to respond within hours of hitting a 2.0 level quake and each company will have to figure out a specific action plan, he added.

Previously, there was no requirement on companies to report earthquakes at such a low level to the local AER office. These events will now be reported publicly on the regulator’s incident reporting website.

The regulator has six seismic monitoring stations in the region. With the additional data from the companies, the regulator hopes to be able to figure out why some areas seem more susceptible to earthquakes than others with fracking.

“We’re trying to understand underlying causes and that means studying the rock mechanics, locating underlying faults.”

Companies drilling in the area include Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell and EnCana Corp.

In its release, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the energy industry association, said “it is important to address” the public’s questions about seismic activity associated with oil and gas development.

“The new seismic monitoring and reporting requirements ensure our industry operates with the highest regard for public safety,” said Brad Herald, CAPP vice-president for western Canada.

The order applies only to companies in the Fox Creek area and is not provincewide. [Emphasis added]

Cluster of fracking quakes in Alberta prompts tougher rules for shale drilling region by Rebecca Penty with assistance from Zain Shauk, February 20, 2015, Bloomberg News in Financial Post

Shale producers in Alberta’s Duvernay region are being asked to monitor and prevent earthquakes [Industry (including the AER, which is industry) thinks it can tame the earth after massively experimenting with it ?] after regulators linked a series of seismic events over the last two months to hydraulic fracturing.

Producers must test for quakes and, if they detect seismic events greater than magnitude 2.0 on the Richter scale, take measures to reduce the impact of their activity, the Alberta Energy Regulator said Thursday. If a tremor is detected above magnitude 4.0, producers must immediately halt drilling and can’t resume until they get approval from regulators.

Provincial regulators are blaming fracking for a cluster of 18 quakes with magnitudes as high as 3.7 in December near Fox Creek, Alberta, and several others in January, including one with a magnitude of 4.4. Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Encana Corp. are among companies drilling for natural gas liquids in the Duvernay region.

“While these seismic events have not impacted public safety, it is our job to take this precautionary step to ensure energy resources in this area are developed in a safe and responsible manner,” Jim Ellis, chief executive officer of the Alberta Energy Regulator, said in a statement.

 2015 02 20 CATALIZE THIS Fox Creek frac companies Shell, Athabasca Oil Corp, Encana

Image from Catalize This

Frac Quakes in Alberta by the AER (aka the oil and gas industry)

[AER’s Two Tiered System: One for Fox Creek, Nothing for the rest of Alberta. That’s OK, the system mitigates little. If your home is damaged, what colour do you get? Brown for falling bricks? Regardless, what took the AER so long? The frac quakes in Fox Creek started long ago.  Was it news that traveled the world to finally get some response, lame as it is?

“No Duty of Care” AER:

The December cluster was in 2013 not 2014.

The AER ignore the 70+ 2014 quakes. ]

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has announced new seismic monitoring and reporting requirements for hydraulic fracturing operators in the Fox Creek area to ensure safe, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of energy resources.

Are operators still allowed to operate in the Fox Creek area?

A. Yes, operators are still allowed to operate in the Fox Creek area, including hydraulic fracturing; however, operators in the Fox Creek area of the Duvernay Zone must comply with Subsurface Order No. 2, which imposes new seismic monitoring and reporting requirements in the zone.

The subsurface order specifies that operators conducting hydraulic fracturing operations in the zone must monitor seismic activity within 5 kilometres of their wells.

  • Before conducting hydraulic fracturing operations, operators must assess the potential for induced seismicity caused by, or resulting from, hydraulic fracturing operations and be immediately prepared to implement a response plan to address potential events.
  • Operators will be required to monitor for seismic activity and follow a “traffic light” process with staged action thresholds. If there are no seismic events observed, operations can proceed as part of the AER’s usual requirements. Operators must immediately report any seismic events of 2.0 local magnitude (ML) or greater in the vicinity of their operations and invoke their response plans. [Are these plans made public before companies frac?]
  • If operators observe a seismic event of 4.0 ML or greater, they must immediately cease operations and report it to the AER. They will not be allowed to resume operations without AER approval. [Company fracs a 4.4 quake, they shut down, notify the AER while simultaneously asking for approval to start up again. AER says “Yes, OK, But don’t tell anyone red means green.”

