How Safe Is Fracking?

How Safe is Fracking? 


Four Myths About Hydrofracking

Lecture by Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, sponsored by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick

Anthony Ingraffea, Ph.D, P.E. is the Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering and a Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellow at Cornell University where he has taught for 34 years. He did R&D for the oil and gas industry for 25 years, specializing in hydraulic fracture simulation and pipeline safety, and twice won the National Research Council/U.S. National Committee for Rock Mechanics Award for Research in Rock Mechanics. He became a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1991, became Co-Editor-in-Chief of Engineering Fracture Mechanics in 2005, won ASTM’s George Irwin Award for outstanding research in fracture mechanics in 2006, and in 2009 was named a Fellow of the International Congress on Fracture. Recently, he has been engaged nationwide in educational fracking presentations.  

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Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport Gas Leases

Each red line is a horizontal well. Each well uses 5-10 million gallons of water each time it is fracked. A well can be fracked up to eighteen times or more if it is producing gas in sufficient quantity.  The profitability of this type of densely spaced operation makes it the model that the industry is moving toward. Each red dot is a well pad and represents a major industrial gas extraction, processing, and storage site with all the attendant traffic, noise, toxic waste, and pollution. This is coming to the heart of the Muskingum Watershed, the largest system of fresh water rivers, lakes, and streams in Ohio. This watershed provides drinking water and supports agriculture for cities, towns, rural communities, and prime farm land in 25 counties. It then joins the Ohio and Mississippi River systems flowing through and around eight states and ends in the Gulf Coast fishing waters. Two injection wells are being drilled in Coshocton County at the juncture of three major rivers; the
Muskingum, the Walhonding, and the Tuscarawas.

Right: A well pad. A Marcellus well pad will be 3 to 6 acres, with the possibility of additional water storage pits or parking lots for tanker trucks.

An outcropping of Utica Shale

The naturally occurring cracks typical of shale are evident in this photo.  Geologists refer to them as "joints" and this is where natural gas is concentrated in gas bearing shales which are usually found thousands of feet underground.  The fracking process injects fluid comprised of water, sand, and chemicals into these joints at extremely high pressures expanding them and freeing the gas. After the process is finished much of the toxic fluid remains in the formation.
Photo by Bob Jacobi

The Muskingum Watershed, the Lake Erie Shoreline and planned shale development

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 How long will the cement and steel in a well last?

The gas and oil within a  shale layer are harvested from the naturally occurring fractures that exist in the rock. They are opened by hydrofracking allowing the gas that has accumulated for 3 million years within the shale joints to be released and flow to the surface.  Only about 20% of the gas that is actually in the shale has moved into the joints. The remaining 80% remains in the rock and will continue to move into the open fractures long after the well is capped and abandonedHow long can we expect hundreds of thousands of  wells to remain sealed after they stop yielding commercial quantities of gas and oil and are taken out of production? Chesapeake Energy alone is proposing 12,000 wells across Ohio. Will it fall to the taxpayers to monitor and deal with the deterioration of these wells after the gas boom is over?

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How safe are the pipelines?

Fracking means pipelines - LOTS of pipelines; a networked web of four inch gathering lines to18 inch intrastate lines to 36 inch interstate lines across Coshocton County.  A report by Greg Palast details how the industry inspection hardware is programmed to ignore deadly  faults in the lines and welds in order to curtail expensive maintenance .  

XL Keystone - The Pig in the Pipeline

Posted By Greg Palast On December 15, 2011 @ 5:53 pm
by Greg Palast
Special to

Palast conducted a five-continent investigation of Big Oil for British TV's premier current affairs program, Dispatches, and for BBC Worldwide. This report is based on the broadcast seen prime-time worldwide—but not yet in the USA.

Whistleblowers have told Britain's "Dispatches" that the safety software on major US pipelines contains deliberate errors—and so pipelines can — and have — busted, leaked, exploded ...and killed.

Congressional Republicans are holding extended unemployment benefits hostage until President Obama agrees to speed up approval to build the XL Keystone Pipeline. XL Keystone will slice down through the entire width of the USA, moving tar-sands oil from Canada to Houston.

