Blog Description

Fraccing With Two C's is a blog focused on the highly controversial topic of hydraulic fracturing stimulation in the oil and gas industry. The title of this blog stems from the slang term for hydraulic fracturing as it is spelled in the oil and gas industry, which differs from that commonly used in the media and by the general public, 'fracking'. Fracture stimulation is also commonly referred to as fracing, but at Colorado School of Mines the Petroleum Engineering Department generally spells the slang term with two c's.

This blog will address some of the concerns, misconceptions, and recent news on this topic. Though personal opinions are present, we will remain factual and provide evidence for all discussions. We welcome comments of all sorts, whether they agree or disagree with our opinions, as long as they are appropriate for a classroom setting, since this is a project for a science communication course.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Frack Free Colorado

Being the nerd that I am, I adore Discovery Channel's Mythbusters. What geek doesn't?! On this show, a group of scientists and engineers get together and test myths to see if they are actually true. I thought it would be fun to do a little Mythbustsers blog on a recent protesting event in Colorado. Last week, Denver hosted an event called Frack Free Colorado to inform the public of the dangers of hydraulic fracture stimulation. The event website has a series of facts on hydraulic fracturing and says the event consisted of "a free concert, world-renowned speakers, good ole fashioned protesting & solutions." I want to look at some of these facts a little, Mythbuster style.

Frack Free Colorado Website as documented by Fractivist Blog on Blogger

Fact 1: "Colorado doesn't have enough water. 2-8 million gallons of fresh water are used per well. There are over 48,000 active wells in Colorado. [That equals] half a million olympic sized swimming pools."

Mythbusting: Hydraulic fracturing does use a lot of water, but not every well requires fracture stimulation! The first oil field in Colorado was discovered in 1881 but modern hydraulic fracturing wasn't even put in use until the nineties. Some wells have an economic life of over fifty years, so its likely that out of the 48,000 wells in Colorado, a lot have never received modern fracture stimulation. Also, most companies do everything that they can to re-use completion fluids. Obtaining so much water is expensive and often quite a hassle, so recycling water for multiple wells reduces the concern of massive water volume usage. So, while it is true that frac jobs use a lot of water, it isn't nearly that much!

Fact 2: "Of the 300+ chemicals presumed in fracking fluids: 40% are endocrine distributers, 30% are suspected carcinogens, more than 30% are developmental toxicants, [and] over 60% can harm the brain and nervous system"

Mythbusting: In traditional hydraulic fracture stimulation, there are a lot of chemicals used. Chemicals can be added to the frac fluid for many reasons, be it inhibiting bacteria that is in the water from growing in the well or reducing the viscosity of the fluid (making it easier to push down the hole). As with any field though, improved technology is reducing the number of chemicals used in frac fluid. More companies are working towards "green frac fluid," some of which Halliburton's CEO is willing to drink

Fact 3: "Fracking is worse for human, environmental, and climate health than coal"

Mythbusting: Frack Free Colorado gets this fact from Shane Davis, an volunteer research biologist for the Sierra Club. The link in the reference brings you to a blog called the Fractivist. This blog, which also posted on the Frack Free Colorado event, has many bold claims and facts in their posts, but no references for the data, making it difficult to track this fact. Since I cannot play mythbusters with the sources used for this fact, I will share what I know on this topic. Hydraulic fracturing is required for the economic production for most of the natural gas in America. Natural gas is a cleaner source of energy than coal,  "natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxides, and one percent as much sulfur oxides at the power plant [than coal.]" Hydraulic fracturing is a process that can assist the U.S. in achieving a greener energy portfolio. According to Science Daily, the increased production of natural gas, due to hydraulic fracturing in shale formations, has created a surplus of coal in our economy. The coal is being exported rather than being used in America, making the U.S. more "green." Coal is an extremely dirty energy source, natural gas is MUCH cleaner. 