The Tyee earlier reported one of Canada’s foremost experts warning that “earthquakes triggered by fracking could possibly cause damaging ground motions at magnitudes as low as 3.5 to 4.0, due to their shallowness.” One of Canada’s foremost experts on earthquake hazards

Is the AER stretching their “No Duty of Care” legal immunity to the limit?]

AER Traffic Light System - Durvernay Zone, Fox Creek

Q. What happens if hydraulic fracturing causes another seismic event?
A. The bulletin and new requirements are designed to ensure that any seismic events beyond 2.0 ML are immediately addressed and reported to the AER. Beyond 4.0 ML, operations are ceased. This is to reduce any impact. We feel [Feel not think?] the “traffic light” protocol will address the concerns in the area.

We will continue to monitor seismicity. If we see activity similar to that of Fox Creek, we will extend the order to include other areas of the province. [Why not implement this non mitigation system everywhere? It’s essentially useless, just copies the UK and BC, with the intent to make it look like the industry (aka the AER) is regulating itself, hushing the public into a false sense of security, which is irresponsible and dangerous.]

Q. Will the AER look at hydraulic fracturing operations across the province and put the same restrictions in place?
A. Presently, the order is in place for the Fox Creek area of the Duvernay Zone because of the cluster of recent seismic events. The AER has been monitoring seismicity around the province. If the AER becomes aware of similar seismic events in other areas of the province, we may extend the order to other areas.

Q. How can the public be assured that hydraulic fracturing is safe?
A. Hydraulic fracturing has been used in Alberta since the 1950s and is [a “brute force” ignorant experiment] to enhance the recovery of oil and natural gas and extend the life of older wells in mature oil and gas fields.

The AER has [lots of deregulation] in place to [not] protect the subsurface and ensure [the highest profit possible fracing free for all]. The AER has reviewed the subsurface well integrity challenges and opportunities [thus the deregulation] with unconventional oil and gas development. Directive 083: Hydraulic Fracturing – Subsurface Integrity was developed to [deregulate] hydraulic fracturing risk to subsurface well integrity.

Directive 083 [also intended to give Albertans a false sense of security] provides clarity on

  • preventing interwellbore communication impacts,
  • ensuring well integrity, and
  • requirements for wells completed in shallow zones, which applies to any depths shallower than 100 metres below the base of groundwater protection. [Above this base is where the fresh water is in Alberta].

Q. How long will these new requirements be in place for the Fox Creek area?
A. As long as the AER feels they are necessary for the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of energy resources in that area. [Until Albertans vote the Wildrose-PC Party back in a majority]

Q. Will these events be posted online?
A. Magnitudes are posted by Earthquakes Canada. If the AER receives reports of a 4.0 ML seismic event, which requires an operator to cease operations, it will be posted on the incident reporting tool.

Q. Why are these events happening in the Fox Creek region?
A. The AER is investigating and examining why the cluster of seismic events are happening in the area.

Q. Do residents feel these events?
A. To date, there have been no reported impacts to infrastructure from the seismic events in the Fox Creek area. Residents have reported feeling some of the seismic activity.

Current research suggests that a magnitude less than 3–4 ML could feel like vibrations of a passing truck and may pass unnoticed by most, whereas a magnitude of 4–5 ML could have more noticeable effects in terms of sound, felt vibrations, and overturning of unstable objects. The actual effect depends on ground conditions.

The AER requires operators to monitor seismic activity within 5 kilometres of their development.

Q. What happens if an operator doesn’t comply with the order?
A. If an operator doesn’t comply with any of the AER’s requirements, they face enforcement action, which includes a range of possibilities, including shutting down the operations. [But, more likely the “No Duty of Care” AER will punish Albertans asking questions or expressing concerns, call CSIS and get them to legally violate that citizen’s Charter rights under Harper’s Bill C-51 for daring to speak out]

Q. How does the AER monitor seismicity?
A. The AER monitors seismic activity across Alberta using the Regional Alberta Observatory for Earthquake Studies Network (RAVEN) stations in conjunction with networks operated by other research organizations, including Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the University of Alberta, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, the University of Western Ontario, and the University of Calgary

We monitor seismicity using a network of seismic stations spread across the province and outside our borders. At the heart of each seismic station is the seismometer, a device that measures ground vibrations. These vibrations are recorded digitally and sent back to us in real time through various telemetry systems. Incoming waveform data is processed by software at the Alberta Geological Survey to determine the location of the event; the results are then verified by an in-house team to ensure accuracy. Next, earthquake locations and trends are analyzed using state-of-the-art techniques to better discern the nature of these quakes.

