Category Archives: Water

Issues directly related to water resources

“The End of Country” by Seamus McGraw: a thoughtful perspective on fracking

I finally read “The End of Country” and want to encourage everyone in the potential fracking areas of North Carolina to go to your local bookstore and buy this book or go to your public library and check the book out. Quite simply, his book is appropriately titled, and the content moves from historical, journalistic, anecdotal, and to personal, all of which provide a thorough perspective on life in a fracking area.

Back in March, I had the opportunity to hear Seamus McGraw speak at a forum at UNC-Charlotte, and even walked and talked with him there to ask for his insight. You may remember a post I wrote summarizing that forum, and then sharing Seamus’ advice to have a comprehensive plan around energy policy, energy use, land and resource use. He preceded his speech then with acknowledging he is neither for or against fracking, and has two wells on his property in northeastern Pennsylvania; the book is basically a 250-page explanation of how those wells came to be.

McGraw did his homework in writing this book. He describes the history of natural gas “mining” in nearby Fredonia, New York, in the 1820’s, and then the development of the “Drake well” in Titusville, PA, the first [commercial] oil well in the US.  And then he describes how slick water fracking was developed, almost by accident. Mitchell Energy’s development of fracking as a means to extract natural gas trapped in rock formations almost retired with an effective but inefficient practice; likewise, many petroleum geologists in Pennsylvania almost missed the primary source of natural gas, aiming at other strata around the Marcellus Shale.

The strength of the book comes from the in depth interviews McGraw had with people on the ground, starting with his grandmother. It was his grandmother’s property that he and his sister would inherit that raised the question of why someone would knock on her door to offer money for signing a mineral lease on that land. His research led him through the infamous town of Dimock. He spoke with land owners there, some of whom had not signed a lease, at least not initially. He also spoke with landmen. He heard from neighbors who sought consumer representation as a group. He spoke with Terry Engelder at Penn State. The following are some insights I’ve gotten from the book, and encourage others to share as well.

* The landmen are simply doing their job. They want happy customers and therefore willing to work patiently with property owners, but their job is to get leases signed for the gas-producing company, and get those leases grouped over the gas-producing formations without giving up too much in the process.

* The geology is vital to where a well will be located. This may seem obvious, but it is actually in the details of how the rock formation has been stretched and strained that influences the alignment of the pores where the gas is trapped. Identifying the orientation of these built-in fractures in the formation helps economize how the driller should directionally drill to extract the most gas with the least disturbance.

* One proposed alternative to fracking with water is to frack with a nitrogen gel: the nitrogen would dissipate into the atmosphere, reduce water use, and thereby eliminate the need to control large volumes of fracking wastewater. McGraw actually describes how the first attempts by Mitchell to do hydraulic fracturing relied on a nitrogen foam or gel, but these inconsistent results, especially in deeper wells. For us, though, the orientation of the Cumnock may actually be better suited for this nitrogen gel. The water resources specialist with DER has reassured that there is plenty of water in the Deep River to supply fracking opertations, but considering the fracking wastewater – both the return water and the produced water – has been problematic, anything we can do to reduce the volume of wastewater should be practiced.

* Unknowing consumers have gotten a raw deal, therefore we need very real consumer protection from the state. Those that signed leases early, such as many of the folks in Dimock, got a fraction of what property owners received later. The Marcellus gained recognition for a wealth of shale gas, but the early leases paid very little per acre, and only the Pennsylvania minimum for royalties. This resulted a gross reality of haves and have-mores, and still a lot of have-nots. We know the situation in North Carolina is such that many property owners signed a lease that is not beneficial to them – or of course, property was unknowingly bought and sold without the mineral rights. I do not know fo any course of action property owners may take to renegotiate their mineral lease, but this is exactly the kind of situation to create severe mistrusts within a community.

* There is an overwhelming feeling that fracking is a last resort. Yes, land owners have achieved financial security by opening their place to fracking. But McGraw writes about the perceptions of disparate voices that felt a common dread about the industrialization of their region. He wrote of unlikely alliances that formed to fight for consumer and environmental protection, and how they all recognized the land would never be the same. He also wrote about families that could no longer afford for the land to be the same – how farm subsidies have not risen at the rate expenses have and how communities were losing their next generation of workforce for the lack of opportunities: receiving a signing bonus for their mineral rights would let these families stay on their land.

