On Fracking


This post represents two milestones for WUWT.

1. It is the first post where a detailed examination of fracking has been offered to the readers.

2. It is the first post I’ve authored from an airplane cruising about 35,000 feet enroute from Atlanta to Phoenix. I’m connected to Southwest’s new inflight WiFI service. Mr. McClenney sent me this post just as I was about to board and I emailed back that I wouldn’t be able to get to it for hours. And then I discovered this new miracle of technology. Here’s my view just before posting:


Guest post by William F. McClenney

I had occasion recently to watch several presentations on environmental aspects of hydraulic fracturing at the world’s largest oil and gas industry conference. To this day I remain dumbfounded as to why the argument I am about to present here has never been mentioned before (at least to my knowledge).

It is fundamental to all arguments which attempt to deal with the effects of oil and gas development to consider the initial discoveries of petroleum: seeps. Seeps are natural leaks from traps where migration of hydrocarbons have accumulated predominantly in reservoir rocks in the subsurface. These seeps represent leakage of these trapped hydrocarbons along predominantly fractures and faults, and to a lesser extent other pathways (such as unconformities etc.). (For a basic video see: http://wn.com/oil_trap)

Until the past decade or so, the search for these traps has been the focus of the O&G industry since its inception. Reservoir rocks are those rocks which have facilitated this migration through the provision of porosity and permeability necessary to allow the movement of fluids and gases derived primarily from the maturation of hydrocarbons most commonly derived from source rocks such as shales and mudstones which lie beneath them stratigraphically. Perhaps the most common reservoirs are sandstones.

Let me repeat that, the source rocks almost always lie beneath the reservoir rocks.

The other necessity for a reservoir rock to be a reservoir rock is a top seal or rock of low to minimal porosity and permeability (often also shales), sometimes in association with a structural discontinuity, such as a fault or anticline, which prevent the majority of the migrated hydrocarbons to keep migrating towards the surface. Stratigraphic traps, which also require a top seal rock, are also targets, such as conversion of limestone to dolomite through the addition of magnesium rich fluids which ideally can result in creation of up to 11% porosity in the dolostone. Where the updip limit of this conversion occurs defines the limits of the stratigraphic traps.



So traps, however they were formed, are the key to comprehending not only how economic accumulations of hydrocarbons occur, but also the how and why you literally cannot get here from there with hydraulic fracturing.





Let’s start with hydraulic fracturing itself. This only recently impinged on the popular consciousness and is therefore “new”. To the petroleum or gas geologist, these arewere new techniques to increase porosity and permeability beginning in the 1960s, with their initial use in the reservoir rocks in mostly vertical wells. Read reservoir rocks, not top seal or much lower source rocks. “New” must therefore encompass the massive use of this technique for over half a century in strata which overlie the source rocks, and in just about every known oil or gas field in the world.

Combine source, reservoir and top seal and you have what we call a “petroleum system”.




Oddly, use of hydraulic fracturing for the last half-century in the reservoir rocks has not caused a groundwater problem anywhere I am aware of. Those of you that can provide examples of where this half-century of intense reservoir hydraulic fracturing has caused drinking water aquifer impacts please chime in.

But the game changed ever so slowly with the development and evolution of directional drilling into steerable horizontal drilling now all the rage. The horizontal evolution spanning mostly just the last decade or so.

What this means is that for the most part, we are now targeting for the first time the source rocks themselves. What that means is we are now going after the much lower, stratigraphically, tight organic source shales etc. This could be the end game for petroleum and gas exploration, for once we have exhausted the source rocks……………..

So here is what has been missing entirely (from what I can tell) from the present “hot” discussion on fracking. So think “source rock”. Lying beneath the reservoir rocks, where fracking has been going on extensively for decades. Now add in horizontal drilling, sometimes for miles away from the drillpad in several directions. As they are “fracked”, enormous lift, on the order of maybe millimeters to maybe inches or possibly a few feet occurs to open up pathways for migration of the hydrocarbon load towards the horizontal well(s).

Do you realize what this means? It means that there is a definite possibility that such radical lifting and fracturing of the source rocks has a very slight possibility of increasing what for tens to hundreds of millions of years was already the natural seeping of hydrocarbons from the source rocks into the reservoir rocks!

Do you realize what that means? That means that meager induced releases of new hydrocarbons from the surfaces of the source rocks could actually “get on the freeway” of the reservoir rocks where they could mischievously, eventually, make their way into the structural and stratigraphic traps where they could literally be “stuck” under the top seals or structural seals, at least until removed by say existing oil field wells in the reservoir rocks, or egregiously eke their way through the labyrinthine natural plumbing of the natural seeps to say drinking water aquifers.