The oil industry promises that the Pipeline will be safe. But the pipe is only safe if the PIG inside it can squeal.

Federal law requires the industry to run a diagnostic robot PIG, a Pipeline Inspection Gauge, that will squeal when something is wrong: a crack, dangerous corrosion, anything that might lead to a spill or explosion.

But PIGs are only as good as the software that tracks and analyzes their signals. And the software used by Big Oil has been compromised—deliberately.

Insiders told this reporter that the software was designed to fool the safety inspectors.

"The software feeds them incorrect information about the state of their pipeline."

This source knows what he's talking about: It was his team that designed the software with the known flaw. But so what?

The insider, quite nervous, told Britain's Dispatches that, "If they don't repair the pipelines the worst that can happen is similar to the disaster that we had near San Francisco, where a natural gas pipeline exploded and killed 9 people."

The insider—identified as Pig Man #1—appeared on Dispatches, Britain's equivalent of "60 Minutes," including the segments not yet broadcast.

Originally, our source thought that the deadly software code was an error—so he tried to fix it to meet the standards of the law.

"I was part of a team that corrected the error."

But the error was deliberately left in place, and the correction hidden, "Because the software would increase the liability that a pipeline operator would, in this case a subsidiary of BP, would have to deal with."

Pig Man #1's story was corroborated by another member of the software team, too scared to come on camera, even in shadow, following a threat by the industry contractor hired by BP and other majors to design the software.

Dispatches provided the information to BP which said it complied with all rules and regulations.

That's a reasonable alibi for BP, except that one of the nation's premier public-interest lawyers doesn't buy it. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., dean of environmental law studies at Pace University in New York notes that "the dog didn't bark," that is, when the Trans-Alaska Pipeline burst then exploded, when pipes cracked in Yellowstone National Park and underneath homes in California, the companies didn't turn around and sue their software contractor for failures which costs millions of dollars in fines — and several lives.

Why not? Why is Big Oil happy with what they call a "smart PIG" that's often real stupid? Is it because the dumber the PIG, the less sensitive the software, the more they save? Sometimes, the industry quietly skips the "pigging" altogether.

After all, a few million in fines and payments to bereaved families adds up to a cheap license to pollute.

Making the diagnostic software less sensitive is like pulling the battery out of a smoke alarm. God forbid you have a fire. But in the case of the PIG, it's not just dangerous, it's illegal. The whistleblower saw that the software violated the very specific requirements of the law, and tried to fix what he thought was an accidental error.

And by the way, I'd like everyone reading this to say a quiet ‘Thank You,' to Pig Man #1. Even speaking in shadow, he took a gamble on his career, on a threat of financial ruin by the company who made all the engineers aware of the problem to sign papers that they would never discuss nor reveal anything about this software and it's deadly errors. That's guts, that's courage.

But that brings us to the XL Pipeline. This pipeline which will be benefit BP, Shell Oil, Chevron, the Koch Brothers' Flint Hills Resources, will be safe, just as BP swore to Congress in Nov 2009 that all is A-OK with drilling in the Gulf of Mexico's deep water.

We have good reason to fear the PIG in the XL pipeline and, given the history of this crew, even more reason to fear the pigs that own it.

Read more about Pig Man and the industry in Greg Palast's new book Vultures' Picnic: in Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates and High-Finance Carnivores

Greg Palast is the author of Vultures' Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates and High-Finance Carnivores, released in the US and Canada by Penguin.

How safe are Injection Wells?

Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us

by Abrahm Lustgarten
ProPublica, June 21, 2012, 9:20 a.m.

Over the past several decades, U.S. industries have injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep into the earth, using broad expanses of the nation's geology as an invisible dumping ground.

No company would be allowed to pour such dangerous chemicals into the rivers or onto the soil. But until recently, scientists and environmental officials have assumed that deep layers of rock beneath the earth would safely entomb the waste for millennia.

There are growing signs they were mistaken.

Records from disparate corners of the United States show that wells drilled to bury this waste deep beneath the ground have repeatedly leaked, sending dangerous chemicals and waste gurgling to the surface or, on occasion, seeping into shallow aquifers that store a significant portion of the nation's drinking water.  

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