I encourage you to read this book whether you are pro-fracking or against fracking. The book is informative and entertaining, and never do you feel he is trying to persuade you, the reader. The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, Circle City Books in Pittsboro, and the Central Carolina Community College Bookstore should have copies of “The End of Country” available, and if they do not, ask them to order it. Lee County Public Library in Sanford has the book in its stacks.

-BTEnhanced by Zemanta

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“Fracking wastewater contaminated – likely with radioactive material”

A study in Pennsylvania conducted by Duke was released earlier this week that revealed sediment downstream from wastewater treatment facilities where fracking wastewater had been processed contained radioactive material in 200 times greater concentration than the streambed above the facility. These radioactive contaminants have the chemical signature of the Marcellus Shale. The study has been publicized in numerous media outlets, but here’s the story as it appears in the Christian Science Monitor and from NBC News.

This is not a major surprise. Many geologists have noted that radioactive material lay in these shale beds, and flushing the formations with the fracking fluid would likely bring these contaminants out in solution. I recall a talk from Tony Ingraffea in which he put it: “the fracking process brings to the surface a bunch of stuff we should be happy are locked up and buried down there.”

Now, once again, realize this is not documenting that hydraulic fracturing is contaminating groundwater; no, it is the “produced” water, or wastewater from the fracked well, that is contaminated. Remember the study from University of Texas that concluded there were no links to fracking and water contamination (though the study is actually being redone since it was funded in large part by the inudstry)? Go back to my post from February 16, 2012 and see what I highlighted from that report: it’s the activity associated with fracking – the above ground handling of materials and waste that cause contamination. But fracking cannot be done without without producing waste at the surface.

Personally, I am weary of what elements are bound in our Triassic Basins that would come to the surface when fracked. I understand about the need to extract minerals from the earth for beneficial uses, but what sets fracking apart is the treatment of the flow back and produced water. Our wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to treat this waste. Add to that something I have said before:  the set up of remote industrial sites that are fracking wells makes full wastewater treatment more difficult.

BT

North Carolina’s regulators trying to do their job, impeded by General Assembly

A nice “tip of the hat” to the process that the MEC is making to do what they’ve been charged to do in the face of powerful legislative elements charging forward despite them. Yes, this piece has plenty of opinion in it, but it provides a nice perspective and is well worth reading. Personally, I want to acknowledge the openness that the MEC has endeavored to honor with public participation. I also acknowledge I am way behind on writing on on-goings with the issue, which I hope to jump back into in the near future.

-BT

The State of Things discusses fracking in NC

Great episode of The State of Things yesterday discussing fracking in NC with the reporter who has done the series shared here, Vik Rao of the MEC, Ryke Longest of Duke’s Nicholas Institute, and Elaine Chiosso of the Haw River Assembly. The discussion went into a little more detail than what the series have been able to address. What is really fascinating to hear on here is where the panelists agree on issues related to wastewater treatment, storage, and disposal, compulsory pooling, regulatory “teeth,” and the known unknowns of fracking fluids. The area they really did not dig too deeply into is the economic impact, though Rao specifically said we do not really know what that will be until more exploration is done. I actually have to agree with him there since we have very limited data on the hydrocarbon content in our Triassic Basin’s shale beds, though can still address how we want North Carolina to turn the typical boom-bust cycle on its head if fracking happens.

What Is The Future Of Fracking In North Carolina?

 

 

 

Looking at the fracking wastewater-for-irrigation proposal

This story about using fracking wastewater for crop irrigation was published a couple weeks ago after the Water and Waste Management Committee of the MEC met. The state has strict guidelines for permitting land application of treated wastewater. In general terms, the quality of wastewater must be the same as the quality of the groundwater at the site where it will be applied. The reality of the situation with fracking wastewater is that it will contain a lot of salt, not to mention whatever dissolved solids. The treating and disposing of this fracking wastewater would be so slow and over a wide enough area that it would be prohibitively expensive. So the idea of using fracking water to irrigate crops will not happen.

Note that staff from the state’s Division of Water Resources stated that he is not concerned about water quantity in the Lee County area needed for fracking. Nonetheless, the Water and Waste Management Committee is pursuing recommendations to really encourage the industry to reuse fracking fluids. That is very encouraging, and will happen with the strength of treatment and disposal costs. One option infamously being proposed in SB 76 is deep injection wells near the coast, which is a bad idea. More on that to come. But for now, don’t worry too much about this possible irrigation of crops.

BT