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July 29, 2010

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JD, if you follow the links all the way through, the objection seems to be related to the IP aspect of fracking cocktail makeup. That is, the content of the frack material is a proprietary trade secret. One thing I haven't heard about is fracking polluting groundwater, but maybe that happens. I am not sure you are entirely on target here.

From: ProPublica:

Colorado records (PDF) cite some 1,500 cases from 2003 to 2008 in which drilling companies reported a hazardous spill, with 300 instances leading to what state officials determined was a measurable impact on water supplies. A tally of Colorado data was performed by the advocacy group Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

In New Mexico, Mark Fesmire, director of the Oil and Gas Conservation Division, said his state had documented some 800 cases in which water has been contaminated by oil and gas operations, half of them from waste pits that had leaked chemicals into the ground.

...

[I]t's difficult for scientists to say which aspect of drilling -- the hydraulic fracturing, the waste water that accidentally flows into the ground, the leaky pits of drilling fluids or the spills from truckloads of chemicals transported to and from the site -- causes such pollution. Here's why: The industry has adamantly refused to make public the ingredients of the chemicals it forces into the ground and later stores in the waste pits near drilling sites. Scientists say that information is crucial to tracing the source of pollution. Without those data, environmental officials say they cannot conclude with certainty when or how certain chemicals entered the water.

Ask officials in New Mexico and Colorado: Are there any cases in which we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that hydraulic fracturing caused water contamination? Answer: No, we've never studied that question.

Ask those same officials: Are there hundreds of cases of water contamination in drilling areas, the vast majority of which use hydraulic fracturing? Answer: Yes.

As for the drilling company's IP, I think the right to protect trade secrets hits a brick wall when you're pumping those trade secrets into the environment.

Hydro-fracking. That's, what, fracking in a hot tub?

did BP ever make public the ingredients in Corexit? Last I heard it was a trade secret. Seems like there were some problems with it in the Gulf of Mexico somewhere.

"The industry has adamantly refused to make public the ingredients of the chemicals it forces into the ground and later stores in the waste pits near drilling sites."

Or, as Rand Paul might put it, you can go ahead and make a mountain out of a molehill, but making a molehill out of a mountain is more aesthetically pleasing.

If the chemicals are stored somewhere, trespass and steal them, analyze their constituents, and make public the results.

Make a sauce of them and nap the pound of flesh Don Blankenship consumes every day, step back, see what color he turns, record the results, and publish the paper in Nature.

Ya know, satirical news shows are outliving their usefulness. The national discourse is such now that the movie "Network" is a documentary, "Dr. Strangelove" is a training manual, Monty Python is a verbatim corporate or government news release, and Jon Stewart's baleful deadpan doesn't require any verbal follow-up.

We're fracked.

JD, if there are cases where a chemical has been pumped into the ground water, can't the chemical be traced back to the driller?

So, let's get this straight. Fictional 1960s right-wingers: oppose and fear fluoridation of water supplies. Actual 2010 right-wingers: vigorously defend pumping unknown chemicals into the ground.

What you people don't realize is that this is a direct result of the flouridization! Don't you see, they've already won!

JD, if there are cases where a chemical has been pumped into the ground water, can't the chemical be traced back to the driller?

Not if they can't identify the chemical and associate it with a particular driller/comercial activity.

Isn't that the whole problem here?

Right - if you know what chemicals they're using!

That's the whole problem. If you have someone pumping unknown chemicals into the ground, and you have groundwater chemical contamination somewhere else, it's impossible to tie the two together.

Er, Eric posted while I was composing that. Or else I was cut-and-pasting his responses to look smarter. Hard to tell.

If the latter, my apologies.

If you have someone pumping unknown chemicals into the ground, and you have groundwater chemical contamination somewhere else, it's impossible to tie the two together.

Here's the problem: if the water is contaminated, can't the chemicals in the water be identified? I'm pretty sure that part isn't rocket science.

There is a ton of drilling in Texas, usually on rural property where the surface estate owner, and surrounding surface estate owners, take their water quality very seriously. Suing someone who contaminates underground water is something that, if it were at all common, would have popped up on a lot of radar screens, including mine.

Further, the feds have a lot of investigative authority if they think someone has polluted ground water. A subpoena and a lawsuit could get to the bottom of this problem, if it was the problem now being claimed.

