Industry praises EPA hydraulic fracturing study

By OGJ editors

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 -- Industry officials praised the key findings of a draft report by the US Environmental Protection Agency that found hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane wells does not contaminate underground drinking water sources. The public may offer comments on the study until Oct. 28.

Hydraulic fracturing is a commonly used oil field process in which fluid, water, or sometimes diesel fuel, is pumped into the rock at a high pressure, creating cracks that allow the oil and gas to flow to the well. Proponents say the process is safe and environmentally benign; critics charge that it has the potential to contaminate limited drinking water sources and diminish aquifers.

Although thousands of natural gas wells drilled in coal seams are hydraulically fractured annually, "EPA did not find 'persuasive evidence' that any drinking water wells had been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing related to coal seam natural gas production. They did not find that evidence because it does not exist," said Christine Hansen, executive director of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

Environmental groups in Alabama, Colorado, Virginia, and Wyoming argue that the practice may damage aquifers and cause related groundwater contamination.

The US Geological Survey said 7.5% of total US natural gas production comes from coalbed methane.

EPA said that although the threat to public health from hydraulic fracturing appears low, "it may be feasible and prudent of industry to remove any threat whatsoever from injection of fluids. The use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids by some companies introduces the majority of constituents concerns" over underground water contamination, EPA noted. "Water-based alternatives exist and from an environmental perspective, these water-based products are preferable."

EPA's study focused only on hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane wells. The agency said it did not address all hydraulic fracturing practices for several reasons. First, it noted a recent court decision regarding government jurisdiction over the process was specific to coalbed methane production. Second, coalbed methane wells tend to be shallower and closer to underground drinking water sources than conventional oil and gas production wells (thousands of feet below ground surface as opposed to tens of thousands below the surface.). Finally, EPA said it has not heard concerns from citizens regarding any other type of hydraulic fracturing.

The study also did not address other concerns surrounding coalbed methane production, such as groundwater removal or production water discharge.

EPA's role
EPA's oversight over hydraulic fracturing is limited. The agency's Underground Injection Control program is authorized by the Safe Drinking Water Act to protect public health from threats to underground sources of drinking water that result from underground injections.

However, the law does not authorize EPA to regulate oil and gas production practices. Green groups want EPA to have a stronger enforcement role over the procedure.

A pending Senate provision directs the agency to complete a study on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on underground drinking water sources (OGJ Online, Apr. 26, 2002.) EPA's draft report says that further study is unnecessary. But industry officials said it is too soon to say whether Congress will ask that the issue be revisited.

"It's a difficult question to answer," said Bill Whitsitt, president of the Domestic Petroleum Council. "The implications of the study are very positive, but we don't know how broad those implications are."

An IOGCC survey conducted in July showed that 35,000 wells are hydraulically fractured annually in the US, and close to 1million wells have been hydraulically fractured since the technique's inception more than 50 years ago with no documented harm to groundwater.

EPA conducted the study in part due to pending litigation from the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation, which said hydraulic fracturing contaminated several Alabama drinking water wells. The 11th Circuit Court approved the state's oil and gas program for regulating hydraulic fracturing, rejecting the claim that EPA should have applied more proscriptive safe drinking water regulations instead of allowing for state oversight.

The foundation recently petitioned the US Supreme Court to review the decision.

Other industry views
The American Association of Petroleum Geologists opposes blanket application of federally mandated controls, which create a time-consuming, onerous bureaucratic maze with little useful result. Federal legislation should be encouraged to provide for streamlined permitting of fracturing treatments.

Treatments carried out in isolation from freshwater aquifers should be exempted from Clean Water Act controls, the group said.

Permit procedures for fracturing within aquifer zones (mostly undertaken in support of methane production from coal beds) should be designed on a basin-by-basin and state-by-state basis. "This permitting must bear in mind the wide variety of possible designs of safe fracture treatments, and the geologic relationships of reservoir beds and aquifers unique to each area."

Related Articles

BPC report examines 40 possible options to reform RFS

12/16/2014 The Bipartisan Policy Center issued a report outlining 40 possible options for reforming the federal Renewable Fuels Standard in an effort to move ...