Imagine even a few feet lifting from hydraulic fracturing in the source rocks propagating all the way through the reservoir rocks, literally blasting past all the hydraulic fracturing maybe occurring there for decades before, and even more powerfully fracturing not only the top seal rocks but the miles of sediments and beds above. Very, very impressive, if we could only do it…….. A nuclear test might, repeat might, crack the entire stratigraphic section to1 the surface a mile or two above it, but not much else is likely to.



For oil and gas, the migration process could be considered “fast” geologically, perhaps taking from tens of thousands to tens of millions of years to occur due to the density drive which allows crude and gas to “rapidly” migrate into the reservoirs above the formation water. You know, oil floats on water, and so on.


Seismic section image off the coast of California showing sedimentary layering, faults, and other geologic features. Some of the features, especially in the deeper and lower parts, are artifacts of the imaging technique, and it is helpful to be trained in the interpretation of seismic sections. This type of data is crucial and common in oil exploration. Note the vertical scale of depth. Image source: http://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/mapping/csmp/data_collection.html

But the fate of the myriad chemicals being employed in today’s hydro-fracturing

regimes is not so sublime. What would drive these chemicals even into the culminations of the structural or stratigraphic traps? Most are water based solutions, with water starting out with a slight density advantage to say salt water (most connate waters are salty, surface seawater today ~1.025 specific gravity), that is until you dissolve said myriad chemicals into them, when the density drive case gets rather murky at best for water-based chemical fracking fluids, if not strongly negative (specific gravities being greater than 1.0).

Shoot these out into the connate water parts of the oil/column/reservoir rocks and voila, there you have it! They might be denser than even the connate waters, but unlike oil, they will dissolve and disperse. Whereas we have natural oil seeps above many known oil finds, we don’t often find brine springs. Why? Well oil is generally lighter than water (gas dramatically lighter) so it floats. If fresh water can “float” atop the denser warm Gulf Stream waters of the Atlantic, and shut down its circulation (according to many), how is this denser, salty or chemically laden, probably denser formation and frack water supposed to rise up, undispersed, through the top seal and structural traps, cascading and being refracted along countless bedding planes and unconformities to arrive, and still be detectable in near-surface (say less than 1,000 foot deep, and that’s being generous) aquifers thousands of feet to miles higher in a geologic instant?

Such that the USEPA can claim that they have found its signature in 3 places, only to later recant that they bungled that badly in each case.

With one exception, the ONLY way to get these “dangerous chemicals” into an aquifer quicksmart is if they

  1. Possess a density less than crude oils yet greater than methane (assuming they remain water-based solutions and do not spontaneously become a gas at deep formation pressures (ludicrous just to cogitate)

  2. Have an yet unreported ability to jet through the labyrinth of bedding planes, other shales etc. in order to reach the surface often miles above in no time flat, where we can sample them.

The exception being transmission up the annulus of the exploratory boring/well itself. Now this can be a rather egregious problem as Macondo informs us. Are we not yet to learn the dirty details of Halliburton’s slipshod cementing of Macondo’s annulus? And this is an all too common problem for the O&G industry, driven as it is by economics, often offering bonuses to drilling contractors for completing the well ahead of schedule. Newly drilled wells are all too frequently subjected to anthropogenic pressures “before their time”, i.e. before the cement has been allowed to properly setup. Assuming it is proper cement in the first place.

This egregious problem can readily be addressed with some skillful regulations on concrete formulations (with allowances for evolution of these formulations by rigorous engineering standards which they must achieve), and a permit-specified curing time etc.? At least at the minimum.

That is literally about all it would take. This would not be egregiously expensive to the O&G industry, at least not when compared to blow-outs, extensive baseline groundwater monitoring ahead of and during drilling/production, cleanup costs etc. Environmental considerations, frankly, should be everyone’s first move these days. Would better up-front due diligence have prevented Macondo, Elgin or Frade? It’s just risk management, which Macondo informs us, can be a pretty big part of exploration management, and cost.

Just as “A stern chase after a lie is a long one” so is the trip for natural oil and gas seeps, which have had tens to hundreds of millions of years to do it, and a much more robust density drive than water based, and therefore easily further dissolved/dispersed chemical fracking solutions are likely to ever have. The “hole” in this theory is the exploration/production borehole itself, a relatively trivial and inexpensive problem to solve.

William F. McClenney


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An excellent analysis of the physics of rocks and reservoirs.
The only exception I might take is to point out that Halliburton’s models of Macondo indicated that cementing the well in one pass (rather than cementing the bottom third and letting it set before doing the rest in a second pass) risked having the weight of the cement exceed the fracture strength of the reservoir rock, resulting in the loss of unpredictable amounts of cement into the reservoir and possible gaps in unpredictable locations along the length of the borehole. It was a decision of the BP rep on site to proceed with a single pass cementing anyway (and with fewer centralizers than recommended) despite Halliburton’s concerns.
It was also the BP rep who told the Schlumberger crew to demobilize and not do the standard verification of the cementing job with a wellbore log.
The rig toolpush who argued with the BP rep died on the platform, but was after their earlier discussion heard swearing “I guess that’s what we’ve got those f***ing shears for”, implying he thought the well was going to try to back up and they would need to use the blow out preventer shears.
On the bright side, any toolpush today who feels the need to argue with a client rep can point out how much it cost BP to cut those important corners. It’s an argument that now carries considerable weight.