There are a lot more facts from this website that I would love to look into a little more, but I don't want to make a three page post! Let me know if you see any that you would like to know more about!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

More on Pavilion, WY

Last week Adam wrote a post about the water contamination in Pavilion, Wyoming. This post contained a lot of information and summarized much of what the report said; however, because of the length of this report and the significant amount of information it entailed, I would like to add onto what Adam said and give more information regarding the report.

People in Pavilion had noticed a foul taste and smell to their drinking water, so they notified the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about this and complained until they said they would come out and conduct a study. In this study, many hydrocarbons and other compounds that can be related to hydraulic fracturing and natural gas production were found in the soil as well as the water.

These compounds were found to most likely be from hydraulic fracturing and surface pits used during drilling. When a well is drilled, surface pits are used for drilling wastes and produced and flowback waters. These are usually man made and should be cleaned up once the well has been drilled.

So this may make hydraulic fracturing sound like a horrible process and encourage us to discontinue it. However, there is more to consider while reading this report.

First, these wells were drilled in the 1950's. Much has changed since then including drilling technology and certain standards needing to be met. Information was lacking in the well design of these wells in Pavilion, so it is hard to know exactly how they were drilled.  Secondly, these wells were only a few hundred feet beneath the surface. In my research, I have never heard of a single well being that shallow. From my experience working at BP America this summer, each of the wells we discussed were all a few thousand feet beneath the surface. Because the wells in Pavilion are so shallow, it is a lot easier for methane and other hydrocarbons to migrate to the water table. Third, the surface casing of these wells "do not extend below the maximum depth of domestic wells in the area of investigation." This goes along with the shallowness of these wells. Finally, there is no baseline information to compare the results from this study to what would have been before hydraulic fracturing occurred.

Overall, these downfalls related to hydraulic fracturing are easy to fix. Simply drill deeper wells to avoid the effects hydraulic fracturing had here.

Currently the EPA is working on getting the water and soil in Pavilion cleaned up. It is difficult to get the funding because there is still no proof of the exact source of these compounds.

I realize this post is long. There is merely too much to say and too little room to say it. If there is any questions about anything that I said, feel free to ask.

-Aubrey Bagley

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

As I completed my first semester as an aspiring Petroleum Engineer, I remember still have some confusion as to what the whole process of drilling and completing a well by means of hydraulic fracturing even looked like.  In this industry, it is interesting to think about that Petroleum Engineers are the only engineers that do not actually get to see any of their work.  Every that is put into place is done subsurface, and though may be interpreted through microseismic three dimensional modeling, the process is still something that cannot be seen by the naked eye.

There was a video that I saw the summer after my first year of study and it made more sense than the whole two semesters combined.  This goes to show that it is very easy for anyone to not understand the oil and gas, exploration and production technology. What tends to happen though in some instances, is that some make outlandish claims without much technical support that really put a negative connotation on the industry as in this California based article.  The emphasis of fraccing fluid contamination and link to greenhouse gas is a little unjust, by them insinuating that this takes place every time a well is hydraulically fractured.

For those who have not had much exposure to the drilling, casing, cementing, perforation, and hydraulic fracturing process this is a very beneficial video to gain a great understanding of what actually takes place and how unlikely any type of contamination is with the measures that companies are now taking.

Is this any different than what you thought before? How so?


Saturday, October 20, 2012

What was Going on in Pavillion, Wyoming?

Could you imagine living in a small town where you know something is wrong with your water supply, but unsure to the reason why and how serious of a problem it is?  This is what happened in a town named Pavillion, Wyoming where the individuals of the town had to fight long and hard to get noticed for a case study to be done on the water supply. 

Individuals sent in complaints once they realized the water supply had some foul qualities and this sparked an investigation into the quality of the water headed up by the EPA Region 8.  John Hanger, a nationally recognized expert on environment and energy, review the report given by the EPA and claims that the report implies a direct connection to contamination from hydraulic fraccing and natural gas extraction.  The contamination was so great that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, advised all of the individuals with contaminated water to use other sources of water for cooking and drinking and when an individual is showering to make sure the room is ventilated. 