Maybe it's just me, but I would kind of like to know what chemicals are meant to be pumped into the ground before the water supply actually gets contaminated.

McKT:if the water is contaminated, can't the chemicals in the water be identified?

Yes. But if you don't know what chemicals are being pumped into the ground, identifying a particular chemical found in the ground isn't going to get you very far.

I suspect water contamination lawsuits from fracking will be on your radar pretty soon, if they're doing it in your area. Conventional oil & gas drilling does not involve pumping anything into the ground, so you wouldn't see problems there.

Fictional 1960s right-wingers: oppose and fear fluoridation of water supplies.

What fictional? There were right-wingers who strongly opposed fluoridation of water. I've met many, and some were in my extended family.

Actual 2010 right-wingers: vigorously defend pumping unknown chemicals into the ground.

Why the difference?

Government wanted to put fluoride in your water.

Private industry wants to put "unknown" chemicals in the ground.

That's all there is to know about the right wing stance on the matter.

If you think that's overly simplistic, all I can say is it's exactly as simple as the thought process it describes.

I put scare quotes around "unknown" because they are known, they are simply not being divulged for IP reasons.

I think hydraulic fracturing is likely to continue, and can probably be done in a fairly safe fashion

You'll forgive me if I don't take your word for it.

One thing I haven't heard about is fracking polluting groundwater, but maybe that happens. I am not sure you are entirely on target here.

With respect, it's not clear exactly what an industrial enterprise would have to do to earn your suspicion.

Conventional oil & gas drilling does not involve pumping anything into the ground, so you wouldn't see problems there.

Minor correction: a lot of "secondary recovery" of oil is done by injecting water, steam, or CO2 into some of the wells tapping a single reservoir so as to force oil out of the others. Many, if not most, of the 500,000 oil wells in the US are doing secondary recovery nowadays.

--TP

Conventional oil & gas drilling does not involve pumping anything into the ground, so you wouldn't see problems there.

JD, yes, conventional drilling involves pumping various muds and cements into the ground. Fracking is and has been very common. I've defended at least one frack tank case--in 1991, and it was not a pollution case--and you can see them pretty much anywhere a drilling operation is going on.

With respect, it's not clear exactly what an industrial enterprise would have to do to earn your suspicion.

It depends on the enterprise. As noted above, fracking (or fracturing) a well is pretty common and has been going on for decades without any complaints that I've heard. Sure, there could be mountains of complaints that I managed to miss, but this being the first time I've heard of this very common practice being a significant problem, or even a less-than-significant problem, and given the broad oversight the feds have to investigate and charge groundwater polluters, a fair inference to draw is that maybe a bit more evidence ought to be gathered before ordering people to disclose their proprietary know how.

I think hydraulic fracturing is likely to continue, and can probably be done in a fairly safe fashion

Did I say this? If fracking a well in fact causes groundwater pollution at a level where it's a meaningful threat, then it's not safe.

Generally, if there is a well that's being fractured, there is a frack tank by the well. The well flows into the frack tank. The location of that and every other well is a matter of public record. If there is groundwater pollution in a rural county, there aren't many suspects or sources. Finding out who and what polluted a rural groundwater location isn't the highest form of detective work. As I said, if this were a significant problem, logic suggests the feds would have long since done something, somewhere, about it and fracking would have long since been much more closely examined and, most likely, regulated.

Reid isn't proposing a limitation or anything like that. Rather, he wants formulas. That's it. Before gov't takes something from someone, they ought to have a fairly decent reason, not a surmise, suspicion or allegation.

McKT: Did I say this?

No, that was me. I think it can probably be done safely with disclosure.

Correction accepted on conventional drilling, I was making a bad simplification: from what I understand, there is a real difference in scale with the current natural gas hydro-fracking and what was common in previous decades. Lots more fluids, a lot more of it going on.

The only reason the companies don't have to disclose this information already is that they got a specific exemption in 2005. Forgive me if I don't attach a lot of moral weight to IP derived from a special exception from normal rules about disclosure of chemicals released to the environment. Nor can I give any credit to the idea that disclosure of methods is going to cause the industry real distress - what, they're going to stop extracting gas and selling it because some method was publicly disclosed? This ain't software. The product is gas, not intellectual property.

