From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Jeff Rice):
Farmers and ranchers who work in close proximity to oil and gas production, especially if that extraction involves fracking, need to be aware of the effects of that process on their operations, according to a presentation made Tuesday morning during the Eastern Colorado Crop Production Conference in Fort Morgan.
While the boom in hydrologic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” began a decade ago, researchers are just now asking serious questions about the impact of fracking fluids on crops, livestock and people. Molly McLaughlin, a doctoral candidate at Colorado State University, told the 80-plus attendees at the Fort Morgan conference that she hopes her research will answer some of those questions.
The most surprising revelation from McLaughlin’s presentation is that some “produced water” from oil and gas wells is actually used to irrigate crops and water livestock.
The researcher explained that there are two kinds of fluids involved in fracking. The first is the fracturing fluid that is forced into the drilled well to widen fractures in the bore hole. The fluid consists mainly of water but also contains chemicals to reduce friction of fluids against the well casing, biocides to kill bacteria that may grow in the warm, wet environment, and “proppants” that hold the fractures open so oil and gas can flow into them to be extracted. McLoughlin said wells in eastern Colorado use an average of about 3 million gallons of water per well during the fracturing process, mixed with about 30,000 gallons of chemicals.
The other fluid is the produced water, or fluid that flows back out of the well during the extraction of oil and gas. McLoughlin said most of the fracturing fluids are expelled from the well in the first few years of production, but that water will flow out for the life of the well, or about 30 years in most cases. During later years, most of the water is what was already in the geologic formation that contains the oil or gas being pumped out. She pointed out that this is not water from aquifers that supply water for human consumption. As oil and gas production decreases, she said, water production increases.
Most of the exposure to fracking fluids and produced water happens during spills, McLoughlin said, and virtually all spills must be reported to state authorities. She said contamination can come from spilled chemicals getting into surface water, such as nearby lakes and streams, or by leaching through soil into shallow aquifers.
McLoughlin said most of the chemicals used in fracking will degrade fairly rapidly if they are spilled into soil, but that combinations of chemicals degrade at different rates. She said the presence of salts in the produced water can retard degradation by six months or more. Her research is aimed at determining the degradation rates of various chemical combinations, and the effects those combinations have on soil, crops, livestock, and people.
Wastewater from oil and gas wells is treated, McLoughlin said, by skimming pollutants off of the top of holding ponds, by heating the wastewater, or by adding neutralizing chemicals. She said increasingly, treated water is being used to irrigate some crops and water some livestock.
McLaughlin showed research being done at the University of California at Davis that uses produced water to irrigate switch grass for biofuels or cotton for textiles.
An online article from the California Environmental Protection Agency states that produced water from oil and gas wells there is treated and then blended with other water to irrigate crops in the arid inland areas of the state. The CEPA closely monitors that water, the article said, and the state’s Food Safety Expert Panel monitors the crops grown with that water.
McLoughlin concluded her presentation by saying that much more research needs to be done on potential impacts of oil and gas wastewater on food production.
From MarketPlace.org (Scott Tong and Tom Scheck):
Top officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year made critical changes at the eleventh hour to a highly anticipated, five-year scientific study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on the nation’s drinking water. The changes, later criticized by scientists for lacking evidence, played down the risk of pollution that can result from the well-drilling technique known as fracking.
Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.
Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.
The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”
In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of “widespread, systemic impacts” as the agency’s top finding.
In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies.
In all, the agency identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources. The agency also identified hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.
It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release.