Shortly after the report was released by the EPA, EnCana Natural Gas began to come out with statements defending their projects.  EnCana was the only natural gas company with extracting projects in Pavillion and claimed that the EPA reports has no evidence that the contamination came from hydraulic fraccing and that the report is only implying the accusation.  EnCana also pointed out that the findings released by the EPA were not reviewed by qualified third party individuals which are important to determining the true cause of the contamination. 

Even though the findings cannot prove that the hydraulic fraccing is the source of the contamination, the EPA is working with EnCana to make sure all of the individuals living in Pavillion, Wyoming have a clean water supply.  Today the town of Pavillion is being considered for the National Priorities List which is a list of waste sites eligible for clean up financed by the federal Superfund program.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Future of Fracturing

Ahh.... it is election season. Who doesn't love following the 'extremely well-informed' political status updates and debates on Facebook and getting to watch all of the lovely political ads on TV? All sarcasm aside, there are a lot of campaigns revolving around the oil and gas industry, and no matter what your stance is, it is important to become informed on the issues that will be on your local ballot!

As Bill mentioned in his blog post on September 24th, there are a lot of concerns about oil and gas operations in residential areas in Longmont, Colorado. Longmont is a part of Boulder County, which has two oil and gas issues on the ballot. One, question 2A, concerns gas utility service franchise and the other, question 300, is about hydraulic fracturing. As Bill discussed, Longmont is voting on prohibiting hydraulic fracturing within city limits. Main Street Longmont, a group fighting this question, by calling it an "unreasonable job killer." There is a lot of scrutiny over the funding of this group, where the oil and gas industry has already donated $447,500. This group also has a link posted on its website to a Denver Post Editorial that discusses how a draft of Colorado's new hydraulic fracturing rules and regulations is headed in the right and "enlightened" direction. My guess is that this is to show that the restrictions in Longmont are not necessary, and that progress is being made on the state level. The article also states that "Those who would like to stop fracking altogether of course won't be placated." Is this really the case though? If question 300 is passed, no hydraulic fracturing will be allowed in the city of Longmont.

We put together a video of our opinion on this topic. We realize that the oil and gas industry is full of some real characters, but believe that they mean well and wouldn't purposefully endanger the community. Safety is a high priority in the industry and the importance of it isn't lost on anyone.

If you guys have any questions about hydraulic fracturing, feel free to comment on the blog or check out these great Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission resources: Hydraulic Fracturing Presentation and Information on Hydraulic Fracturing.

-Fraccing With Two C's Bloggers

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

OPEC in Hollywood?

I can picture it now: big-headed oil tycoons conspiring to steal from the public and ruin their livelihood. There have been numerous movies produced that have tried to negatively portray the oil and gas industry, Matt Damon and John Krasinski's movie, Promised Land is no different. The movie, expected to be in theaters this December, will tell the story of a town being targeted and exploited by the oil and gas industry.

The movie most likely spurs from a case in Dimock, PA where residents claimed that hydraulic fracturing contaminated a few house's well water back in 2009. According to this Huffington Post news article Cabot, a company working in the area, was accused of contaminating drinking water with high levels of methane, some chemicals, and heavy metals through the hydraulic fracturing of wells. Cabot denies these claims, but made a settlement with many homeowners with water wells in the contaminated aquifer. This year, the water was determined to be safe to drink again. 

So what is so concerning with this anti-fracturing movie, if it seems to be based on a true story? The movie is partially funded by OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies). OPEC (which includes countries like Iraq, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia and has effectively been able to control oil and gas prices) is supporting a movement to stop hydraulic fracturing in the United States by instilling fear in the public. Why? It isn't because they are concerned about America's drinking water; they want to ensure America remains dependent on oil imports from OPEC. Without hydraulic fracturing, a large majority of oil and gas reserves in America would be uneconomic for companies to produce and oil dependence would increase. 