Nor can I give any credit to the idea that disclosure of methods is going to cause the industry real distress - what, they're going to stop extracting gas and selling it because some method was publicly disclosed?

The driller or estate owner doesn't frack the well. A specialized company does. And it buys specialized material to frack the well--the material, BTW, can be purchased by the feds and chemically analyzed--but it's most likely blended/treated in a manufacturing process that causes the fluid/material to be as effective as it is which also probably changes the chemical properties (I say probably, when really, I am the least scientific person I know, so really I am assuming the process affects the chemical properties). Disclose the materials and the proprietary owner's trade secrets are in the public domain and he/she is put at a huge commercial disadvantage.

If--the jury is still out on this--there is the pollution problem you imply, then the public good will overtake the private interest. But before that happens, there needs to be a stronger case than Harry Reid sticking something in a bill at the last minute.

The "huge commercial disadvantage" doesn't seem to be apparent in those states that have enacted similar legislation. Inhofe's claim that regulations that work at the state level will destroy the industry if enacted at the federal level doesn't make any sense.

And the idea that the names of chemicals that are released into the environment constitute a protectable trade secret - rather than being subject to compulsory disclosure, which is the standard regulatory approach - is the result of an industry-specific measure put in a 2005 bill. It's not standard for other industries.

Finally, this isn't Reid's pet project. There have been bills pending on this for a year and subject to a lot of discussion, and states have seen fit to introduce their own regulation. If anything, the federal government introducing national standard regulations ought to reduce compliance costs for the industry.

The "huge commercial disadvantage" doesn't seem to be apparent in those states that have enacted similar legislation. Inhofe's claim that regulations that work at the state level will destroy the industry if enacted at the federal level doesn't make any sense.

You're right. Inhofe doesn't make sense. My take comes from the Bracewell & Guiliani attorney who was making the IP pitch. Now, he could be blowing smoke himself. It wouldn't be the first time a lawyer did so for a client. It's our job, actually. Of course, if the lawyer is shown to be full of it, his client loses.

What I am saying, JD, is that we don't know enough yet to make a decision. Your default of "compel disclosure" is not based on a lot of evidence, and really not even on a lot of smoke much less fire. This is not a crisis. If it was, it would already be a major political football. It's actually just a bit of intestinal gas in a much larger storm, to wit: the November elections.

Before congress nails an industry or anyone else to the wall, a chance to be heard and have a bit of public debate is in order. If Inhofe is carrying water for douche bags who don't deserve it, that will come out. If not, then an injustice--a virtually irrevocable injustice, i.e. an act of congress--will have been imposed in the absence of a showing of compelling need.

You've got a friend in Pennsylvania. (That used to be on the license plates.)

Let's wait 'till there's a crisis.

HSD--blowouts rarely have anything to do with fracking a well. And, as you know, evidence short of a crisis can accumulate over time and there's been plenty of time for evidence to accumulate, over fifty years in fact. Where is it?

In my twisted European mind it seems ridiculous that a comapny could get a permit without disclosure to the agency that gives the permit.
The contamination can also be a result not of the drilling chemicals but of the fracturing of the rock, allowing harmful substances in the ground to reach the ground water. That can easily be the case, if the oil/gas containing areas are separated from the aquifers by impermeable but relatively thin rock formations.
In some geothermal projects over here heavy metals, arsenic etc. got leached from the rock and endangered aquifers used for drinking water production because the fracturing got a bit beyond the intended area.

Finding out who and what polluted a rural groundwater location isn't the highest form of detective work.

It's tricky when the people pumping stuff into the ground won't tell you what they're pumping, as the original article clearly pointed out.

It's tricky when the people pumping stuff into the ground won't tell you what they're pumping, as the original article clearly pointed out.

Simply because an article says something, doesn't make it so, even if what is said resonates in certain quarters. The question is whether the article's assertions hold up under logical scrutiny.

Again--you begin with pure water, BADCO Drilling fracks a well, and now water is polluted. Sample the water, do a chemical analysis, subpoena BADCO's frack compounds, do a comparision and prosecute. This all works if the water actually is polluted and if there actually is a chemical match.

