I was at the live presentation and I highly recommend that you watch the video. Professor Ingraffea, like so many brilliant scholars, makes his talk interesting and at times amusing despite its complexity. This lecture is very accessible and rigorously grounded in factual information. You can trust Ingraffea’s analysis, and if you are skeptical, you can go right to his sources. I’m eager to get this link up on the site now, and hope to make time to review it and quote some highlights later.
That’s right, Pennsylvania has about 200,000 abandoned oil and gas wells and doesn’t know where 96% of them are. We also don’t know if they have been plugged. This is a problem when new wells are fracked because the old wells can be an open conduit between the newly fractured strata and other layers or the surface. The gas migrates into drinking water or into buildings where it can explode. Abandoned wells are only one of may ways that gas and oil can migrate from a well site, but they have produced spectacular leaks, and frightening consequences.
StateImpact, the NPR series on shale gas, has a series of articles dating back to 2012 that document the surprising lack of record keeping and oversight that characterize Pennsylvania’s inept management of drilling over the years. These old wells are costly to locate an plug, and the state is hampered by limited funding. As you might expect, those who profited from these wells were not and are not accountable for the problems they left behind.
Many people see stewardship of our environment as a moral issue. The world’s great religions call their followers to love one another and be stewards of all creation. Climate disruption has moral and social justice implications that are the common concern of all faithful people. The forum announced in the flyer below affords a great opportunity to explore and discuss how faith informs our efforts to ensure a safe healthy planet for future generations.
The call to environmental stewardship is nearly universal. Citizens Climate Education has published a book of statements by world faith leaders titled Faith Based Statements on Climate Change. Copies are available from them – 1330 Orange Avenue #300, Coronado, CA 92118; 609 437-7142.
That oil and gas interests might be reluctant to accept information pointing to the end of the fossil fuel era is completely understandable. But the just released report by the Union of Concerned Scientists titled The Climate Deception Dossier documents decades of deliberate deception aimed at sewing doubt in the media and the public’s perception of climate science. The report reveals industry internal secret documents that prove there has been a strategy to hide the truth. It’s little wonder that so many politicians today find it easy to deny the opinion of 97% of the scientific community. They’ve been blinded by money and duped with lies.
I can’t improve on the summary that appears in the summer issue of UCS’s journal, so I urge you to read it for yourself and then browse through the report that it announces. Although those few who have been close to the issue for years knew of various elements of the deception, the strategy was largely successful and history may yet look back upon the years since 1988 as the beginning of society’s greatest and most disastrous propaganda lies.
For those who follow NoFrackingBucks.net there is a disturbing confirmation that the oil and gas industry is ruthless and unrelenting in its hunger to expand regardless of the cost to society and future generations. Although our focus is very local, the menace is global and it will touch everyone – especially the poorest and most vulnerable nations.
We must consider both actions and words in weighing arguments about fossil energy. On the fracking issue, the industry has gotten legislation to exempt itself from regulations aimed at protecting the environment, and has succeeded in getting other legislation that severely limits the ability of local government to protect municipalities from the ravages of gas and oil extraction. These self-serving legislative campaigns are perverse and destructive. The deception and amoral (some might say psychopathic) campaign to discourage society from acting prudently in the face of a clear danger is a disgrace. If you agree, take the time to phone your state representatives and your US senators and congressman. Tell them to read the evidence and see for themselves how we all have been duped. Demand that public policy reflect climate reality.
Vote your conscience when the time comes.
Will Water Wells and Fracking Cracks Intersect? –
Because the fracked cracks can extend some 2,000 feet above the well bore hole, wells that lie less than a mile (5,280 feet) below the surface pose a higher risk for water contamination. According to Stanford University scientist Robert Jackson:
“Not all shallow wells pose the same threat to groundwater. The “riskiest” fracked wells are both shallow and use high levels of water—1 million gallons or more, said Jackson. Studies have shown that when these high-pressure wells fracture the bedrock, the cracks can extend as much as 2,000 feet upward. This provides an opportunity for the chemical-laced water used in fracking to migrate to the shallower depths of the water table. And the smaller the gap between drilling and surface water, the greater the chance of interaction.”
Water in eastern Bucks is supposed to be perched atop bedrock that lies between 100 and 250 feet below the surface. Sampling a few records in the domestic well database I found wells drilled to depths of 500 feet below the ground level in Wrightstown, and 300 feet in Newtown Township, but the ups and downs of local terrain influence the depth relative to the geological data. Some of the drillers reported drilling through bedrock at less than 10 feet. Some wells are for withdrawal of potable water, others are used for geothermal heat.
Most of the aquifer is recharged by infiltration from the surface and nearby streams and the Delaware River. The shale gas layers that have fair to good gas potential begin at 3,000 feet. Simple math says that hydraulic fracturing could reach to within 500 feet of layers reached by domestic water wells. One can’t know, of course, what natural fissure and cracks may exist in the bedrock that might provide pathways for fracking chemicals pumped into the ground at 9,000 psi to find there way upward. But the notion that “miles of bedrock” lie between the fracked layer and the water layer simply is not true in the Newark Basin.