Water contamination is one of the major concerns when considering drilling and completing wells in residential areas. CGS (Colorado Geological Survey) has created a tool for concerned Colorado residents. This tool, on their website, allows you to obtain the approximate distance between fresh water aquifers and the Niobrara (the formation oil and gas companies stimulate with hydraulic fracturing) near your home. The tool allows you to determine an area of interest (say the city you live in) and it tells you the average thickness of the Pierre Shale formation in that area. The website discusses how the Pierre Shale is the rock formation that separates the Niobrara and the deepest fresh water aquifers. For the city of Longmont, the tool reports a Pierre Shale thickness of 6,700 feet.

With over 1,100 "likes" on facebook already and big stars like Matt Damon and John Krasinski, Promised Land is likely to have a much larger audience than some of the past movies against the oil and gas industry (like Gasland). Hopefully tools like the one provided by CGS will help ease the minds of Colorado residents, even if OPEC and Hollywood are determined to associate fear with fracturing.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Solution to Pollution is Dilution Part II

I realize after reviewing my previous post title "The Solution to Pollution is Dilution," I may have raised more questions than I answered. This purpose of this post now is to clear up some of the confusing statements I made and attempt to go into more detail on the Air Sampling Report I referred to. However, before I go into the details, here is what I am trying to say in one short statement: it has yet to be proven that hydraulic fracturing is the cause of a majority of air pollution.

I started off the previous post with a metaphor about perfume in a bathroom. Once perfume is sprayed too much, the smell will not go away and related this to air pollution. The reason for using this metaphor is because we need to realize that all of this pollution we are causing may not seem like a big deal right now, but fifty or a hundred years down the road, it will be a huge deal if we don't start trying to prevent and take care it.

In order to be able to be proactive, we need to understand what are the major sources of air pollution. The Northeastern Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Short-Term Ambient Air Sampling Report is a report that helps us get more facts on these sources. The conclusions of this report show that the natural gas emissions from some well sites and compressor stations was greater than those found during fraccing operations.

Okay, so what does this actually mean? This means that yes, hydraulic fractionation is a source of natural gas emissions in air pollution; however, it is not the sole source, nor is it a major source according to this report. Fraccing is only a tiny step in the process of producing natural gas. The drilling of a well can be done in two weeks including hydraulic fractionation while the life of a well can last over 30 years. Knowing that these well sites can last this long and compressor stations last even longer, puts into perspective the effects of the natural gas emissions from fraccing operations.

If fraccing only lasts a few days and produces less emissions than the well sites and compressor stations that last a few decades, should we focus so much on the fraccing operations or rather the integrity of the well sites and compressor stations? My opinion is that we should focus more on the well sites and compressor stations. We should do what we can to create new technology and standards that help the industry reduce its emissions where reduction will actually show a major difference. From these results, eliminating hydraulic fractionation will not make much of a dent in natural gas emissions causing air pollution.

This is the point I was trying to make in my previous post and hope that I was able to communicate it more effectively the second time around. I welcome and encourage discussion and any questions you may have regarding this post.

-Aubrey Bagley

Monday, October 8, 2012

Contamination has been proven, but the source has not

As shown in case studies, text or media pieces, such as "Gasland", there is proven evidence of finding methane contamination in residential drinking water.  Yes, this is unfortunate and scares many who do not like the idea of consuming hydrocarbons when trying to enjoy water from their nearby water aquifer or home faucet.

But should all the blame belong to the newly, widely utilized practice of Hydraulic Fracturing? As the case study by Richard J. Davis mentions, this contamination of methane into these water sources are likely to be caused by many other issues.  He states that in Pennsylvania "184,000 wells were drilled before records were taken and there are another 8,000 orphaned wells that are still in need of P&A (plug and abandonment) ." This large number of wells that have been in regions of stated water contamination, were constructed when many of the current standards of operations were not in place.  This means that sources of infiltration are likely to be from casing leakage or just purely seepage from nearby propagating natural cracks in formations that were not recognized due to lack of seismic data.  Hydraulic fracturing which has been implemented for primarily only the last decade, has been proceeded with under operations of strict attention to detail through state of the art technology and with much data being recorded via seismic observation collections.