The contamination can also be a result . . . but of the fracturing of the rock, allowing harmful substances in the ground to reach the ground water. That can easily be the case, if the oil/gas containing areas are separated from the aquifers by impermeable but relatively thin rock formations.

I haven't heard of this, but it seems plausible. Wouldn't the initial bore samples tell you what kind and composition of formation you were drilling into?

HSD--blowouts rarely have anything to do with fracking a well.

McKinney, the point is that the blowout "spewed at least 35,000 gallons of wastewater into the air for 16 hours until the well was finally capped the following day." Why worry about what was in the waste water?

...there's been plenty of time for evidence to accumulate, over fifty years in fact. Where is it?

From Wikipedia:

"The most important industrial use is in stimulating oil and gas wells, where hydraulic fracturing (in the broadest sense of the word) has been used for over 60 years in more than one million wells. On the other hand, high-volume horizontal slickwater fracturing is a recent phenomenon."

There were cars for many years before the Pinto, too.

McKT, I am cynical enough that companies, esp. in the US, would joyfully ignore such test results since the likelihood that it will cost them more than giving up on a sweet drilling spot is very low.
Also the experience over here has shown that bad results can become clear much later than feasible for commercial enterprises, depending on the flow speeds underground. In the region where I live there is at the moment a long term project to study that. Geology is tricky, esp. at great depths and conditions can change quickly over short distances. It was a nasty surprise in Southern Germany some time ago that geothermal plants caused earthquakes strong enough to damage buildings at distances far beyound the expected reach of the project.

Before you ask what type of fracking is being done in the Marcellus Formation, read this.

HSD--and has the new approach proven to be dangerous? If so, disclose. If not, wait until there is cause to compel disclosure, as well as fines, penalties, jail time, etc.

If so, disclose. If not, wait until there is cause to compel disclosure, as well as fines, penalties, jail time, etc.

I already did. Why shouln't anyone be allowed to know what was in the at least 35k gallons of waste water that was spewed into the air? (I'm not sure when I said anything about fines, penalties, jail time, etc.) Or do we have to wait for people to become seriously ill or die before we can dare ask what chemicals the frackers are using?

Maybe it's just me, but I would kind of like to know what chemicals are meant to be pumped into the ground before the water supply actually gets contaminated.

What I am saying, JD, is that we don't know enough yet to make a decision.

Two points of view. Do we try to figure out if it's safe before we do it, or do we steam ahead and pick up the pieces (if need be) after the damage is done?

I'm not a mining engineer, so I can only look at this stuff from the outside.

First, what I see is that "fracking" has been specifically exempted from the Safe Water Drinking Act requirements that other industrial processes have to follow. All that's being proposed is the removal of that exemption.

Second, the presence of toxic industrial chemicals in drinking water in or near gas fields has been demonstrated. When we say "the jury is out", what we are saying is that an incontrovertible cause-and-effect smoking gun has not yet been produced. In some of the areas in question, however - rural Wyoming frex - there's no other industry, and no other reasonable source for stuff like benzene to be in the water supply.

Third, what we're talking about is not an isolated or limited industrial process. Folks want to use, and are using, fracking to extract gas in something like 31 states. If it's going to cause harm, that's going to touch a lot of people.

Fourth, the harm allegedly being done is to poison the water supply.

Fifth, the oil and gas industry has a crap record of putting public safety first when there's this kind of money on the table.

So, I don't trust them, and I don't take their word for it when they say fracking is harmless.

Quite simply, they will be perfectly happy to lie to our collective face if it means they can continue extracting natural gas and making lots of lovely money.

To me, it's almost blindingly obvious that the burden of proof should be proponents of fracking, rather than on its critics.

There is a larger issue behind this, which nobody appears to have any interest in addressing. By "nobody" here I don't mean folks on this board, I mean folks who are in a position to make public policy.

The easy oil and gas are pretty much spoken for. As time goes on, all that is going to be left are fields that are harder, more expensive, and more risky to exploit.

At some point, possibly including right now, continuing to use oil and gas at the rates we do is going to increasingly cost us in other forms of quality of life, and cost us dearly.

Think Nigeria.

Straight up, I do not trust oil and gas companies to do the right thing. They will only do so if forced to do so by law.

Is there even any question about that at this point?

So bring the law.

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