Senate passes Defense bill with BLM drilling permit program provision

12/15/2014 The US Senate approved a Department of Defense appropriations bill on Dec. 13 containing a provision extending and making permanent a drilling perm...

Mitigating methane

12/15/2014

Among greenhouse gases, methane should be particularly amenable to deliberate cuts in emissions.

Falling prices may pose new test for China oil policies, speakers say

12/15/2014 China, which successfully revised its oil strategy in response to new technologies since 2008, could face fresh tests if prices stay low for a prol...

Study finds small subset of wells accounts for most methane emissions

12/15/2014 A small subset of natural gas wells are responsible for most methane emissions from US natural gas production, said a study from the University of ...

API: Producers reducing methane emissions already

12/15/2014 US oil and gas producers are reducing wellhead methane emissions already and don't need ill-conceived, overly prescriptive federal regulations, Ame...

Speakers say methane controls just part of complete climate strategy

12/15/2014 Reducing oil and gas operations' methane emissions is an essential, but far from the only, part of a comprehensive climate strategy, speakers at a ...

EPA approves Magellan’s Corpus Christi splitter project

12/12/2014 The US Environmental Protection Agency has issued a final greenhouse gas prevention of significant deterioration construction permit to Magellan Pr...

US needs more data before ending crude export ban, House panel told

12/11/2014 Much more environmental impact information is needed before the US can reasonably remove crude oil export limits, a witness told a House Energy and...

White Papers

AVEVA NET Accesses and Manages the Digital Asset

Global demand for new process plants, power plants and infrastructure is increasing steadily with the ...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Approach for the Digital Asset

To meet the requirements for leaner project execution and more efficient operations while transferring...
Sponsored by

Diversification - the technology aspects

In tough times, businesses seek to diversify into adjacent markets or to apply their skills and resour...
Sponsored by

Engineering & Design for Lean Construction

Modern marketing rhetoric claims that, in order to cut out expensive costs and reduce risks during the...
Sponsored by

Object Lessons - Why control of engineering design at the object level is essential for efficient project execution

Whatever the task, there is usually only one way to do it right and many more to do it wrong. In the c...
Sponsored by

Plant Design for Lean Construction - at your fingertips

One area which can provide improvements to the adoption of Lean principles is the application of mobil...
Sponsored by

How to Keep Your Mud System Vibrator Hose from Getting Hammered to Death

To prevent the vibrating hoses on your oilfield mud circulation systems from failing, you must examine...
Sponsored by

Duty of Care

Good corporate social responsibility means implementing effective workplace health and safety measures...
Sponsored by

Available Webcasts


On Demand

Optimizing your asset management practices to mitigate the effects of a down market

Thu, Dec 11, 2014

The oil and gas market is in constant flux, and as the price of BOE (Barrel of Oil Equivalent) goes down it is increasingly important to optimize your asset management strategy to stay afloat.  Attend this webinar to learn how developing a solid asset management plan can help your company mitigate costs in any market.

register:WEBCAST


Parylene Conformal Coatings for the Oil & Gas Industry

Thu, Nov 20, 2014

In this concise 30-minute webinar, participants have an opportunity to learn more about how Parylene coatings are applied, their features, and the value they add to devices and components.

register:WEBCAST


Utilizing Predictive Analytics to Optimize Productivity in Oil & Gas Operations

Tue, Nov 18, 2014

Join IBM on Tuesday, November 18 @ 1pm CST to explore how Predictive Analytics can help your organization maximize productivity, operational performance & associated processes to drive enterprise wide productivity and profitability.

register:WEBCAST


US HYDROCARBON EXPORTS Part 3 — LNG

Fri, Nov 14, 2014

US LNG Exports, the third in a trilogy of webcasts focusing on the broad topic of US Hydrocarbon Exports.

A discussion of the problems and potential for the export of US-produced liquefied natural gas.

These and other topics will be discussed, with the latest thoughts on U.S. LNG export policy.

register:WEBCAST


Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected