Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Haven't Been Fracked Yet But Are Concerned?

The question was posed to the SW Kansas GMD 3 as follows:  "If I were a concerned domestic well owner in an area where hydraulic fracking operations were to begin, what should my initial, pre-fracking, water quality sampling protocol include?" 

This is actually a very astute question and one that many folks may want to think about as the oil and gas industry ramps up and dives deeper and deeper for extra hydrocarbons.  A baseline, pre-oil activity, water sample (or set of samples) seems like a very smart idea that is more likely to give you a starting point should groundwater quality problems crop up after these areas become active.  Turns out GMD 3 contacted the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) and asked their opinion, which is recounted here in this blog.  Thanks, Mark!  Click this link to the KGS if you want to review their website.

The KGS approached the question in an interesting way, beginning with "If someone wishes to at least have some basic, affordable, analysis made of his/her ground water, I would suggest...".  How thoughtful and actually dead on this approach was.  Anyway, they go on to suggest some basic inorganic tests including:  pH, specific conductance, calcium, magnesium, sodium, alkalinity or bicarbonate, chloride, sulfate, nitrate, and fluoride concentrations.  They like this suite of tests in that it will provide a background quality that will be helpful in distinguishing the pre-activity water quality from any post-activity quality should there be the more common problems of:  oil or gas brine leaking from waste at the surface; or through a faulty production or injection well; or through a poorly plugged (old) oil or gas well nearby that may have been affected by the fracking process.

They continue on to say that the other fracking chemicals are organic and will be much more expensive to include in a testing protocol - but none-the-less are as important.  While many of the organic constituents of fracking activities are none that landowners or farmers would be normally using, there are some that are - like ethylene glycol (antifreeze), methanol (antifreeze, windshield fluid and denatured ethanol) and isopropanol (glass cleaners and fuel additives).  Unfortunately, these are the same 3 organics they recommend being tested for because they are also the most commonly used in the fracking process.  If they show up in the post-activity testing, be prepared to prove that they're not yours!  If they show up before oil operations and you've been using these products, perhaps you have a leak in your septic system or have had poor storage and disposal practices on the farm already.

In any case, KGS recommends you contact a company certified by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for whatever testing you decide on.  This link or This link can be used to find a KDHE qualified lab.

They also indicate that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) are working with the industry to obtain samples of actual fracking fluid being used in Kansas horizontal wells, but I have not confirmed this.  Presumably this would yield a fairly accurate fingerprint of these water qualities for future reference and comparisons.  There is also an understanding that other fracking operations in different formations in Kansas will require a different fracking brew, so this may be a long and involved process.

I have to reference the industry FracFocus website at this time as well.  This is a voluntary site where drilling companies can choose to list the chemical constituents of their fracking formulas along with a lot of other information on the listed well.  A breeze through this site for fracking wells close to your area could give you far more specific information about what is most likely being used.  You could then choose to test accordingly.  Some companies use this site more than others, and some states have required its use, like Texas.  Kansas has not.  Might be something to talk to your legislators about...

Anyway, I hope this gives some direction on how landowners can approach a water quality sampling effort that gives them some peace of mind yet doesn't require their entire life savings.

[Update: October 26, 2011]

KGS has offered an interesting alternative to those who have not yet leased land for oil and gas operations that makes sense to me.  Thanks, guys.  In their own words:

"Dave Newell at the KGS had an excellent suggestion concerning negotiating an analysis for a new lease and I have added some procedure to it that you might consider adding to your blog:

If a land owner is being approached to lease their land, a baseline laboratory analysis paid by the oil/gas company could be negotiated as part of the leasing agreement. This is not costly compared to the total leasing agreement and drilling, and in some ways, it could protect both the property owner and the company. In this case, a third party could collect and submit a water sample to an independent certified laboratory and both the oil/gas company and landowner should receive the results."

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