Personally, I have ignored the fracking discussion for exactly those reasons – as an ex-oilfield geologist, it was obvious there was not a serious issue. By contrast, for example, there are places which are grossly affectd by geothermal ‘extraction’ works – IIRC, there’s a place in Germany (?) settling due to warm water extraction! But, funnily enough, I don’t see the greenies up in arms over this kind of problem…..

William McClenney

GlynnMhor says:
April 29, 2012 at 3:25 pm
Thanks GlynnMhor. A good recollection of what is likely to be a lively litigation someday…..

Jim D

I read that Cheney got this exempted from groundwater regulations, which is why they haven’t been testing systematically for contamination. There is an effort to get a regulation passed that would result in more testing.


It’s amazing what is ignored by the public. Insitu leaching of uranium deposits (ISL) has been going on for about 40 years, and now accounts for about 35% of total world production. Production is by injecting acid into the deposit from injection wells and sucking out the solutions from production wells. Acid and uranium versus water and gas?? Which method would you be worried about contaminating your water. And the uranium deposits are sometimes proximal to the aquifers – i.e. not deep. And to date no significant problems have developed. Trust me, you would have heard about it.

Willam Abbott

I read that methane hydrates were probably flowing into the Macondo well in a semi-solid state and the methane hydrates sent confusing signals to the drillers – who normally have clear indications what exactly was going on during the cementing process. Methane hydrates are supposedly abundant deep within the earth’s crust. But I can’t imagine how to extract them.

Kev-in-UK says:
April 29, 2012 at 3:32 pm
Personally, I have ignored the fracking discussion for exactly those reasons – as an ex-oilfield geologist, it was obvious there was not a serious issue. By contrast, for example, there are places which are grossly affectd by geothermal ‘extraction’ works – IIRC, there’s a place in Germany (?) settling due to warm water extraction! But, funnily enough, I don’t see the greenies up in arms over this kind of problem…..

It sure depends on the fluid. I’m STILL an oilfield geologist, and generally avoid discussing fracking to laypeople, because of all the AdHom about being a shill and the like. Yes, I make my living finding the stuff, but nope, I’ll tell ’em what they NEED to hear, not what they want me to say. And bad cement jobs are not uncommon, with the blessing that subsequent squeeze jobs can remedy the situation. Pretty well all of my clients in the last 15 years have made sure their casing sealed off the access point to the reservoir.
But, on the hype about fracking, I sometimes find myself having to cut a discussion short when people repeat stories about fracking water contaminating some slew water somewhere. In Alberta, we recently saw the death of on Wiebo Ludwig, a fanatical commune ‘pastor’ who was responsible for bombing a number of oilfield installations because, he said, their effluent was causing miscarriage in some of his livestock. No evidence, just bombs.
The above analysis is spot on, although I would add a fourth category to the petroleum system mentioned: “maturation”, that is, the thermobaric conditions which must take place to actually generate the hydrocarbon in the source rock, prior to its migration. Also, some frac jobs are relatively shallow, like some jobs I recently supervised in Alberta, at 700 meters below surface. But even then, there is a thick roof of several hundred meters of ductile marine shale above the reservoir…which resists fracturing.
Unfortunately, you will never see such a concise analysis in the mainstream, who prefer to demonize anything petroleum in lieu of investigative facts.


Methane hydrates are supposedly abundant deep within the earth’s crust. But I can’t imagine how to extract them.

Relieve the pressure around them and they “extract” themselves. Albeit sometimes explosively so.


While most of your essay is pretty spot on, you missed probably the most important and most likely way to get the frakking chemicals into surface waters and aquifers – surface discharges of untreated or poorly treated drilling fluids and frakking water. This is the real threat from frakking.

Willam Abbott says:
April 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm
I read that methane hydrates were probably flowing into the Macondo well in a semi-solid state and the methane hydrates sent confusing signals to the drillers – who normally have clear indications what exactly was going on during the cementing process. Methane hydrates are supposedly abundant deep within the earth’s crust. But I can’t imagine how to extract them.

