Ohio’s Official Fracking Water Damage Denialism

Yves here. It is not hard to imagine that the position taken by Ohio officials regarding what sure looks like fracking-induced damage to water supplies is being replicated in other states.

By Dan Fejes, who lives in northeast Ohio. Cross posted from Pruning Shears

About a year ago a local family began getting flammable water. The fact that their house’s recorded methane levels (along with their sink) shot up shortly after fracking began nearby was considered maybe not coincidental, so the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) looked into it. Before the agency did, though, it let the public know which way it was leaning: “Methane is naturally occurring in this portion of the state, and the water well in question was found to be drilled into shale, which may have led to these increased levels.”

Isn’t the point of an investigation to try and understand the cause, not to confirm one’s hunches? It doesn’t inspire a lot of faith in the impartiality of the investigation to start by declaring the expected outcome. (I noticed the same thing when North Dakota State Environmental Health Chief Dave Glatt said he didn’t expect to find groundwater contamination at their recent oil spill. Oil and gas regulators seem a little eager to pre-exonerate the industry they are supposed to be keeping an eye on.)

ODNR concluded its investigation a few weeks ago, and the result was no surprise to anyone who had seen the agency tip its hand at the outset:

An investigation by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources recently concluded that the gas in the Kline’s’ water well was chemically different from the gas produced by a Mountaineer Keystone oil and gas well 1,500 feet southeast of the house.

An Oct. 18 agency report said methane in the Kline’s’ well matched the methane found in natural gas that leaks from shallow underground sources into groundwater.

“Up to 40 percent of the water wells within the area of the (shale) drilling have some concentration of methane in them,” said Mark Bruce, a Department of Natural Resources spokesman. “Methane is naturally occurring.”

The verbatim use of “methane is naturally occurring,” in addition to being a favored pro-fracking talking point, is not especially relevant when discussing the impact of fracking. No one disputes that methane occurs naturally, or that some water supplies have high levels of it that long pre-date fracking. The relevant question (or one of them) is: what happens to that naturally occurring methane when heavy industrial activity begins nearby?

Setting off explosions below the earth and repeatedly forcing millions of gallons of chemical cocktails into the ground makes it more permeable. We already know that fluids in shale fields migrate much farther and much faster than previously thought, because busting up the earth makes it more porous. Saying that these fluids and gases are naturally occurring is trivial; stupid even. What matters is not whether they are naturally occurring but whether they are naturally migratory:

“It challenges the view that natural gas, and the suite of hydrocarbons that exist around it, is isolated from water supplies by its extreme depth,” said Judith Jordan, the oil and gas liaison for Garfield County, who has worked as a hydrogeologist with DuPont and as a lawyer with Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. “It is highly unlikely that methane would have migrated through natural faults and fractures and coincidentally arrived in domestic wells at the same time oil and gas development started, after having been down there … for over 65 million years.”

It’s entirely possible the Kline’s well was drilled into shale, and also that the methane is chemically different from that at the frack operation. That (possibly) shale-drilled well was working just fine until a year ago. Then the drilling began, and whoopsie their water began catching fire. Determining that the methane did not come directly from the drilling operation is only part of the answer. The other part, still unanswered, is whether a – naturally occurring! – pocket of methane was loosened up in newly permeable ground and migrated to the family’s property.

(A gas migration would be more like a tornado than an earthquake – going in a line and only affecting land in its path. Saying “it couldn’t be the drilling because other nearby houses were unaffected!” makes as much sense as saying a tornado didn’t level a house because neighboring houses were undamaged.)

It’s too late to know if that is in fact what happened, because there is no mapping of what the ground looked like prior to drilling. The fact that this entire area of hazard is unaccounted for doesn’t reflect very well on ODNR, though. If all they do is make sure contamination doesn’t come directly from operators, declare that it’s naturally occurring, and then wash their hands of it, Ohioans will have to bear the rest of the risk on their own. Given how easy it is to shuttle between the agency and the industry, that might bode well for regulators’ employment prospects once they leave. But it sure doesn’t do much for citizens.

NOTE: As of this writing, the report is not available on the ODNR web site.

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  1. PaulArt

    You get what you vote for. You voted for Kaisich and the GOPers and you get methane in your water. Be happy that Cyanide in water is for now delayed but it’s coming soon because what the ba**rds put into their water cocktails they inject into the ground is ‘proprietary’ meaning no one can ask them what the f**k it is. The only way to find out is when strange diseases and other plagues start cropping up. Drill baby drill. I have little sympathy for Ohio and other swing states and red states that will eventually discover how wonderful voting GOPer is like. Montana is a great place to go and find out what laissez faire economics with respect to natural gas drilling has done.

          1. Ulysses

            True that! I grew up a 20 minute bike ride away from Dryden, and know many anti-fracking activists all over upstate. They have no more connection to NYC power elites than do farmers in Iowa.

          2. Andy

            Not to start any flame wars, but if you think “upstate NY” has any real political power in this state then I’ve got a bridge in the City to sell.

            If the Court of Appeals upholds the local town’s ability to shut out fracking, then I’d agree there would be local upstate control town by town. But if they rule otherwise, then upstate is a the mercy of the ultra-liberal tree hugging NYC power elites – as per usual. (Norse Energy Corp. USA vs. Town of Dryden, et al.)

