(Promoted by Colorado Pols)
It is not yet clear—at least to the public that gets to share the air, water and land—what happened at the Black Hills Exploration and Production gas well on public lands in the Piceance Basin over the weekend.
The working theory, according to more great on-the-ground reporting by Dennis Webb at the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, is ‘down well communication,’ which is a technical term for a well blow out… only a different well, a half-mile away, from the well being fracked.
“COGCC is investigating the possibility the hydraulic stimulation of the horizontal wellbore communicated with the vertical wellbore.”
In this case an old vertical well from the 1980s, owned by Maralax Resources, and its old cement was not engineered to withstand the massive pressure forcing the cocktail of unknown, toxic chemicals, scarce western water, and mined sand into the earth, fracturing rock thousands of feet below.
Although it is not altogether understood, this isn’t the first time a fracking job too close to an old well resulted in a blowout.
Texas Sharon, an oil and gas activist/blogger formerly a resident of the Barnett Shale oil and gas patch, describes these incidences:
Oil sprayed on farmer’s land near Innisfail
“We don’t know the details yet … but my understanding is that it appears the fracturing process affected the other well,” said board spokeswoman Cara Tobin, Monday.
The incident could have repercussions around North America as the industry grapples with rising public discontent over rapidly increasing use of the technology to unlock shale gas and oil reserves.
Communication between zones happened in the area where Tim and Christine Ruggiero lived. That’s one reason the EPA picked that area to study.
Don Bester, president of the Alberta Surface Rights Group, is worried the accelerated rate of multi-staged hydraulic fracturing in Alberta could eventually affect water resources underground.
“We’re concerned that these things are going to start damaging aquifers,” said Bester, a retired petroleum engineer. “If they can hit another well, like this one here, what if they communicate and put all that frac fluid into an aquifer and destroy it.”
“Fracks propagate out so far that if they hit one of these natural fracture systems, they will just follow that natural channel straight up from a high pressure zone to a low pressure zone,” Bester said.
The blowout occurred when a nearby well owned by Encana was being hydraulically fractured and the fracturing fluids intersected the Parko well. According to a news report, the two wells are about half a mile apart. Both wells are located on federal land, meaning that both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division (NMOCD) are responsible for regulating these wells.
Despite that fact that Parko Oil reported five previous incidents to NMOCD when nearby fracturing jobs communicated with its wells, it appears that regulators did not take any steps to ensure that the Encana fracturing job wouldn’t impact the Parko wells.
The Obama administration and its BLM insist that fracking is safe—the agency even watered down proposed fracking rules on public lands. Nonetheless the Republicans—including Rep. Tipton, who represents the area with the most recent failed fracked job—want to block even these weakened federal regulations for developing public minerals from public lands, insisting the states can do the job. Here, that would be Colorado—where the Governor still gets press for ‘drinking the frack fluid’ and suing local communities. And it’s even worse in many other states, places like Texas.
Colorado is getting fracked. And its not just what’s going on underground. Astroturf shops peddling well-polished turds, with names like ‘CRED,’ have spilled slick ads and the sheen of marketing pixels all across the web. They propagate fancy banner ads with glorious pictures of Colorado high elevation protected Wilderness, where drilling can never go: A smoke-and-mirrors illusion that drilling and fracking is safe in our neighborhoods.
The safety of all this industrial activity in our midst is questionable, at best. Trucks crash, tanks spill, and wells blow out, spewing their mess all around. This Black Hills E&P incident is just the latest of what are regular occurrences in an oil and gas patch.
And despite what the well orchestrated heavily-funded spin machine insists, the overall health impacts of living in close proximity to this type of activity is uncertain. But it does not appear to be good–and its not just limited to anecdotal evidence shut up by large cash pay-outs and hush money. A recent study supports what activists like Theo Colborn have said for years–fracking chemicals are bad for human health.
But still the revolving doors drop off former regulators at industry shops and firms, and scoop them up again to drop them back off in government. Money flows like benzene from a leaky valve into the very watersheds of our democracy. And although it flows copiously to politicians and PR firms, not enough comes back to the affected communities, so the citizen, taxpayer and consumers pick up the difference. Then there is talk about the big frack. The bubble. Like Enron, some say—a ‘Ponzi scheme’ where the real extraction is drilling gullible investors for cash. “Where is the SEC,” asks one leaked email.
If our public institutions have been captured by industry and become incapable of serving their purpose of protecting the public and the public's interest, then the local fracking bans are just the beginning. From the North Fork to South Park, Durango to Fort Collins, Steamboat to Del Norte, communities are standing up and demanding a say in how—and even if—this type of industrial development can occur in their midst.
The World Health Organization defines clean air as a ‘Basic Human Right.’ In the arid West there is always fear of drought, and projections both in terms of population and climate do not bode well for our own future in that regard. The dwindling amount of water from our over-allocated rivers might be better kept clean and available not shoved into a frack hole to produce profit for some and a toxic stew for all. The climate is changing—methane leakage is real. Real issues, real people, real impact. These demand real leadership, and it elected officials and agencies won’t provide it, then the public will get it all the same.