It is unfortunate that the Hydraulic Fracturing industry has such a negative connotation surrounding it but service companies such as Halliburton are working very hard and expending large magnitudes of money to make sure that future contamination does not take place, and that older, poorly constructed wells are remedied to negate this problem.

What should the industry do additionally to satisfy those who object to the practice? Stop drilling, fraccing and commit to a dependence on foreign resources?


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fracture Length and Aperture

How big are hydraulic fractures? Generally, companies don't know the exact length and aperture (width) of fractures, but can estimate these properties based on the expected rock strength and the force applied by the high pressures. A lot of people are concerned with the lack of accuracy of these calculations concerns many people, especially within the concern of water contamination. Some people wonder how petroleum companies can be certain that they are not contaminating ground water when they don't even know how extensive the fractures are.

Recently, a study was performed by C.E. Renshaw and J.C. Park to better understand how mechanical interactions of formations effect fracture size. From my understanding of the paper, hydraulic fracturing is very difficult to model because of the complexity of the variables. The fracture size depends on the type of rock that is being fractured, the number of fractures being produced, the pressure causing the fracture, as well mechanical interaction. Overall, the study warns that common estimates of fracture propagation lengths may not always be good approximations and that universal scaling laws are not are not always applicable.

Generally, hydraulic fracturing is performed in many stages, to ensure that the entire producing interval receives stimulation. It was determined through this study by Renshaw and Park that the growth rate exponent (a variable in a correlation proposed in the study) is larger when just single fractures are produced than when multiple fractures are made. This is important information for the industry, because it supports that completing a well in multiple stages will allow for the best stimulation and ultimately better production. It was also determined that when multiple fractures interact, the impact can be both positive and negative. This can have a positive interaction that will increase the lengths and apertures or decrease the lengths and apertures in a negative interaction. 

The uncertainty and amount of estimation required in this study is much like many other aspects of the oil and gas industry. Since the majority of the work is done below the Earth's surface, measurements and calculations are rarely more than an educated estimate. With increasing regulations of hydraulic fracturing, will new technology soon be required to trace and measure the extent of hydraulic fractures?


Stressing Earthquakes

Most everyone has heard about the San Andreas Fault, but have you heard about any of the earthquakes, minor and major, that occur in the surrounding area?  Ever wondered what is making the earthquakes happen and whether these reasons are natural or human made from activities such as drilling and hydraulic fraccing?  Earthquakes catch people’s attention whether it is from the fascination of wondering what one feels like or whether it’s from personal experience being in one.

Jeanne L. Hardebeck and Egill Hauksson wrote a report on the reasons earthquakes occur near faults from repeated strain related fracturing and crack sealing that causes fluids to be trapped within low permeability barriers in the rock.  The fluids trapped within a zone in the rock create high fluid pressure that cannot be released from the low permeability barriers.  The high fluid pressures cause the major stresses in the rock to rotate and change angles which can eventually increase the fault and/ or cause an earthquake from localized strain accumulation.

The Angle Change of Major Stresses According to Distance from the Fault

Testing has been done both in the field and in the lab to come to the conclusion that the high fluid pressures with strain accumulation and change in stress angles can cause the fault.  So how is this relating to the petroleum industry and hydraulic fraccing?  There have been elevated fluid pressures found near the San Andreas Fault during a drilling project close to the site.  The report shows no evidence of clear blame on the drilling sites, but people will assume this is true based on that statement. 

Drilling and hydraulic fraccing without regulations can cause major faults and earthquakes to occur, but many regulations are in place with more being added as technology improves.  One regulation that protects people in the surrounding area is that drilling cannot occur within a certain distance of any residence with the distance being different based on the size of the drilling project.  For hydraulic fraccing the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has a regulation that makes all projects stay at least two kilometers away from any town site and 500 meters from an environmentally sensitive site.  With these regulations, along with increasing technology, hydraulic fraccing is a safe process that should not propose any problems with earthquakes to any residence.  

- Adam