Data obtained provide us with the locations of earthquakes, motion on a fault, the strength of the event, faulting regime, statistical correlation to industrial activities, and insights to the wave field properties of the province. All of this information allows us to effectively detect and monitor earthquakes in Alberta. [Emphasis added]

2015 02 Fox Creek Frac Quakes Joke What did one earthquake say to the other

 Image above and below from CATALYZE THIS

2015 01 29 AER Map Fox Creek blanket approval play with quakes plotted by CATalyzethis.caAER Bulletin 2015-07: Subsurface Order No. 2: Monitoring and Reporting of Seismicity in the Vicinity of Hydraulic Fracturing Operations in the Duvernay Zone, Fox Creek, Alberta by AER, February 19, 2015

VIEW PDF (139.42 KB)

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) announces issuance of Subsurface Order No. 2 (order), dated February 19, 2015, regarding the monitoring and reporting of seismicity in the vicinity of hydraulic fracturing operations in the Duvernay Zone, in the Fox Creek area of Alberta.

Energy development in Alberta has been observed to induce subsurface seismic events since the 1960s. Most of these events have been too small to be felt or to cause surface impacts and were mainly recorded by federal seismic arrays aimed at studying west-coast earthquakes. Since 2008, the AER, through the Alberta Geological Survey (AGS), has been directly monitoring natural seismicity levels in Alberta and assessing subsurface energy resource operations (mainly completion activities such as hydraulic fracturing) for potential links to induced seismicity. In those efforts, the AER and AGS have been working alongside federal and university researchers to understand the links between new energy development and risks associated with induced seismicity.

During the drilling seasons of 2013/14 and 2014/15, the AER and AGS observed unexpected persistent patterns of seismic events above background levels west of the community of Fox Creek, Alberta. Based on the timing of these events, the AER and AGS believe that they may be associated with multistage hydraulic fracturing in the Duvernay Zone. On January 14 and 23, 2015, events exceeding 4.0 local magnitude (ML) were recorded in this area. On February 3, 2015, the AER issued Bulletin 2015-03: Observed Seismicity and Oil and Gas Operations; Operators’ Responsibilities to highlight licensee responsibilities to ensure safe operations at all times during hydraulic fracturing operations.

Until the AER and AGS can further study these seismic events and their potential connection with subsurface completion operations in the Fox Creek area, and in order to ensure orderly and safe development of the Duvernay Zone and public safety, the AER has issued the order. The order imposes new seismic monitoring and reporting requirements for hydraulic fracturing operations in the Duvernay Zone in the Fox Creek area.

Before conducting hydraulic fracturing operations in the Duvernay Zone in the area encompassed by the order, licensees must assess the potential for induced seismicity caused by or resulting from hydraulic fracturing operations and adopt, and be immediately prepared to implement, a response plan to address potential seismic events. Licensees will be required to monitor for seismic activity in the vicinity of their hydraulic fracturing operations and follow a “traffic light” process with staged action thresholds. If there are no seismic events observed, operations can proceed as per the AER’s usual requirements. The order requires licensees to immediately report to the AER observed seismic events of 2.0 ML or greater in the vicinity of their operations and at that time invoke their response plan. While this seismic magnitude level is considered out of the ordinary for most fracturing operations and is too small to be felt at surface or to cause impacts, licensees must still report events of this magnitude to the AER.

The order requires licensees to cease hydraulic fracturing operations altogether if a seismic event of 4.0 ML or greater is detected in the vicinity of their operations. In these circumstances, licensees will not be permitted to resume operations without AER consent.

The AER notes that there have been no reported impacts to infrastructure [HOW MANY GAGGED AND SETTLED?] from seismic events in the Fox Creek area. However, the AER has issued the order as a protective and cautionary measure to require and facilitate monitoring and reporting in an effort to better understand possible induced seismicity in this area while allowing appropriate development to proceed. The newly established subsurface order process lends itself well to establishing subsurface requirements for a particular area of the province pending consideration of other potential regulatory tools and instruments and full stakeholder consultation.

The AER will continue its own monitoring and study of natural and induced seismic activity across Alberta through the AGS and its research partners as a separate activity to the above industry monitoring of its operations, and the AER will continue to respond appropriately to seismic events or trends if they become evident in other areas of Alberta.

Questions about this bulletin can be directed to email hidden; JavaScript is required or 1-855-297-8311.

<original signed by>

Kirk Bailey
Executive Vice President
Operations Division

PDF: Subsurface Order No. 2: Monitoring and Reporting of Seismicity in the Vicinity of Hydraulic Fracturing Operations in the Duvernay Zone, Fox Creek, Alberta

A Shift in Thinking, Grand Prairie Texas citizens’ complaints about drilling near dams has led to a national study by Eric Griffey, February 18, 2015, fwweekly
One morning in the summer of 2010, Rosemary Reed awoke to her house shaking and the sound of engines screeching so loudly that it sounded like her backyard had been turned into a Motocross track. When she looked out a back window, she saw enormous earth-moving equipment just beyond her fence. “I was trying to figure out what the heck was going on, and that’s when we learned they were going to be putting a gas well behind us,” she said. “So that started my journey.”

Reed’s journey may sound familiar to many who live above the Barnett Shale. She rallied her neighbors, who opposed drilling near their homes in the Westchester neighborhood of Grand Prairie. She helped form the Westchester-Grand Prairie Community Alliance, a group of eight people who found themselves regularly speaking at Grand Prairie City Council meetings, trekking to Austin to talk to members of the Texas Legislature, circulating petitions, blogging about the dangers of gas drilling, and confronting the various energy companies that had set up shop in their community.

As it turned out, the small group affected not only the business of drilling for gas in Grand Prairie but, potentially, the rules for drilling near dams anywhere in the country.

The Westchester residents fought to shut down a well that was within 850 feet of the dam that created Joe Pool Lake, near the Grand Prairie-Dallas line. That dam is now the centerpiece of a national study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, near dams, which could change the Corps’ policies on drilling near thousands of dams.

The Corps is not just worried about fracking but also about the ongoing extraction of the gas, which can cause subsidence — or sinking — of land. One recent study has concluded that the re-shifting of shale strata after extraction causes seismic activity and thus may help explain the earthquakes that have shaken North Texas in recent years.

In 1963 a dam in California suffered a catastrophic failure that resulted in five deaths and more than 65 homes being destroyed. A scientist who studied the failure years later concluded that seismic activity caused by nearby oil wells was a factor in the dam’s failure. His findings, which were highly controversial, have received little notice in recent decades.

The Joe Pool dam is considered a “high-hazard” dam, according to the Corps, because catastrophic damage would result if it were to fail. An Army Corps fact sheet says that about 67,500 lives would be at risk if the dam were to break.Reed, whose home is less than 1,000 feet from the dam’s spillway, said she feared for her safety when she realized there would be a well so close to the dam.

Jason Vazquez, manager of the Corps’ dam safety program in the Fort Worth district, said that a draft of the study has been completed and is being reviewed. He wouldn’t speculate on when it will be released. The dam that got the study rolling, the one that was drilled behind Reed’s home, is on private property. E-mails obtained by Fort Worth Weekly show that the Corps of Engineers didn’t know that Chesapeake was drilling so close to the agency’s property line or to the dam.

When the Corps got the word, the agency declared that all new wells, drilling pads, or pipelines on federal property could be no nearer to a dam than 3,000 feet, in most of Texas and several other states. At the Corps’ request, Grand Prairie, in September 2011, also placed a moratorium on drilling within 3,000 feet of a dam, even on private property. In September 2014, the city council extended the moratorium for another 12 months. The city moratorium doesn’t affect wells drilled before it went into effect.

Susan Read, one of the most vocal Westchester residents, said that despite the city moratorium, Grand Prairie officials are still guilty of valuing money over public safety. “Chesapeake handed over total bonus money of $14 million in 2008,” she said. “The city never even considered there might be problems with drilling and fracking so near to this dam’s spillway,” she said. “Millions of dollars seem to have made [city officials in] Grand Prairie lose their common sense.”

The uproar over that well near Joe Pool Lake exposed more than a public-safety threat for one dam. It revealed gaps in state and federal regulatory systems for dams and drilling.

In 1996 the federal Bureau of Land Management established a rule that forbade drilling on Army Corps property within 3,000 feet of dams. But the Southwestern District of the Corps didn’t change its own policy to match that until 2011. Even now, the Corps has no power to stop drilling on private property — unless it can prove such drilling is a threat to public safety.

Reed said she was present at a briefing when city council members discussed a Corps request that the city place a moratorium on extraction as well as fracking  — that is, stopping gas production at already-fracked wells. Both city and Corps officials deny that was requested. “The Corps wanted [Grand Prairie] to put a moratorium on extraction,” said Reed. “I went to that briefing. The city manager spoke up and said, ‘If they want that, let them do it. We’re not going to get in on this. The Corps can put a moratorium on it.’ ”

More people throughout the country are growing concerned that the earthquakes happening in areas of shale gas production are indeed related to gas drilling. Blogger and drilling activist Sharon Wilson, who helped advise the Westchester group, said that she’s sure there’s a link between extraction and seismic activity. “They are saying that not only fracking can damage a dam, but also extraction, which makes sense because that causes subsidence,” she said. “They haven’t said the earthquakes in this area are caused by extraction, but you know they’ve got to be.”

A study published last year in the scholarly journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters concluded that the extraction process is likely the cause of the suddenly common earthquakes in the Eagle Ford Shale near San Antonio.

A turquoise rod sticks up about two feet above the surface of an enormous dirt field. The rod marks Chesapeake’s well near the Joe Pool Dam, which wasn’t plugged until April 2014. The Oklahoma-based energy company had planned to drill up to four more wells on the same pad site. The problem was, the site was less than 850 feet from the dam, and residents like Carl Dimon, who worked for Exxon as a petroleum engineer for more than 30 years before he retired early in 1995, were concerned for public safety.

“I wrote a letter to the Corps and asked, ‘Are you aware this well is being drilled within 850 feet of this dam? Do you have any studies that indicate that is safe?’ I do that because, in spirit, I’m still a registered professional petroleum engineer, and our code of ethics says we should be concerned with public safety. God only knows what happens if that dam fails.”

When the Corps replied to Dimon’s letter, he said, they told him they had no knowledge of a drill site that close to one of their dams. Chesapeake sent the federal agency a form letter — not addressed to any specific individual — just like those sent to other residents in the vicinity of the well.

“It very likely ended up in the trash,” said Read. “They sent [the Corps] the same form letter they send to residents to inform them of drilling in the neighborhood. They claim that meant the Corps knew what was going on.

“The right hand doesn’t always know what the left hand is doing,” she said. “[The Army Corps] knew nothing about fracking on a well in 2010. That was the revelation that came out of conversations I’ve had with people from the Corps. They couldn’t do anything anyways, because the site was on private land.”

Texas Railroad Commission records confirm that Chesapeake was planning to drill the four additional wells on what the company called its Corn Valley pad site. E-mails obtained from the Corps show that Chesapeake was preparing to move forward with the additional drilling even after the Corps enacted its moratorium. … Susan Read said state records show the well never produced. Dimon believes that Chesapeake put lives in danger for a well that was never going to be profitable. “I’ll tell you, Chesapeake flat-ass lied about how much gas they were going to recover,” he said. “It has not been the economic windfall it was reported to be.”

The years since haven’t been good for Chesapeake, which has all but disappeared from the Barnett Shale. Company officials declined to comment for this story.

Now a developer is planning to build a housing development on the site of the abandoned well. The city will not require soil or groundwater testing for the 43-plus-acre plot that was used for shale gas mining operations between 2010 and 2014. A city staffer told Westchester residents that the $60,000 price tag for testing was too high. Nor will the developer be required to disclose the land’s past to prospective homebuyers.

When the Baldwin dam in Los Angeles County, Calif., was built in 1951, observers hailed it as a huge leap forward in engineering. At the time, people discussed the dam with the same reverence an earlier generation gave to the Titanic, which was similarly regarded as indestructible.