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Wow, do you have bridges to sell too?

              Upstate conservatives in the legislature routinely stall downstate initiatives in NY.

              1. bob

                Or, much more likely, upstate “conservatives” trade in their power to work for the king.


                Former conservative republican who ran for US congress in 2009. She dropped out of the 3 party race to allow the dem, Bill Owens, to win the race. The 3rd party conservative candidate, hoffman, had a chance until she bailed.

                And now she’s King Andy’s Number 2.

                1. Andy

                  Well, I guess that proves that upstate runs NY! I hope to see you all move up here and live amongst us powerful upstate elites that tell NYC what to do.


    1. diptherio

      Ugh…so everyone in Ohio, regardless of who they voted for, should just shut up and deal because a small majority of people voted Republican??? Your comment makes zero sense, bro. None. Whatsoever.

      And Montana, by the bye, has had a Dem governor for the last eight years, so obviously voting for one party or the other has nothing to do with the vagaries of the oil and gas industry. Or perhaps you’ll blame MT’s fracking on the Repubs in the legislature, since we voted another Dem into the governor’s mansion?

      Our problem is that the rich d-bags who are making a killing on fracking are buying off our politicians and our environmental policy making. Your beloved Democrats have been purchased right along with those horrid Republicans…sorry to burst your bubble. Your mean-spirited response only serves to draw attention away from the real problem (the wealthy have bought our government), whether or not that was your intent.

      Corruption is bi-partisan.

  2. LucyLulu

    This isn’t just a problem of captured regulators but a problem of regulatory exemption, courtesy of Congress. In 2005, the oil and gas industries were given several environmental impact exemptions to encourage more domestic exploration. This last year marks the third attempt by some members of Congress to end one of those, the exemption from the Clean Water Act. The new law would require obtaining permits prior to fracking and releasing contents of all fluids used, which would be then released to the public (except proprietary formulas).


    Even if Congress reverses the drinking water exemption, however, fracking would still be free of other important environmental protections. Specifically:

    Wastes from oil and gas drilling are exempt from the disclosure and hazardous waste handling requirements of the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act.
    Oil and gas companies are exempt from the requirement to report releases of toxic substances under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.
    Oil and gas construction facilities are free of the Clean Water Act’s requirement to obtain storm water runoff permits.
    Oil and gas drilling sites are not grouped together for purposes of the Clean Air Act, which requires other industries to count smaller sources of emissions as a single unit to reflect overall impact on air quality.
    Oil and gas drillers are exempt from the liability and clean-up cost provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
    Certain oil and gas drilling activities do not require an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act.

  3. bob

    Causality is impossible to prove in these instances. This is the one major reason to not allow the practice to even begin.

    These stories are just the first wave. After a few years of water movement through the rock, different areas my be affected.


    The rock that overlays the “gas shale” is very similar to a brick wall. When you start to TRY to introduce vertical fractures (fracking) you have very little control over where they end up.

    There was a study a few months ago from the gas lobby that purported to “prove” the safety of fracking. It also proved that in one instance, among their very small sample set, that the “fracks” can end up thousands of feet away from their intended destination. One ended less than 1,000 feet below the surface.

    There is no “safe” way to this. It’s insane.

    1. bob

      If fracking is coming to your area, have your water tested, now, and often. Get your neighbors to do the same.

      I think part of the reason that NY has fought them off is that there was a major push by several local organizations to test and document wells, streams, etc on a very wide basis. Water? get a sample.

      Smaller areas looking to fight them off (they come in plagues) could use this to make their area a less attractive place to pollute. Test everything, and let them know you’re doing that.

      You still can’t prove causation, but you can document as much as possible before they start drilling.

      1. Jhallc

        Excellent point. Any injection well here in Massachusetts would likely have to sample any drinking water wells within a radius for background levels of the chemicals injected. This should be a requirement of the O&G company before any approval is given to drill. At some point this will happen but, not before numerous wells are contaminated.

        1. bob

          Wells have been contaminated already.

          We might have gotten some science out of it if the gas companies weren’t so quick to settle individual civil suits out of court with gag orders and moving vans attached.

          This was a favorite-


          “A 10-year-old boy and his 7-year-old sister have been forbidden from discussing fracking for the rest of their lives under the terms of a court settlement with several gas companies.”

          As is pointed out above by LucyLulu “energy” is exempt from lots of state regulations via federal law.

          Yes, they should be required to do X. They aren’t.

          1. Martin Finnucane

            “A 10-year-old boy and his 7-year-old sister have been forbidden from discussing fracking for the rest of their lives under the terms of a court settlement with several gas companies.”

            Please tell me that that cannot possibly be enforceable. A settlement is a contract, right, and children cannot have contractual terms enforced against them on grounds of competency, right. Right?

            1. Massinissa

              I could almost understand it if it were like 3 years.

              But FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES?

              That sounds more like a joke than an actual resolution: I wish I could not believe it.

              1. bob

                It’s a civil matter. Between two parties that “settled” for 750k. If at some point in the future one of the kids says one of those words, the gas company can send a 750k bill to the parents.

                Would the settlement stand in court? Good luck finding a lawyer to work for you after you just got a 750k bill.

