Hydraulic Fracturing

Mining natural resources, including but not limited to oil and gas, is an industrial activity. Its profitability and environmental effects can be very emotional to those involved, and cause conflicts between these groups. In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges posed by using hydraulic fracturing techniques to produce oil and gas will be to work through the emotions of the situations to generate relevant information, develop accurate science, and then apply appropriate legal principles and processes. Using hydraulic fracturing techniques to produce oil and gas from shale and tight oil formations has led to two very different effects. On one hand, it is very profitable for many, from operators, to royalty owners, employees and contractors, as well as governments who receive severance taxes and other revenues, and so there are those very interested in its success. On the other hand, others raise concerns about its environmental effects, from its impact on the supply and quality of drinking water supplies, to its effect on air emissions, noise, light, odor, increased heavy truck traffic, and earthquakes, to name a few. So there are also those who want to either stop it altogether, or dramatically increase its regulation by government.

As shown on the map to the right, Texas has abundant shale gas and tight oil formations.

There are also concerns about frac fluids migrating into fresh water supplies.  Below is a table showing plots of data collected on thousands of hydraulic fracturing treatments in the Barnett Shale. More fracs have been mapped in the Barnett Shale than in any other reservoir. The graph illustrates the fracture top and bottom for all mapped treatments performed in the Barnett Shale since 2001. The depths are in true vertical depth. Perforation depths are illustrated by the red colored band for each stage, with the mapped fracture tops and bottoms illustrated by colored curves corresponding to the counties where they took place.  The deepest water wells in each of the counties where the Barnett Shale fracs have been mapped, according to United States Geological Survey, are illustrated by the dark blue shaded bars at the top of the figure. As this graph indicates, the largest directly measured upward growth of all of these mapped fractures still places the fracture tops several thousands of feet below the deepest known aquifer level in each county.

Lawsuits are already being filed over fracing.  Formal studies of the process have been published in the last ten years.  Over the next several years, many formal studies about the environmental impacts of fracing are scheduled to be completed by governmental agencies, universities, industry groups and environmentalists.  Keep up with these and other regulatory developments by subscribing to Mark McPherson’s Enviropinions blog.

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