Hydraulic fracturing is a completion process that has been utilized in the state of Ohio for over 60 years. It is estimated that over 80,000 wells have been hydraulically fractured in Ohio during this time. Hydraulic fracturing has a proven track record that is supported by numerous state regulators and organizations.
For a well to be economically successful, two conditions must be present. First, the reservoir rock must have good porosity. Porosity relates to the amount of oil and gas that is trapped within the pore spaces of the rock. Secondly, the reservoir rocks must have good permeability. Permeability relates to how the pore spaces are connected within the rock that allows fluids (like oil and natural gas) to move through the rock. Most productive wells have good porosity but poor permeability.
A producer will hydraulically fracture a well to increase the flow of oil and gas from the rock, known to contain oil and gas, but where the rock’s natural permeability does not allow oil and gas to reach the wellbore in sufficient volumes.
What is Hydraulic Fracturing?
Hydraulic fracturing is “well stimulation” – the process of applying hydraulic force, using water, to induce and extend tiny fissures into a reservoir rock. To put it another way, think of it as creating a drainage ditch that penetrates horizontally into the oil and gas bearing reservoir rock.
Hydraulic fracturing makes the impossible possible by allowing us to reach oil and gas trapped in rock beds that would not otherwise naturally produce.
Is Hydraulic Fracturing New Technology?
No, this is not new technology. Hydraulic fracturing has been a standard practice for over 60 years. The first well in the United States to utilize hydraulic fracturing technology was the Kelpper # 1 in Kansas in 1947.
In 1989, the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) stated that over 1 million “frac jobs” have been done in the United States. In total, 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 7 billion barrels of oil have been captured thanks to hydraulic fracturing – energy that would not have been acquired without it.
Hydraulic fracturing is responsible for 30% of America’s recoverable oil and natural gas. 90% of wells currently operating today have been hydraulically fractured. American operators now fracture 35,000 wells each year.
In Ohio, hydraulic fracturing was first used in 1951. Since then, over 80,000 wells have been hydraulically fractured, ranging from 1,000 feet deep to 10,000 feet deep.
Is Hydraulic Fracturing Safe?
Not a single case of drinking water contamination has ever been recorded. Not one.
Hydraulic fracturing has been aggressively regulated by the states. In that time a staggering record of safety has been amassed. Several groups, including the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER), the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), have issued reports to support these claims.
In testimony before the United States Congress in 2009, then deputy chief Scott Kell issued the following statement on hydraulic fracturing in Ohio:
“After 25 years of investigating citizens complaints, DMRM (ODNR) geologists have not documented a single incident involving contamination of ground water attributed to hydraulic fracturing”
Can Hydraulic Fracturing Contaminate Ground Water?
In Ohio, two factors support the fact that ground water contamination from hydraulic fracturing cannot happen.
First, one must consider the lithostatic overburden. All rock formations under the earth are being put under pressure. When one hydraulically fractures a well, hydraulic pressure is put into the wellbore. It is impossible to create the needed hydraulic pressure in the well bore and into the reservoir rock to create a fracture that would extend into a source of groundwater (the uppermost 500 feet) in Ohio.
Secondly, there is something called the frac gradient. Frac gradient is defined as the pressure gradient at which a specific formation interval breaks down and accepts fluid. In Ohio, there is such a difference between the frac gradient in reservoir rocks and rocks close to ground water resources that would make infiltration into a source of ground water impossible.
A recent study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin again confirmed what other studies have long asserted: that hydraulic fracturing does not directly contaminate groundwater resources.
Additionally, the study found that:
- Natural gas found in some water wells in shale formations can be traced to natural sources and were most likely present before oil and gas operations took place.
- Media coverage of hydraulic fracturing is “decidedly negative” and few news reports include scientific research on the process.
Tom Stewart, Executive Vice President of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said the report validates what regulators and other scientists have long maintained: “The University of Texas study confirms what previous studies have stated in it’s conclusion that hydraulic fracturing has not directly been tied to one instance of groundwater contamination.”
U.S. EPA Tests Say Dimock, PA Water is Safe Showing (Again) No Link Between Hydraulic Fracturing and Groundwater Contamination
After claims of groundwater contamination from residents and environmental interests, the U.S. EPA has recently conducted a series of water tests in Dimock, Pennsylvania. The results found no evidence of serious problems with the well water of the residents in question. The U.S. EPA released the following statement on the test results:
“EPA has completed and shared with residents and Pennsylvania state officials the third set of sampling at 16 private drinking water wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania. This set of sampling did not show levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action. At one well, EPA found elevated levels of arsenic and offered alternate water but the resident declined. EPA remains committed to providing Dimock residents with the best available data and information on the quality of drinking water as expeditiously as possible.”