                It’s similar to the way “leases” work. They are really much closer to loans. They give you money up front, and then use that loan as leverage to do whatever they want. Don’t like it? Hope you didn’t spend any of “our money”.

              2. Yves Smith Post author

                I would have to believe that when the children become adults they can contest this as 1. done without their consent and 2. parents lacking the right/ability to bind their children to contracts once they are no longer their official guardians.

                1. bob

                  Contest it? How? You just got a 750k bill(plus interest?) for breach of contract.

                  And several of the stories detail the pre-settlment discussions where it is made quite clear what the parents were signing away.

                  Even if they still have the 750k in the bank, it may not be enough to fight it in court.

                  1. Yves Smith Post author

                    No, the PARENTS got the $.

                    For a contract to be binding, you have to have competent parties signing not under coercion and have consideration be paid.

                    The parents can’t bind the action of their children once the kids become adults. And the kids didn’t get the consideration, their parents did.

                    1. bob

                      So, if one of the kids, after turning 18, decides to talk about fracking, what stops the gas co from going after the settlement money given to the parents?

                      Will/can the parents be dragged into court?

                    2. LucyLulu

                      The deal can be structured by the gas company to exert pressure on the children to comply, first through the parents, then later directly. The settlement is set up as an annuity (as they often are), payable initially to the parents, then to the kids once they reach the age of majority. As soon as anybody talks, payments end. Thus compliance is ‘encouraged’ until human fracking profitseekers have retired to some tropical paradise, assets safely installed offshore.

    2. Ulysses

      Yes, it is insane. The bravery of the Mi’kmaq defenders of their ancestral land against frackers in Canada is truly inspirational. They need our support to continue their resistance against RCMP violence.

      “We are not giving up despite these harsh weather conditions, sacrificing time with our families, our jobs, our homes, not only to protect land, water and people but to ensure a brighter future for the next 7 generations. We are asking for more support, through road blocks to be in solidarity. This is not just an Elsipogtog issue, this is a global issue and we need to raise awareness. Show us support any way possible, sending thank you’s, road blocks, banners, even dropping by, all and every type of support is appreciated.”


  4. Jardinero1

    Three points of fact:

    1. The frac job occurred several thousand feet below the well water.
    2. After the frac job, the hydrocarbons move along the path of least resistance to the surface, which is along the fracture lines and into the well casing.
    3. Everyone does know what the ground looked like prior to drilling and fracing. The area was surveyed, extensively, using 3d seismic surveys, prior to the first well being drilled.

  5. Rutherford

    As a professional geologist with over 35 years of experience in oil and gas exploration and production I find articles and commentary such as this quite interesting.  The articles and comments are usually anecdotal, emotional and bear little relation to the technical realities.  It is much akin to a geologist with little knowledge of banking and finance opining to Yves on the dangers Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan or the Federal Reserve are creating for our society, which I do believe they are.
    The occurrence of natural gas in shallow fresh water aquifers is very common in the northeastern states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan due to the geology of the region.  This shallow gas is compositionally different from deeper sources of natural gas and usually can be easily distinguished by geochemical analysis.  With regards to hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas wells causing contamination in shallow fresh water aquifers there are a couple of salient points.  Creating vertical fractures of more than a few hundred feet in height is nearly impossible due to overburden pressure from thousands of feet of overlying rock layers.  Creating and extending fractures horizontally is much easier due to the stress fields involved.  These horizontally induced fractures can extend a few thousand feet laterally in rare occurrences, but usually they only extend out a few hundred feet.  Bear in mind that the unconventional drilling boom of the past decade in North America has occurred in oil and gas reservoirs that are at depths of more than five thousand feet, with the great majority of the wells targeting reservoirs at ten to twelve thousand foot depths.  Hydraulic fracturing in these reservoirs will not connect to near surface aquifers.  There is not enough energy available short of nuclear explosives that can generate the energy needed to create such extensive fracture systems.  The second point is that the real environmental concerns with regards to hydraulic fracturing are with handling and disposal of the frac liquids used and any associated saline formation water.  These are produced to the surface facilities after the well is completed.  When a hydraulically fractured well is completed an operator will flow the well to surface facilities, often capturing a majority of the liquids used to fracture the reservoir and to carry the proppant (sand) into the fractures.  How this produced liquid is handled, re-used or disposed of is the concern.  If the steel casing and cement in the vertical portion of the oil or gas well has been installed poorly or compromised then the potential for migration of frac fluids, gas or oil into shallow aquifers is a possibility.  The discovery of methane gas in a water well could be caused by leakage from a nearby well, although I believe this is a rare occurrence.  Inexpensive geochemical analysis of natural gas from producing oil and gas wells and nearby water wells would answer the question of whether the gas contamination is naturally occurring or caused by leakage from nearby oil or gas wells.
    In the article Yves has cited by Mr. Fejes, he states “We already know that fluids in shale fields migrate much farther and much faster than previously thought”.  Go back and check his citation.  There is no knowledge here, only “theorized” and “computer modeled”.  He mentions the “setting off explosions beneath the earth”.  The hydraulic fracturing process being used does not involve “setting off explosions” in any way.  Readers should be objective and discerning in reading any article, including these comment of mine.
    Finally, we can all wish for a sustainable, benign permanent energy source to fuel our world for the foreseeable future.  It is my hope too that such a source will not require mining of metals and rare earth minerals, building of large hydro projects, massive surface arrays of solar panels, or wind turbines that are an visual blight and avian shredder.  At this time there is no such energy free lunch out there!  Because of this I am a petroleum geologist who is proud of our industry’s efforts to fuel our nation.  To those who are adamantly against the use of responsibly developed oil and natural gas I will absolutely defend your right to refuse to use any and all fossil fuels.  I support any legislation outlawing the use of these products in any state that refuses the development of hydrocarbon fuels within its borders. The northeastern U.S. uses many billions of cubic feet of natural gas and millions of barrels of oil per year, most of which is produced from outside the region. Admittedly, transportation to and from your very cold homes in New York City and Boston won’t be easy, but smug righteousness will surely generate inner warmth in the hearts of true believers in the cause!

