Oklahoma frac case actually involves above-ground handling

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, July 26 -- A crew supervisor for a Houston well service company pleaded guilty on July 20 to violating federal water quality regulations during a hydraulic fracturing operation in Atoka County, Okla., in 2007. Gabriel Henson faces a possible prison term of up to a year and a $100,000 criminal fine if the court accepts his plea, the US Department of Justice said.

It said Henson was working at the time as a crew chief for Integrated Production Services Inc. at the Pettigrew 18-13H well site on May 14, 2007. A tank had leaked 400-700 gal of hydrochloric acid onto an earthen pad which also was flooded with water from recent heavy rainfall, DOJ said.

It said Henson drove a pickup truck owned by IPS through an earthen berm, causing the rainwater and hydrochloric acid mixture to flow off the well pad and down into Dry Creek, a tributary of Boggy Creek. Spill response crews minimized environmental damage to the creek, it added.

OGJ contacted IPS by phone and e-mail in unsuccessful attempts to learn if Henson subsequently left IPS, and the number of frac jobs the company does each year. A DOJ spokesman said the department does not discuss ongoing investigations that may or may not lead to litigation related to fracing. EPA’s District 6 office in Dallas did not respond to a request for more information.

Not typical
But there were clear signs elsewhere that the 2007 incident was an aberration involving a completion technology developed in the late 1940s which is safely, and increasingly, used to drill thousands of US oil and gas wells each year.

Nearly 95% of all wells completed in Oklahoma each year are fraced, said Matt Skinner, a spokesman for the state’s corporation commission. It’s been used in the state for more than 60 years, and OCC has no documented cases of water pollution from the process, he told OGJ on July 25.

“It’s very important to differentiate the management of fluids used versus the process itself,” Skinner emphasized. “We have berms breached, and the operators are fined. The issue here was the on-sight management related to the operation. Many times, every time hydraulic fracturing is blamed, it’s actually the result of on-site management of the fluids and not the process.”

‘We live here’
Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association Pres. Mike Terry confirmed that fracing plays a part in completing hundreds of wells there each year, and that producers and state regulators work hard to keep water supplies safe. “We live here. We drink the water. We like to go to the lakes and streams. We like to hunt. We want to protect our water supplies too,” he told OGJ on July 26.

He said the state is different from others where concerns have been expressed about fracing and above-ground production practices because of its long oil and gas history. “We’re accustomed to wells being drilled and rigs being moved,” Terry said. “People appreciate the industry’s contribution to the economy. It’s part of our culture.”

“Fracing is a process that’s been going on safely and is regulated by the OCC. Everyone I know is trying to do the right thing,” he continued. “Most of our active drillers are also voluntarily disclosing the chemicals they use. They’re trying to show they’re responsible. Many are using the Groundwater Protection Council and Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission’s Frac Focus web site.”

Terry said that bad behavior is sometimes possible, but added that it’s not the norm. “There are regulations in our state to deal with that, and other states are catching up,” he said. “I’m proud of the record we have in Oklahoma.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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