The Fracking Debate, Ctd

Readers from both sides of the divide tell their stories:

The oil and gas industry has been fracking wells for decades. It is not a new technology. I have worked in the industry for more than 30 years and took classes in the early 1980s on fracking. The majority of wells in Oklahoma have been fracked. The water supply has not been affected adversely. Having toured the water treatment facility in Tulsa there was no mention of contamination from oil and gas drilling and there have been thousands of wells drilled in northeastern Oklahoma since the early 1900s.

The major change in the drilling of oil and gas wells is that prior to the last decade most wells were vertical wells, meaning that a hole was drilled to a certain depth and the producing formation was fracked sending the fracking material into the zone so the oil and/or gas would be freed and sent to the surface. The amount of oil and gas that could be recovered was limited to the area around the vertical hole.

In recent years technology has improved to where a vertical hole is drilled to the desired formation and then it turns at a right angle and the hole is drilled horizontally for the length of one or two sections.

After the well is completed, it is fracked in that formation. The recovery with a vertical well was limited to as far as the fracking reached horizontally into the formation. The recovery from a horizontal well is much more efficient since the pipe runs horizontally through the formation. The well is fracked at predetermined intervals along the horizontal line. New technology also allows for a number of wells to be drilled from one drill site rather than the need for several drill sites.

The oil and gas industry is like any industry. Most of the players are responsible and it is the few bad actors that give the rest a bad name. The risk of pollution and danger are much more likely to happen when a well is depleted and it is not properly plugged and abandoned. Luckily the records we have today are very good and what took place in the early 1900s is not happening today.

Also it is important to remember that the oil and gas companies are in the business to turn a profit. The cost to drill a horizontal well is between $5,000,000 and $15,000,000 depending on depth and length of the horizontal leg. The well has to produce a lot of gas at $3.50 and/or oil at $90 a barrel to pay out. It is in the companies interest to make sure that the hole is secure and that the pipe does not leak or break. The amount of oil and/or gas in a formation is finite, and the oil company hopes that there are enough reserves to recover the drilling costs and make money far in the future. Wells are not all equal and many do not pay out.

I lean liberal and would rather live with oil and gas as a source for energy than nuclear and the question of keeping all the spent rods. Wind is also a good option but requires much more land space and, in my opinion, is a bigger eyesore than oil and gas development. I do worry about the amount of water that is used but there are ways to clean it up. There is also an online resource to find out the chemicals used in wells called Frac Focus.

Another is much more worried about the water issue:

I am the Director of Admissions at a small “environmentally aware” independent boarding school in Ohio that has considerable land resources. With the contraction of the independent school market that followed the recession in 2008, our school has seen a precipitous decline in enrollment and is located in a rural area that has traditionally been economically depressed. As you can imagine, we are a prime candidate for the oil and gas companies to woo into signing away our mineral rights. We have held out thus far. In my position I have been able to see the influence with which oil and gas companies have exercised to their benefit.

First, they work heavily with municipal leadership. Since these municipalities are cash strapped, mayors and city counselors are eager to bring money (doesn’t matter how much) into the town. Our head of school has been “called” into meetings with the mayor, who insists on breakfast and lunch meetings with representatives from the O & G folk. As it turns out, on top of the lease agreement that is signed for say, $6,000 per acre (a hefty sum for an area that has seen nothing but net population decrease since the 1950s), the company then goes out of its way to grant “gifts” to institutions that sign away the mineral rights. For example, our town has recently signed the property of the public high school to the O & G people. A week later, the company decides to spontaneously gift a sum of $40,000 to the high school. Same with the hospital. This is done with fanfare at a public event (in this case, a Chamber of Commerce meeting with local business owners). Though this is presented as a gift in the interest of being “corporate citizens,” in reality this is a signing bonus that is agreed upon before the lease is signed. The cherry on top.

The amount they are offering is chump change compared to both the net profits they will make in addition to the “unseen” costs of unregulated drilling. With the inflow of workers from out of state, rents in the area have skyrocket, pushing lower income residents out of town. They aren’t using local labor, and since wells only last 1-2 years, the influx of money to the local economy is only temporary, and is used to plug budget gaps that will just come up again in the near future. Retail and services benefit with the influx of new people, but will contract again in 8-10 years when the company moves on to greener pastures, leaving the town worse than where it started.

I must apologize, as I seem to be ranting, but there are two environmental angles that haven’t been covered as far as I have seen.

One is clearing. A local teacher found himself approached by the company, asking to lay pipe foundations across his property. In the contracts, the company stated that clearing 50 feet of forest on either side of the pipe was necessary for maintenance of the line (100 feet across). This would have effectively leveled most of his property. Though he didn’t sign, there are many more people who do because in addition to the mineral rights lease, they are given a sum of money per foot of pipe laid.

The second is the volume of water used, rather than just the pollution of our groundwater. We live in the watershed of a creek that flows into the Ohio River. The same teacher referenced above had taken students towards where the creek flows into the river, and found a well-cap that had been drilled in the flood basin of the creek, with hoses drawing water directly out of the creek. Where this gets particularly worrisome is that Ohio is a “free use” state, meaning these companies can draw up to 100,000 gallons of water from the creek per day regardless of time of year. The creek cannot sustain that kind of water draw, especially during the summer when the water levels drop. Especially when you have one well-cap per square mile all drawing water from the same creek.

We got in touch with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, who issue the permits for gas wells. They do no monitoring of the amount of water drawn, and instead referred us to three different agencies: Soil and Water, the EPA, and the Army Corps of Engineers. After attempting to get in touch with those three organizations, we realized there is no enforcement, only data-tracking at best.

These are huge problems that aren’t getting addressed because these companies are able to come into areas and dangle vast quantities of money in front of cash-strapped municipalities. This is where I disagree with an earlier reader, who said that putting this in charge of municipalities will make sure local issues are discussed. What is unfortunate is that most of the time these municipalities do not have the resources necessary to adequately assess the affect of fracking on their communities before its too late.

More views from readers here.