      1. bob goodwin

        Noun . shill (plural shills) A person paid to endorse a product favorably, while pretending to be impartial.

        How was he pretending to be impartial? Do you have facts? Why is it necessary to discredit someone just because they bring data that is inconsistent with your narrative?

        He wasn’t even endorsing, he seemed to be saying that there were real environmental issues, but that the post was barking up the wrong tree.

        If you want fracking to stop, say why. Because putting your fingers in your ear and going “nyah nyah I’m not listening” undermines a legitimate question.

    1. Lune


      You had a great, informative post there until you hit your last paragraph. Really? So any state that bans fracking within its borders forfeits its right to *any* hydrocarbons whatsoever? Does this mean that any state that bans certain pesticides forgoes its right to any food (even, presumably food it produces within its own borders, to make the analogy with your proposed law complete)? How about any state that bans certain union activities as harmful to their economy (i.e. right-to-work states) is prohibited from buying any manufactured product?

      Your extremist conclusions rest on two fallacies:

      1) the notion that despite being in a federal union, every state should have absolute power to control everything that might have any effect on anything within its own borders. Coming from a state like Ohio which through a quirk of federal election law essentially decides the President for the rest of us, this is quite ironic.

      2) That people opposed to fracking are opposed to all hydrocarbon extraction. Nope. If you truly are in support of “responsible” hydrocarbon development, then you should welcome the debate on whether long-term fracking and other unconventional extraction techniques is truly responsible. And whether their long-term costs, including all externalities not reflected in its per-barrel price, is competitive vis-a-vis other energy sources (including more conventionally drilled oil & gas). If you truly believe that the data and the truth is on your side, then join the debate and shape public opinion rather than resort to threats of ransom and extortion.

      1. Rutherford

        Thanks for your reply, perhaps the sarcasm/irony alert should have been clearly on for the last paragraph, I was not serious about legislation and state boundary issues, the point is that it is tiresome and amazingly hypocritical for urban/suburban, high energy consuming individuals in our country to have such universally unrelenting negative criticism of the oil and gas industry. Residents of New York gladly import huge quantities of fossil energy but have the classic NIMBY philosophy. They have little or no knowledge of the complexity and effort it takes to reliably deliver energy to the gasoline pump, the stovetop, light switch or hot water heater. Not whining, just saying the unrelenting criticism wears thin quite quickly. The criticism will reverse poles overnight if (or when) there are brownouts, reduced availability of gasoline and aviation fuel, much higher fuel costs, etc.
        My own take on the current revival of domestic oil and gas production is that it gives this country about a fifteen year window to afford to make a large-scale transition to renewables. Storage systems for electricity generated by solar, wind, etc. are absolutely necessary to do this if we want to sustain our modern society. Such systems will probably require enormous mining operations to provide the minerals and metals necessary for battery manufacture. Otherwise we should all get ready for a significantly less comfortable and affluent life over the coming decades. Perhaps that would be healthier for a great many people and the environment, but that is another discussion. There is no doubt that fossil fuel usage has had a very significant negative impact on the environment, but it also has transformed society in amazingly positive ways. The fossil energy wealth has transformed society from a largely agrarian society with short life expectancies and poor sanitation to a modern world with all of its complexities, comforts and population. A real problem facing us soon will be that the era of relatively cheap fossil fuel is not going to last much longer. Much of the agricultural revolution over the past century has been based on cheap energy and fertilizers based upon hydrocarbons. Food production as it is currently done may suffer significantly when fuels and fertilizer get more expensive and scarce.

        1. Mark P.

          Rutherford wrote: “If the steel casing and cement in the vertical portion of the oil or gas well has been installed poorly or compromised then the potential for migration of frac fluids, gas or oil into shallow aquifers is a possibility.”

          And, of course, that’s the first big problem.

          The industry’s own documents and case studies show about 6 percent of cement casings failing upon installation. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection bears this out: it found 6.2 percent of new gas wells were leaking in 2010, 6.2 percent in 2011 and 7.2 percent in 2012.

          And the industry, having studied the problem for decades, knows this. In a report, “Well Integrity Failure Presentation”, Archer, the drilling service company, reports that nearly 20 percent of all oil and gas wells are leaking worldwide. A 2003 joint industry publication from Schlumberger, the world’s number one fracking company, and ConocoPhillips, an oil and gas giant, cites astronomical failure rates of 60 percent over a 30-year span.

          1. bob

            “Schlumberger, the world’s number one fracking company”

            And likely the employer of Mr. Rutherford.

