Monday, January 14, 2013

Fracking in Kansas - Part 3

1947 Gas Well Fracturing Operation
For hydraulic fracturing info in Kansas a great source has been put together by the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) at this location:

The picture provided is from the linked KGS circular and is the first experimental fracturing job done in 1947 by the Stanolind Oil company.  It was done on a gas well in the Hugoton Gas Field in Grant County, in southwest Kansas.  There is more information on this operation in the link provided.

Technically the KGS material is very good.  They talk about the real need to oversee and regulate the activity very closely, and  mention areas of the US where problems have occurred due to less-than-aggressive state oversight attention.  Pennsylvania is mentioned as a state too lax in return flow oversight, with Colorado, Wyoming and Texas also missing effective oversight in other parts of the production process.  In the end they state:  

"For the most part, Kansas has not encountered the problems some other states have, and no documented cases of ground-water contamination by hydraulic fracturing have been reported in the state." 

The entire circular to me implies that:  1) Kansas oversight is effective;  2) geologically we're different enough that the same activities that have been problems elsewhere are working OK here;  and 3) we can continue on - business as usual. 

Well, I'm not so sure.  I have to believe there is a huge difference in vertical fracturing of old and horizontal fracturing being done today.  We in Kansas don't yet have the well numbers and longer-term experience in the horizontal fracturing being done in the Marcellus Shale of Appalachian Basin in the NE, or the Bakken in the Dakotas and Montana, or the Barnett in Texas.  What if it takes 15 years for migration paths to translate to the surface?  Just because we haven't seen any yet doesn't mean it's not happening.  And one of those potential conduits has to be all the un- and improperly plugged oil and gas wells of the past in our state.  Nobody yet has gone on record saying these relics are of no consequence.

The water supply needs for fracking are also handled curiously in the KGS circular.  They are compared to irrigation use in quantity and characterized as a single (one-time only) use of 2-4 million gallons of water.  Sounds like not much to worry about.  But keep in mind that there have been 244,000 oil and gas wells drilled in Kansas since 1947.  This past use, at 3 million gallons per well, is a supply need of 732,000 acrefeet of water - all consumptively used and never to be used again.  In the 50 years ahead of us, this could easily reach another 900,000 or 1,000,000 acrefeet due to the accelerated drilling trends - and all of this water is being and will be used outside of the water rights system currently in place.  Don't get me wrong, irrigation uses a lot of water in Kansas, but my point is that oil and gas water needs are not insignificant.

I love the KGS and the work they do, but I'm not completely sold on their assessment of HF in Kansas, yet.  I can only hope they're right on the money... 


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