Given the poor record of the gas and oil drilling industry for predicting or preventing leaks, it would seem very risky to do shallow fracking. If it were to be allowed, there should be mandatory independent monitoring of groundwater quality utilizing test wells near the drill pad. Equally important there must be substantial financial bonding and insurance requirements to fund remediation should methane or fracking chemical contamination be found.
One of our contributors discovered “Explore a Fracking Operation – Virtually” – a website that lets you see photographs of the various stages of fracking operations. Those who have not traveled to the regions where fracking is done may be surprised at the scale of this industry. Well drilling and fracking requires hundreds of heavy vehicles and a logistics reminicent of a large scale military mobilization. Check it out by clicking the illustration below:
You will find another excellent website at R-CAUSE.net. Like this site, it seeks to inform its constituency about the risks of fracking. Although New York has banned fracking, there continue to be threats to water and air in the Rochester and Corning areas.
No one can or will guarantee that a gas well will never leak. You can find industry video narrated by one of those deep Walter Cronkite-like voices that tell you about the extraordinary precautions drillers take to protect the aquifer from migration of nasty stuff between layers.
You will find that extraordinary measures have been taken to shield drillers from liability and regulatory culpability. Exemptions have been carved out of the body of law intended to protect the environment. You will also find plenty of examples where the industry has obtained gag orders and non-disclosure settlements hoping to keep a lid on public knowledge of mistakes. There are even some egregious examples of perverse use of baseless law suits and even phony criminal charges to discourage public participation showcasing problems with drilling. As the cops say, “you can beat the wrap, but you can’t beat the ride.” (The “ride” is the whole process of being arrested and charged.) Even if one is obviously innocent of doing wrong, legal defense is costly and even if you win you end up out-of-pocket.
What’s behind all this? Independent peer-reviewed studies as well as industry studies show that at least six percent (6%) of fracking wells leak early in their life cycle. I strongly suspect that all wells will leak eventually – maybe not in 10 or 20 years, but in 100?
Let’s stick with what we know for the moment. Drilling puts a large hole through half a mile of ancient rock formations to reach the gas rich layer under Bucks County. It’s deeper elsewhere. At the surface level, where the aquifer is, at least three concentric steel casings line the bore hole. Cement under pressure is forced into the space between the outer casing and the rock to prevent gas and/or liquid from traveling vertically outside of the casing and moving between geologic layers. This cement is supposed to keep the nasty stuff out of the drinking water layers.
This is the fundamental weakness of the drilling system. Think about the cement you see in sidewalks, driveways, and foundations. It cracks. Cement is rigid and very strong in compression, but it doesn’t have good tensile strength. It doesn’t necessarily bond permanently to other materials. Voids, where there is no concrete seal, may be left when concrete is pumped into the annulus or gap around the well casing. It’s not like the footing for a house; you can’t look and see. Even with no disturbances cracks can open as the cement cures or long after it’s fully set. But there are disturbances. Seismic events happen regularly. The earth moves.
The drilling process itself involves huge rotating drill bits that pound and vibrate to chip the rock and open the hole. Boring generates heat that is carried away from the bit by the flow of drilling mud, a wet slurry pumped down the drill pipe bathing the cutting bit and carrying the chips and heat back up and out. So there is are temperature changes. Steel and cement don’t expand at the same rate. Drilling itself vibrates the upper casings components and the earth as the bore hole is extended downward. Time is money and sometimes drilling operators don’t wait long enough for the fresh cement to cure to full strength, fracturing the “green” cement as they resume drilling. Rust forms on the mild steel casings as dampness, chemicals, and natural acids do their work. The annulus space outside the casing isn’t clean. All of these conditions act to break the bonds between the casing and the cement, and loosen the cement from the bore hole walls.
Repeated fracking cycles subject the casing and the cement seal to strain. It’s hard to imagine that a steel pipe half a mile long doesn’t flex and move under these extreme pressure changes. The same hydraulic forces that are fracturing rock where the lateral pipe is perforated are also trying to fracture the seal around the well casing. Blowouts sometimes happen.
The casings come in sections and thread together. For more than fifty years the joints have been a problem when put under pressure. Engineers have optimized the shape an pitch of threads and used sealants. In spite of considerable experience and ingenuity, casing joints still fail.
Then there is outright reckless disregard for the consequences of leaks. Drillers have paid huge fines and settlements for blatant disregard for good practice and regulations. Critics say that inspection and enforcement is understaffed and too lax. Drillers sometimes even refuse to allow inspectors onto the drill site.
None of the precautions taken by even the most ethical drillers can ensure that a bore hole once created can be sealed permanently. Consequently every new well increases the probability of contamination of the aquifer forever. That probability starts with the first well at one-in-twenty odds (1:20) and the odds get worse over time. Each new well adds another leak possibility. It’s like playing repeated rounds of Russian roulette first with one gun, then two, and so on.