        2. Lune

          My own take on the current revival of domestic oil and gas production is that it gives this country about a fifteen year window to afford to make a large-scale transition to renewables.

          At least this much we agree on then: fracking, shale, and tar sands are only a short term source of oil and gas where wells decline much faster than in traditional sources. And I think this is the point of many (including myself) objections to fracking: the long-term costs in environmental damage have a strong likelihood of being high (not certain of course since we don’t have long-term experience yet), while the benefit is actually quite meagre: a dramatic bump up in domestic production for 15 years, than an equally dramatic decline as the wells rapidly stop producing. Do we really want to risk ecosystems and aquifers that we’ve relied on for centuries merely to delay doing what’s needed for another 15 years?

    2. Crazy Horse

      If we ignore your off-the-wall “solution” in the concluding paragraph and remain open-minded about the validity of your preceding statements, there is an easy way to begin to determine responsibility for contamination from fracking fluids. In order to receive a permit to frack a well anywhere, the applicant should be required to provide a full public listing of all the chemical components in the fracking fluid they utilize. No disclosure, no permit— no exceptions. In addition, each company licensed to perform fracking operations should be required to add an approved unique chemical marker to their fluid to enable any contamination to be linked directly to the source company.

      A common sense regulation like this will exist whenever all the Halliburtons, BPs and Chesapeakes of the world are broken up and their officers sent to prison along with all the politicians they have bribed.

      1. Rutherford

        Could not agree with you more on the disclosure and tracking statement! Actually we usually use tracers in frac jobs to determine the movement of the frac fluids into nearby producing oil or gas wells.

        Also, I was not proposing an ‘off the wall’ solution, just sarcasm that was misunderstood, I will keep eating produce from California, consuming products from New York and exporting natural gas to Massachusetts even if here in Oklahoma I find their politics or policies not to my liking!

      2. Rutherfor

        There are hundreds of companies in the U.S. deploying hydraulic fracturing treatments in thousands of horizontal wells each year. Do you really think that most of them are bribing regulatory officials in a dozen or more states? I have worked for three companies over the past eight years and have never heard of anyone any thinking about bribing officials. It probably happens in some places but it is not part of my experience! Your evidence?
        However, if we are going to go prosecuting, let’s visit the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, Goldman, Morgan, Bank of America, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Congress, Illinois statehouse, regulatory agencies and really clean up the corruption!

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Your argument is hardly persuasive. Do you seriously think if someone was involved in something underhanded they’d tell you? Lordie. No one dealing personally with Rajat Gupta of McKinsey of McKinsey or Bernie Madoff had them wink and nod they were up to no good.

          And bribery in the US is far more subtle than envelopes of cash. We have socially acceptable ways of doing it.

        2. bob

          They don’t have to bribe local officials. They are exempt from most local laws via federal “clean water rules”.

          But, you know this.

          Again, try to get a state permit to hold frack water, in a tank, on your property.

          It won’t happen. It’s called hazardous waste when the gas companies aren’t using it.

        3. bob goodwin


          I appreciated all of your comments and appreciated the facts and opinion and found them authentic, but I don’t think you are aware of the amount of capture that has happened in government over the last decade. This is something that is not well understood left or right. It is a mistake to assume that capture means bribery. Most capture has plausible deniability, sometimes even good intent. But there is opportunistic application of law in finance, energy and drugs that I understand to be well documented, even in the absence of prosecutions, and even when caught red handed (IRS, for example) are protected. I am not going to dig up links, but every regulated industry is involved in politics, and trying to influence every move. Politicians are delegating policy to “experts” whom independently have a deep willingness to help politicians in any way possible.

          I think we should be offended by capture in general rather than expect laws to be fair and clear and always prosecuted.

    3. CagewasBrahms

      Thank you for the factual presentation. Public knowledge of hydraulic fracturing limited. 
      My background is also geology 37 years). I’m not in favor of this path for providing the means for existence believing that changing the forms of our existence is a wiser course. That discussion is for another time. 

      Here is more factual information as dispassionate as I can make it.

      Natural gas has always been around.  Much of it is flared off at oil well heads. More of it is deliberately harvested.

      Gas wells with low porosity and low permeability need stimulation to be productive. They usually lie at considerable depth (6,500-8,000 feet but they vary), compared to aquifers (0-2,000 feet). That depth separation is the important flow barrier between the naturally over-pressured reservoirs and the surface. 

      Factors effecting gas production include:
      Viscous flow (pressure driven volume flow), capillary processes,
      diffusion, gas desorption. Porosity, specifically pore throat size and permeability together control flow through the formation to the well bore and are read as pore pressure. As pore pressure falls effective pressure (the difference between overburden pressure and pore pressure) rises and tends to close pore throats elastically reducing productivity even more. Connectivity  and “diffusional tortuosity” in shale matrices likely have effects also. Pore topology needs more study.

      After well stimulation (fracturing and sand emplacement) a pressure gradient is created. The consequent pressure-driven volume flow dominates initially. Over time the gradient vanishes and viscous flow stops. Continued production then depends on desorption of the gas bounded to the clay mineral surfaces. These surfaces are in fact the fracture surfaces created during the “fracking”. After exhaustion of the sorbed gas, diffusion becomes the dominant process and might be continuous and ubiquitous but volumes are negligible for commercial productions. This regime of pressure-driven flow, desorption, to diffusion is reflected in the production curve of any given well.

      Chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing constitute about 0.5% of the fluid and are comprised of 
      1. Acid, of the type used to maintain balance in swimming pools and which are exhausted within a few feet of the well bore.
      2. Surfactants (isopropanol) used in glass cleaners, antiperspirants, hair colorants
      3. Friction reducers such as used in hair, makeup and skin products
      4. Guar gum thickener used in ice cream, baked goods, toothpaste.
      5. Clay stabilizer (KCl) as used in salt substitute products

      This is not an endorsement of these chemicals as used just a point of information. Also keep in mind volume and concentration are key to any chemical’s bearing on life forms, etc.

      Hydraulic fracturing is a completion technique not a drilling technique and has been done since the 1940s. A properly constructed well is separated from near surface aquifers by (from the outside) a layer of cement, a steel surface casing, another layer of cement, another intermediate steel casing and finally a production bore. No fluids can travel up the cement or horizontally through it. It is very difficult for fracking fluids to contaminate the surface simply because gravity prevents migration from reservoir depths. 
      However this is only potentially valid in flat terrain.  In mountainous terrain arcing groundwater paths can carry toxic frac fluid to discharge in springs and mix with shallow groundwater.  Mountainous terrain is erosionally  unloaded 
      so as to reduce horizontally confining stresses on natural fractures and enhance permeability at depth. In areas such as Colorado hydrology of the area has not been studied and the huge volumes of fracking fluids and well densities are a potential threat for resurfacing in the future since we are completely ignorant of time scales involved for the fluids to travel.

      There is lack of good data concerning gas leakage at shallow depths both natural and as a result of extraction. Methane is easily analyzed for Carbon isotopes. Shallow (water well) contamination is usually from bacteria derived CH4. Their carbon is different from hydrocarbons from depth. 

      Surface pollution at present is almost completely due to poor “hygiene” and with volumes and densities involved coupled with a “gold rush” mentality the incidence is considerable.

      1. bob

        “Hydraulic fracturing is a completion technique not a drilling technique and has been done since the 1940s”

        In what types of wells? Water? Gas? Oil?

        With what chemicals? You don’t throw diesel fuel and biocides in a water well.

        When did horizontal drilling become “viable”? Without horizontal drilling, there would be no way to vertically fracture rock.

        All “fracking” is done via horizontal wells.

        You cannot “frack” what you do not drill. You cannot drill what you don’t survey.

        It’s a major industrial process. Huge in scale, and time. That timeline does not end when the drilling and fracking stops.

        How much of the “frackwater” will end up back on the surface? (trick question, but might show where your loyalties lie)

        And finally, in what ever state you live in, call up your DEC or DEP or whatever and tell them you want to store fracking water on your property. Go over to the gas company sites and get their list and send it in.

        They’ll get a good laugh out of your application before stamping “deny” on it. The driller get away with it only because they are exempt from state level laws.

        1. CagewasBrahms


          Hydraulic fracturing is a completion technique not a drilling technique and has been done since the 1940s

          “In what types of wells? Water? Gas? Oil?”

          Hydraulic fracturing is used to “squeeze” oil or gas out of rock formations but has also been used mainly in Australia to stimulate water wells.

          “With what chemicals? You don’t throw diesel fuel and biocides in a water well.”

          I listed the chemicals. See my original post. Neither diesel fuel or biocides are relevant or useful in any way to the fracking process.  If they occur in well water it’s likely because someone f-/:up on the surface and/or it’s from a source not related to fracking.

          “When did horizontal drilling become “viable”? Without horizontal drilling, there would be no way to vertically fracture rock. 

          I don’t know when horizontal drilling became viable but by the early ’90s the cost premium over vertical had dropped from 300% to about 17%. 

          “All “fracking” is done via horizontal wells.”

          You cannot “frack” what you do not drill. You cannot drill what you don’t survey.”

          So what is your point?

          “How much of the “frackwater” will end up back on the surface? (trick question, but might show where your loyalties lie)”

          Ultimately zero if all goes well. Whatever does is a result of poor “hygiene” on the part of the operators. 
          Again, what is your point?

          1. bob

            Your list is gas company BS, and not nearly complete.

            Diesel fuel and Biocides are well known components of fracking fluid.


            ALL of the fracking fluid will end up on the surface as the well bore collapses over time. ALL OF IT.

            “I don’t know when horizontal drilling became viable but by the early ’90s the cost premium over vertical had dropped from 300% to about 17%.”

            So then, “high volume slick water hydraulic fracturing of horizontal gas wells” (called fracking, for short) hasn’t been around since the 40’s. It’s been around since the 90’s.

            1. CagewasBrahms

              Thanks for the link although I notice it’s through the BC Oil and Gas commission so if your concern is industry and government PR misdirection why rely on their list?
              IIRC the first fracked well was in 1947 in a vertical bore using pressurized water. High volume slick water fracking is relatively recent.

              1. bob

                So the BC oil and gas group admitting they use biocides and diesel fuel somehow makes you right when you claimed that-

                “I listed the chemicals. See my original post. Neither diesel fuel or biocides are relevant or useful in any way to the fracking process. If they occur in well water it’s likely because someone f-/:up on the surface and/or it’s from a source not related to fracking.”