More than 600 oil wells were drilled in the Inglewood oil field on the eastern edge of the dam. As investigators discovered later, the oil was being produced using a new method of extraction that involved injecting water at very high pressure. Back then, it was called pressurized extraction.

The dam broke in 1963. Years after the tragedy, a scientist concluded that seismic activity was a factor in the dam’s failure. That was a controversial view in the ’70s, when his study was published.

Ground Rupture in the Baldwin Hills: Fracking 2012

…Were the dam to fail, he said, the damage would be extensive, but nowhere near the scale of Baldwin, which was in the densely populated Los Angeles area.

In 2008 the Texas State Auditor’s Office found that state regulators were not ensuring the proper maintenance of thousands of dams. The audit found that state inspectors had never even visited hundreds of dams that could cause catastrophic damage if they failed.

But regulators will not be allowed to inspect thousands of other dams, because of a state law passed in 2013. House Bill 677 exempts nearly 3,000 dams in the state from inspection. Included in that category are 216 dams ranked as significant hazards — the most hazardous category, based on the damage that would occur if they failed. That’s about 30 percent of the “significant hazard” dams in the state, Buchele wrote.

The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the possibility of a link between the earthquakes that are occurring more frequently in North Texas and subsidence caused by gas drilling. EPA researchers have said they’re not getting the data they need from Texas regulators.

Small groups of residents don’t have great track records in fighting well-funded energy companies and money-hungry city governments. But the Westchester group has won some impressive victories, though none came easily. They pushed for a stronger drilling ordinance, and the city council eventually adopted one. The group’s work resulted in one frack pond — a large manmade pool of water ready for drillers’ use — being moved farther away from houses and another being stopped before it was built. The city’s new ordinance banned the ponds within city limits altogether. The alliance’s vigorous protests also helped stop a gas collection line that would have been close to area homes. As a direct result of their opposition, four drilling sites — including two on which Chesapeake had already paid out lease bonuses to more than 1,000 people — were stopped before drilling began.

Reed and Read said that oil and gas companies resorted to dirty tactics, including planting people in town hall meetings to speak up against the moratorium on drilling near a dam.

The city wasn’t much better, the activists said. They accused officials of withholding information and refusing to listen to residents.
“The only time we got to speak our piece was five minutes every two weeks at city council meetings,” said Reed.

When Chesapeake built an enormous frack pond to hold water for the Corn Valley wells, the edge of it reached within 10 feet of her house, Reed said. When she couldn’t get the city to pay attention, she “took pictures and made 8-by-10 copies, and I put it in each one of [city council’s] mailboxes,” she said. “It got their attention,” she said. “After a meeting that night, [then-Mayor Charles England] said ‘I want you to know I did not vote for this.’ I said, ‘Yes, you did, because you let your staff do all of the investigative work and then you signed off on everything.’ ”

She said that she thought about giving up at times. “We’d done everything we knew how to do, and they just beat you down,” she said. “It was just an ongoing battle. The more we did, the more money [Chesapeake] would throw at it.” Reed said she’s happy about what the group got done but doesn’t see herself squaring off against energy companies and the city anytime soon. “I’ll do what I can to help, but I don’t have it in me to go start a fight all over again,” she said. “It was very emotional.

The whole time my husband would say, ‘You’re wasting your time. You’re never going to win against oil and gas.’

“I take great pleasure in telling him, ‘I told you so.’ ” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

Why does the “No Duty of Care” AER, legally immune, even for failing to protect Albertans and water from hydraulic fracturing, need a Liability Management Coordinator?

Fracking Quakes Pose Added Risks but Oil and Gas Companies Refuse to Share their Collected Seismic Data. “In low seismic environments like Fox Creek where the natural earthquakes are infrequent, the hazards from an induced seismic event can exceed the hazards from a natural source”

Did Alberta Just Break a Fracking Earthquake World Record with 4.4 Temblor at Fox Creek? Sounds of Silence: The Crooked Lake Earthquakes

New BC OGC Report: From August 2013 to October 2014 Fracking directly caused 193 earthquakes (11 felt on surface), 38 more caused by waste injection, in Montney basin area surrounding Dawson Creek and Ft St John

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