This is not a game we should want to play. The more I know about fracking, the more it looks like a bargain with the Devil. No matter how appealing the cheap energy is, in the long run we lose.[revised for clarity and to update links 7/10/15, 7/11/15.]
Attorney Matt McHugh who prepared the proposed drilling ordinance was quoted as saying that “there are no known deposits of natural gas or oil in any of the three townships…” Until someone actually makes a producing well, deposits are termed “undiscovered” but that does NOT mean they aren’t known to be there. Back in 2011 the USGS did a study of the South Newark Basin Shale formation which included data from one well never put into production. James Coleman, a researcher for the U.S.G.S said, “We think there’s a 90 percent probability that there’s gas in the South Newark Basin and that gas is between 363 billion cubic feet and 1,698 billion cubic feet.”
Coleman was speaking to Susan Phillips of State Impact who wrote an excellent article you’ll find on the StateImpact site. I’d say the odds are only slightly less than a sure thing that somebody will want to drill in Bucks if given the opportunity.
Notes from the 7/7/15 Briefing at Newtown Friends Meeting
“Attorney Matt McHugh of Grim, Biehn and Thatcher in Perkasie said the ordinance [to create an gas & oil fracking zone in Wrightstown, Newtown Township and Upper Makefield] will likely be voted on by all three governing bodies in the next month or two.” (front page news, Bucks County Courier Times 7/7/15)
Tonight 70 people gathered at the Newtown Quaker Meeting to hear about this proposed ordinance. Some key points emerged:
- Outrage that no public comment has been invited
- FHA lending guidelines prohibit financing for homes within 300 feet of a property with “an active or planned drilling site;” homeowner’s insurance mandated by lenders may exclude properties with a gas lease or a gas well; mortgages can be denied because of drilling on a neighbor’s property
- Most of the water in Lower Bucks County is drawn from aquifers, which once contaminated by fracking fluid leaks, spills, overflows or surface runoff can never be recovered. As one woman said, “You can get energy from other sources, but you can’t live without water. Our property [in Wrightstown] would be worthless.”
- The average water use for a single fracking well is 4.4 million gallons, only 15% of which is recycled fracking fluid
- Spent fracking wells continue to degrade and leach forever
- Oil and gas jobs and money are boom-and-bust, but the costs to the community last forever.
- There is no reason for urgency in passing an ordinance. Most of Bucks County is already covered under the Delaware River Basin Moratorium until January 1, 2018. There’s no pressure to act in haste on the proposed ordinance.
After the meeting at the Newtown Quaker Meeting, about 100 people attended the Newtown Township Planning Board meeting. At the end of the public comment period, the Chairperson urged us to communicate with the Township Supervisors who have the power to make the final decision.
- Come to the Newtown Township Supervisor’s Meeting on , July 8 at 7:30pm and voice your opinion
- Can’t attend? Make a phone call (215-968-2800 ext. 8, then ext. 3 to speak with Olivia Kivenko, Administrative Assistant to the Town Manager) or write a short, handwritten note to Newtown Township Supervisors, 100 Municipal Drive, Newtown, PA 18940 and say we want at least a one-year study period with public participation before any gas & oil drilling ordinance is considered for a vote
- Attend, write, call the Wrightstown Supervisors (meetings on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of every month at 7:30pm, 2203 Second Street Pike). Ask Wrightstown to withdraw their request for an ordinance to create a gas and oil drilling zone.
Check the coverage in the Bucks Courier-Times (you may need to subscribe ($1 promo), to see the whole article.)
In a June 1st, 2015 article StateImpact reports on the gas well fire that sent flame so high into the air that the flames were visible for miles above the tree tops. Kati Coleneri reports, “Fires at two wells in Dunkard Township, Greene County burned for several days before they could be extinguished, but it took more than one week to find the remains of Ian McKee, 27, a contractor with Texas-based Cameron International who was killed in the blast.”
Reports like this underscore the hazards of drilling anywhere near where people work or play. The $940,000 fine and the $5,000,000 settlement with McKee’s family dramatize the magnitude of the risks. Little wonder that insurance companies and mortgage lenders shy away from drilling sites. It also underscores how woefully inadequate the proposed ordinance being considered by the Jointure would be if enacted. It provides for unspecified insurance, and a maximum $50,000 financial security, described as laughable by critics.
As a former firefighter I confess I have no idea how to fight such a blaze. I don’t imagine that the first responders of our local communities do either. Well fires often require special teams to be flown in who are equipped with tools and techniques to snuff the flames and cut the flow.
I was shocked to see that PA State investigators were denied access to the site for two days and that there was no penalty assessed for doing so. What protections does state DEP oversight offer if a company with apparent violations can prevent the regulators from inspecting? It suggests that the gas industry has way too much influence in Harrisburgh.