                Because it seems that you were completely and unambiguously proven wrong by the gas industry’s own website.

            2. bob goodwin

              The process was further described by J.B. Clark of Stanolind in his paper published in 1948. A patent on this process was issued in 1949 and an exclusive license was granted to the Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company. On March 17, 1949, Halliburton performed the first two commercial hydraulic fracturing treatments

              1. bob

                The first instance of “fracking” was probably some guy who threw a lit stick of dynamite down a dry water well.

                Patents? We don’t need no stinking patents…

    4. bob

      “The hydraulic fracturing process being used does not involve “setting off explosions” in any way.”

      That’s a straight up lie, and you know it.

      You’re obviously employed by the extraction industry. How do they “frack” without explosives?

      1. CagewasBrahms

        Please consult your local Wikipedia. You don’t know what you are talking about. Or you are a shit disturber.

        1. bob

          They “frack” gas wells with shaped charges. Shaped charges are “charges” because they contain “explosive”.

          Wikipedia? How many guys in your PR room are tasked with making sure that stays “clean”?

        2. bob

          “shit disturber”

          As far as the status quo industry PR goes, yes. I will continue to work to disturb all of their bull shit.

          And I still won’t disturb 1% of the shit that they do with just one well.

        3. Yves Smith Post author

          Oh I see, when we are losing an argument, resort to ad hominem attacks.

          Those are against house rules here, BTW.

          And I notice how this post attracted, count ’em, two first time commentors who persistently defended fracking. Hope you guys are paid well.

        4. bob goodwin

          I am not with ad hominem, but trying to seek facts.

          Shaped charge blasts make a series of holes (one centimetre in diameter) along the well walls

          This was the only reference I could find for shape charges in hydraulic fracturing in about 20 minutes of searching. While it appears technically correct that it is a shape charge, the sense I got throughout was that explosives were being used for fracturing. Using a small shape charge to drill holes is a lot like using a shotgun to drill holes. Am I wrong, or is the explosive argument a dishonest misdirection?

          1. bob

            Go to a fracking site. There will be a very large, brightly painted box with the words “EXPLOSIVE” written all over it.

          2. bob

            Drill a hole with a bullet? It’s similar, but you need a whole lot more kick than gunpowder to make it through several meters of “tight shale”.

            The most “common” form of a shaped charge is an RPG.


            “An RPG comprises two main parts: the launcher and a rocket equipped with a warhead. The most common types of warheads are high explosive (HE) or high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds.”

            They were designed to take out tanks. Is that “explosive” enough?

            1. bob goodwin

              I will concede the point but still can’t find evidence. A 1cm hole through a wall is the only shape charge I could find. I did not see any references to RPCs in fracking, and nor did I say thy used shotguns, I said that shotguns could drill a 1 cm hold through a wall. I will try some more and find my error. Fracking looks dangerous, but I am only finding methane levels in methane country and nowhere else, 2 cases of chemicals from fracking fluid in water. And surface contamination. But with 5-40% failure they must not be looking very hard at wells, or because there is part of the story untold.

  6. reslez

    Creating vertical fractures of more than a few hundred feet in height is nearly impossible…

    There is not enough energy available short of nuclear explosives that can generate the energy needed to create such extensive fracture systems…

    You say this with a great deal of certainty, but if I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that such certainties dissolve all too quickly in the face of evidence.

    The truth is we don’t know all that much about fracking and how it impacts local geology. To express such certainty as you have “as a professional geologist” is irresponsible at the least. Given the fact we’ve seen multiple earthquakes related to fracking — which were also previously believed to be “nearly impossible” — I’m going to view this as an open question until more evidence rolls in.

    The fact that so much financial motivation lies on one side of the balance leads to a healthy and natural suspicion of these kinds of statements.

    1. Rutherford

      Evidence of fracture height growth during hydraulic fracturing is provided much of the time by detailed live micro-seismic surveys taken while the hydraulic fracturing job is being done. These 3-D surveys clearly show the extent and location of the fractures being created. Nearby oil and gas wells also provide direct evidence of fracture growth and transmission when frac fluids enter the nearby wells. We have a good handle on this.

      With regards to the multiple earthquakes you refer to, they are not associated with the hydraulic fracturing. They are however closely associated with the injection of waste waters into deep saline aquifers. The pressured injected water likely moves into existing fault zones and acts as a lubricant expediting movement on the fault releasing local stresses. No injection wells should be sited near fault zones. Geophysical and geological mapping can clearly identify faulting in the subsurface prior to issuing permits for injection wells.

      1. Dan

        Re: This: “With regards to the multiple earthquakes you refer to, they are not associated with the hydraulic fracturing.”

        That’s a somewhat deceptive argument that fracking supporters use pretty regularly. The forthright way to discuss the issue is the end-to-end industrial process, not just the drilling of the well. So yes, the eathquakes are attributed to fracking, just not at the one step in the process you isolate.

        For example, this too is attributable to fracking, even though the surveying is not part of the well drilling process:


        A knowledgeable person like yourself should be willing to address the full range of activities associated with fracking and not try to isolate the discussion to a single slice of it.

