The Denver Post takes an in-depth look at hydraulic fracturing in Colorado

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Here’s an in-depth look at hydraulic fracturing from Mark Jaffe writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s and excerpt:

It took Anadarko’s contractor, Superior Well Services, about a week to haul in the water, sand, chemicals and equipment for the frack, which would take just one day. As it began, Jon Anderson, a senior completions technologist, sat before 10 computer screens in a trailer on the site. The readouts showed details on things such as slurry rates, downhole pressure and wellhead pressure, and chemical mixing. The first test was to pump in plain water at a pressure higher than would be used in the frack to check the well’s integrity…

Environmental and community groups raised concerns about its safety, the toxicity of ingredients in fracking fluid and its impact on air and water. That has led to a push for better data, disclosure and controls on fracking by state and federal agencies, including:

• An Environmental Protection Agency study looking at the impact of fracking on drinking water resources, from the acquisition of the water to the disposal of frack fluids.
A preliminary report is slated for next year and a final report in 2014.

• An EPA-proposed rule, expected to be adopted next year, limiting air pollution from oil and gas operations, including fracking.

• A Department of Interior-proposed rule for regulating fracking on public lands.

• A Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission proposal requiring drillers to file the ingredients of their frack fluids in a database with public access. A public hearing on the rule is scheduled for Dec. 5.

• A joint industry-state program in Colorado to test residential water wells before and after fracking. Companies responsible for 90 percent of the wells drilled this year are participating.

More hydraulic fracturing coverage from Anthony A. Mestas writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Grass roots and environmental groups in the Spanish Peaks area contend fracking — technically, hydraulic fracturing — leads to contaminated water and, possibly, earthquakes. State and federal regulators along with energy companies dismiss the claims. Fracking poses no threat to ground water and does not cause earthquakes, they say…

In the Raton Basin, which stretches from Southern Colorado to Northern New Mexico, fracking occurs in coal beds to release the natural gas coal-bed methane. Water, nitrogen, sand and several additives are pumped under pressure into the coal beds to create fractures used to free the gas…

The average depth of the wells is 1,300 feet, or less than a quarter mile, a much shallower depth than shale gas wells that can extend more than 1 mile below the surface. At that depth, the wells — and fracking zones — also operate far below the depth of most of the area’s water wells, which generally are less than 200 feet down…

To guard against contamination of the region’s water, companies such as Pioneer follow a number of safety steps, as directed by the Environmental Protection Agency and state energy regulators. Among them:

– The drill casing at the surface is surrounded by cement to prevent leaks or spills. Tests are run to confirm that the cement is solid and adequately surrounds the casing.
Water wells in the drill area are tested before and after the drilling operation.
– The “flow back” water from the well is directed to a tank or lined pit for at least 30 to 60 days and then returned to the ground in deep injection wells that extend down 4,000 to 7,000 feet.
– The chemical additives used in the fracking mix are minimal and considered safe.

Additives make up less than 1 percent of Pioneer’s fracking mix. The chemicals are the same found in products such as ice cream, salad dressing, household cleaners and dish washing soap, the firm says. The bulk of the mix is water (55 percent), nitrogen (35 percent) and sand (9.9 percent.)

The Environmental Protection Energy released this report, PAVILLION AREA GROUNDWATER INVESTIGATION Pavillion, Fremont County, Wyoming on August 30, 2011. It shows contamination of groundwater in the area from hydraulic fracturing. Here’s the introduction:

This Analytical Results Report (ARR) for the Expanded Site Inspection (ESI) at the Pavillion Area Groundwater (GW) Investigation site (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System [CERCLIS] ID# WYN000802735) in Fremont County, Wyoming, has been prepared to satisfy the requirements of Technical Direction Document (TDD) No. 0901-01 issued to URS Operating Services, Inc. (UOS) under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 8 Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team 3 (START 3) Contract No. EP-W-05-050. This report has been prepared in accordance with the EPA “Guidance for Performing Site Inspections under CERCLA,” Interim Final, September 1992, and the “Region 8 Supplement to Guidance for Performing Site Inspections under CERCLA” (EPA 1992; EPA 1993). Field activities were conducted from January 18 to January 22, 2010, in Pavillion, Wyoming. Field activities followed the Site Inspection (SI) format during the ESI, applicable UOS Technical Standard Operating Procedures (TSOPs), and the Generic Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) (UOS 2005b; UOS 2005a). This ARR is intended to be used in conjunction with the Field Sampling Plan (FSP) (UOS 2010).

Contamination from chemicals of concern in the Pavillion area was originally alleged by local residents when visual and odor parameters for several domestic wells changed. Visual changes included yellow color, increased turbidity, oil sheen, and inclusion of small gas bubbles. A hydrocarbon odor was also reported. Prior screening, sampling, and analyses conducted previous to EPA’s investigation indicated chemicals of concern in domestic wells with unknown risks to health and unknown sources. A previous SI performed by EPA narrowed the area of concern to an area in and around 11 wells that possessed detections of methane; volatile petroleum hydrocarbons (VPH), tentatively identified semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs); nitrate; arsenic; phthalates; and caprolactam. These wells are located in Sections 2, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 21, and 27 of T. 3N., R. 2 E. and Section 7 of T. 3 N., R. 3 E. See Section 3.3.2 for a summary of previous work.

Meanwhile, Pitkin County is petitioning the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for full disclosure of the materials used for hydraulic fracturing. Here’s a report from Andrew Travers writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

The commissioners, in a letter drafted this week to the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, are calling for that body to adopt stricter disclosure guidelines than what is currently being considered. “We obviously have fracking activities ready to occur in our county,” County Commission Chair Rachel Richards said Tuesday.

The gas commission is considering adopting a rule that would require companies to disclose the chemical contents of fracking fluid, but allow them to withhold contents they deemed “trade secrets.”

“There are some large loopholes in that rule-making approach,” Richards said, concerned companies could abuse the “trade secret” exemption.

The county leaders bristled at the notion that gas companies could shield their chemical formulas. They stressed potential threats to public health in their letter and discussions of the issue this week. “Unless you are pumping Coca-Cola into the ground, we want to know what is in this thing,” said County Commissioner Michael Owsley.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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