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    Fracking, Drilling OK in Theory

    In UT: No Evidence of Groundwater Contamination from Hydraulic Fracturing, Rigzone lets fracking off the hook:

    No direct connection has been found between hydraulic fracturing and reports of groundwater contamination, according to a study released Thursday by the Energy Institute at The University of Texas of Austin.

    The study found that many of the problems linked to hydraulic fracturing are related to common oil and gas drilling operations such as casing failures or poor cement jobs.

    Researchers also concluded that many reports of contamination can be traced to above-ground split or other mishandling of wastewater produced from shale gas drilling, rather than hydraulic fracturing per se, said Charles "Chip" Groat, an Energy Institute associate director who led the project.

    "These problems are not unique to hydraulic fracturing," Groat said in a statement.

    While Rigzone, and no doubt numerous conservative news outlets will see this as a vindication of fracking, in Fracking impacts reviewed in major study, Environmental News Network reports the results a bit differently:

    The report, released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW), doesn't give this form of natural gas extraction a clean bill of health. Rather, it suggests that problems aren't directly caused by fracking, a process in which water, sand, chemicals are pumped into wells to break up deep layers of shale and release natural gas. Instead, the report concludes, contamination tends to happen closer to the surface when gas and drilling fluid escapes from poorly lined wells or storage ponds.

    In, Fracking Could Work If Industry Would Come Clean, Scientific American steered a middle course:

    But a panel of experts not tied to industry told a large audience at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting here yesterday that the primary concerns can be solved if drilling and gas companies would impose tougher controls on their own operations, and if regulators would stiffen safety rules and crack down on violators who break them. ...

    “We did not find that fracking the shale itself was likely to contaminate groundwater,” said Chip Groat, a geologist and professor of geoscience at the university who led the study. “We did find contamination from surface spills and leaks” at the top of the well.

    The main culprits were above-ground spills of chemicals used in fracking; poor installation of metal casings and concrete in the top of the well that are supposed to prevent chemicals sent down the bore hole that later come back up, as well as the methane itself, from leaking; and sloppy handling of that “flowback” water plus other wastewater when it is transferred and stored in open pits or closed tanks.

    So the problem isn't fracking, it's fracking by the lowest bidder. With little or no inspection or regulation. Maybe we need a new show, Holmes on Hydrofracturing.

    Turning to Arctic drilling, according to US Officials OK Shell's Spill Plan for Alaska, a 17 Feb 2012 report from Rigzone:

    U.S. officials have approved an oil-spill plan for Royal Dutch Shell PLC as the company looks to begin drilling in the Arctic, saying Friday that Shell has demonstrated its ability to respond to potential spills in icy waters despite protests from environmental groups.

    The approval, granted by the U.S. Interior Department, helps pave the way for Shell to begin drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer after years of preparation for the project.

    Shell still has to obtain drilling permits from the Interior Department before it can move forward.

    "We are taking a cautious approach," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

    Caution is the word, as the IB Times' Green Economy blog reports that Repsol just had a mud blowout:
    North Slope Blowout on Land Clearly Shows We Are Not Ready to Deal with an Accident in the Arctic

    Susan Murray, Oceana's Senior Director, Pacific, issued the following statement in response to the North Slope Repsol well blowout:

    "Yesterday, Spain's big oil company Repsol drilled into a methane pocket that resulted in an exploration drilling blowout on Alaska's Arctic shores. This is yet another wake-up call for the Obama Administration that oil and gas activities are risky business. We are incredibly lucky this is not an oil well blowout offshore in the Arctic Ocean; because the nation is not prepared to deal with an accident like that in offshore Arctic waters where the ability to respond is limited at best, and impossible at worst. As of right now 42,000 gallons of drilling lubricant or "mud" have spilled and an unknown amount of methane has escaped.

    "This accident is only the latest of several oil and gas disasters since the Deepwater Horizon tragedy less than two years ago. As is the case with Repsol's blowout here, accidents happen for unanticipated reasons, but when it comes to oil and gas activities the record shows it is not if an accident will happen but how soon will the next accident happen.

    Fortunately no one was injured, but it seems clear that extracting energy from more remote locations under lower profit margins will lead to more unintended consequences, whether they be poisoned water tables or dead workers.


    So the argument that frackers always use is that their underground activity takes place at an extreme distance from underground aquifers.  This has always seemed a reasonable argument to me.  But, the dangers of underground drilling in any form has never been so much what happens underground as it is what happens at the surface. 

    If the problem is that they cut corners at the surface, spilling chemicals, releasing extracted gasses or spilling oil, then they can't be allowed to end the argument with "but it's nowhere near the groundwater!"  These guys have had forever to get their above ground ops squared away and they haven't done it.

    Got me thinking that it took a dust bowl to get North American farmers to start behaving for their own good

    Tighten fracking regulations, scientists urge US officials

    An influential group of scientists has urged US officials to step up their policing of shale gas operations and to consider stronger regulations to reduce environmental and health risks at the facilities. The scientists called on regulators to revisit, and in many cases beef up, their guidelines to avoid surface spills at shale gas works, and to ensure the safe storage and disposal of toxic fluids used in controversial hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations. Though some US states have updated historic oil and gas regulations to encompass fracking and shale gas work more generally, many lag behind and lack enough qualified people to enforce regulations properly, the researchers said. Writing in a major report released yesterday, the scientists found "little or no evidence" to support claims that fracking had contaminated aquifers, but recommended that states do more to prevent accidents, such as spillages, underground leaks and gas explosions.

    In Why Not Frack?
    in March 8, 2012 New York Review of Books
    Bill McKibben reviews:

    The End of Country
    by Seamus McGraw
    Random House, 245 pp., $26.00                                                  

    Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale
    by Tom Wilber
    Cornell University Press, 272 pp., $27.95 (to be published in May 2012)                            

    a documentary film by Josh Fox
    Docurama, DVD, $29.95

    article @

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