        As for “We have a good handle on this,” this does not strike me as a good handle:


        Nor does this:


        Perhaps one’s estimation of how good a handle we have is inversely proportional to distance from the epicenter.

      2. Rutherford

        I was speaking of the process of hydraulically fracturing the reservoir rock in a well as not being the cause of the earthquakes. The movement of frac fluids away from the wellbore when the frac treatment is emplaced is readily monitorable with seismic and wellbore observations. That is the point.
        I believe I was quite clear that the water injection was the issue, and the NBC post says the same. Not trying to be deceptive, just trying to clarify that hydraulically fracturing the rocks does not induce the earthquakes that have gotten media attention, nor does it inject water into shaloow aquifers. I am quite willing to discuss the full range of activities associated with oil and gas production, but labeling them collectively as ‘fracking’ is technically inaccurate and confusing.

        1. bob

          Presumably you went to school for geology. How many people that you graduated with work for the energy industry?

          How many work for state or local regulators?

          10 to 1?

        2. Dan

          I’d say you were somewhat clear and not quite clear. Yes, you wrote that water injection was the issue, but adding that it’s not associated with the hydraulic fracturing muddies the issue.

          From a geologist’s perspective it may be true that “labeling them collectively as ‘fracking’ is technically inaccurate and confusing.” But in the real world people aren’t going to care about fine distinctions over what part of the gas exploration process is impacting them. They care about how the entirety of the process affects their health, their land, their property values, and so on.

          Or: The Crumbley’s might not care what aspect of the fracking process collapsed their well. The Kline’s might not be terribly relieved to know that the methane polluting their water is chemically distinct from the methane at the drill site. Resource extraction came to town and their quality of life was significantly degraded. That’s what really matters. The umbrella term for that process, in layman’s terms, is fracking. In that context, saying that one particular part of that process does not have a specific effect amounts to hairsplitting – and again, muddies the issue.

  7. bob

    Rutherford and CagewasBrahms-

    Have water wells been contaminated by fracking water?


    Very simple questions. The first is a yes or no question, no qualifiers. The second you can use to demonstrate your vast PR spin.

    1. CagewasBrahms

      “Have water wells been contaminated by fracking water?”

      How the hell would I know. I wasn’t there.

      I am not here to provide PR. I do not work for industry or government. If you find the information I provide useful, you are welcome. I try to be as dispassionately factual as possible.
      Re read my original post where I state quite clearly where I stand. Get of your high horse and temper your posts with intelligence and grace, please.

      1. bob

        Grace and intelligence? Fuck your grace. Continue to demonstrate your lack of intelligence.

        You’ve been directly refuted several times now. I’m not sure how graceful I can be with someone who continues to spread outright lies.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        1. You resorted to ad hominem attacks (“shit stirrer”) first so you can hardly claim the high ground.

        2. You’ve presented misleading information at multiple points, starting with trying to equate the fracking (which uses trivial amounts of water) in conventional oil exploration with the fracking used to extract unconventional reserves, such as shale gas. This has been debunked at length in earlier comment sections.

        I don’t have much tolerance for dishonesty and misdirection and you are dispensing large amounts of each.

  8. kimsarah

    What century are we in?
    Purposely causing earthquakes by drilling for gas and oil, and injecting secret chemicals into the groundwater, without regard to the consequences?
    Our laws now put the onus on property owners and residents to prove they’ve been harmed.
    How barbarian is that?
    What happened to laws that protect the earth and its inhabitants, and putting the onus on corporations with the deep pockets to prove their actions will harm no one?
    What a sad commentary.
    ALEC with the help of lawmakers and the U.S. Chamber has been spending the past 20 years rewriting the callous laws that today we see being ram-rodded through state legislatures and House of Representatives that they now control. Just look at their 2014 agenda they are planning.
    Who on the progressive side is writing stronger laws to protect our environment so that if and when we get control again, we can immediately reverse the damage they’ve done? Where’s our agenda? The Democratic National Committee certainly won’t look out for us.
    We should take a page from Elizabeth Warren’s playbook. Rather than playing defense in trying to protect Social Security being ripped apart, piece by piece, legislation should be introduced to strengthen it, make it better.
    Go on the offensive.
    Let the rats scamper back to their dark hiding places.

  9. kimsarah

    We already went through a period from the 1940s to 1970s of unlined landfills, pumping of raw toxic waste into waterways and the air, and of midnight tanker trucks unloading waste in the countryside. It was Richard Nixon, no less, who signed the EPA into law.
    Google a list of Superfund sites in your state or region to get an idea of the toxic legacy we are still dealing with.
    One has to wonder after all that, how we got to today’s fracking craze — openly destroying the water and air that our society is still trying to fix from a previous generation. How that makes sense to any reasonable policy maker is beyond me.

  10. Grant G

    Glad you joined the fracking debate Yves…Problem is there is no debate, industry and the regulator have merged, or if you like, morphed into one of the same..Independent science and study are given no standing, their opinions rebuffed.

    There is one bright spot in all of this, time, within 2 decades America won`t have any a whiff of natural gas left and you`ll be back to importing gas from traditional sources, fracked wells deplete of their holdings very quickly..And yes, you can`t blow up shale WITHOUT affecting local water supplies, maybe even water supplies far off, not to mention the chemical cocktail.

    For your perusal…The Leaking And The Lemon.


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