Uh, no. And drillers don’t do cementing, either.
JC, I’m guessing, that you speak in part about the vast Uraninite/Tyuyamunite/Carnotite deposits of the Morrison Formation of the Colorado Plateau, an area crosscut by vast canyons whose talus slopes are literally riddled with those three minerals. The Natives used the yellowcake ochre as paint. The uranium for Fat Man and Little Boy was mined in Uravan, CO, whose vast tailings ponds were set along the San Miguel River, and eventually into the Colorado via the Dolores river. The tailings ponds were remediated somewhere around 1990 while I was working on my thesis project in the area. The tonnage of uranium carried away by the Colorado River over time is simply immense.

William, thanks for that informative recital on fracking. Keep on it. As boring as it can be, the truth needs repeated over and over again.
The problem isn’t that people are concerned with it getting into our water system. A five minute excursion on the nets to the right places will inform us that it isn’t a danger. And, no one with an ounce of sense seriously believes the briny solutions are going to come get us.
The problem is, there are people in this country who are hell bent on depriving this nation of cheap reliable fuel and energy. Any successful fuel of energy industry will be despised by the radical left. Always.
Thanks again for the post!


Kev-in-UK says:
April 29, 2012 at 3:32 pm
“By contrast, for example, there are places which are grossly affectd by geothermal ‘extraction’ works – IIRC, there’s a place in Germany (?) settling due to warm water extraction! But, funnily enough, I don’t see the greenies up in arms over this kind of problem…..”
That would be the town of Staufen. Report from 2008, they drilled through keuper and then into a ground water layer and the water came into contact with the keuper, forming gypsum, leading to expansion. As a result at least a hundred houses developed large cracks. German houses are generally made from stone or concrete.
Since then, the process has continued and some places have risen by 30cm (1 foot).
All of this just because they wanted to heat the city hall in a “climate-friendly” way (given the low energy density of geothermal, I wonder if the entire operation would even have had a positive EROEI if everything had gone smoothly).


crosspatch says:

April 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Methane hydrates are supposedly abundant deep within the earth’s crust. But I can’t imagine how to extract them.

Relieve the pressure around them and they “extract” themselves. Albeit sometimes explosively so.

Maybe one could collect them with robot submarines.


from central South America now 12 C probably because of this.
we are getting colder and colder every year as the sun is going into a dormsnt state and Antarctica is growing every year. The AGWers are MAD

Sorry about my rapid-fire postings here, but:
BobN says:
April 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm
While most of your essay is pretty spot on, you missed probably the most important and most likely way to get the frakking chemicals into surface waters and aquifers – surface discharges of untreated or poorly treated drilling fluids and frakking water. This is the real threat from frakking.

The whole point of fracking is to pump those ‘drilling fluids’ into the rocks below the surface. And pump them until the tanks are dry. There is no ‘release’ of fluids at surface unless it is unintended, and believe you me, with the pressures involved on a frac unit, they make sure there won’t be such a release…because it would be deadly. I’m sorry, but the “Drilling Fluids” are long gone from the site by the time fracking begins. Gone with the rig that drilled the well. And just to be sure, most fracking fluid consists of….water. Water with some sifted sand added to act as a ‘proppant’, to keep the fractures from collapsing. Both, I might add, highly toxic substances. I think, BobN, that this is YOUR real threat from fracking. You haven’t done much research to support your assertion, I can tell. I’ll leave it at that.

Alistair Pope

Try this website for a review of oil seeps and oil spills – and why they are GOOD for the environment!
Since 17-days after the Macondo well was capped in August 2010 has anyone heard anything about “The worst environmental disaster tin America’s history” (Obama in May 2010)?
Neither have I!

David L. Hagen

“The worst environmental disaster tin America’s history”

I believe I have read that it is estimated that globally, wind turbines kill more birds in a day than the Deepwater Horizon blowout killed.

Kevin Kilty

…As they are “fracked”, enormous lift, on the order of maybe millimeters to maybe inches or possibly a few feet occurs to open up pathways for migration of the hydrocarbon load towards the horizontal well(s)…

I doubt that fracking will “lift” rock unless the work is extremely close to the surface. Otherwise fracking just produces connections among pre-existing fractures that are oriented perpendicular to the direction of least principal stress (favorably oriented). But, at any rate, there are probably a million wells in the U.S. that have had some method of enhancing permeability — fracking or acidization–with little to talk about until now.

Willam Abbott says:
April 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm
I read that methane hydrates were probably flowing into the Macondo well in a semi-solid state and the methane hydrates sent confusing signals to the drillers – who normally have clear indications what exactly was going on during the cementing process. Methane hydrates are supposedly abundant deep within the earth’s crust. But I can’t imagine how to extract them.

My understanding was that the hydrates formed when gas, under high pressure, encountered cold bottom water in the Gulf. To extract hydrates you either warm them, or reduce pressure on them, and take them out of their field of stability. The hydrates then break down and release gas. At the depth of the Macondo well this would be 20C or so. So the Gulf bottom water would have induced hydrate formation.

William McClenney

BobN says:
April 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm
Well, I might have missed some. But flowback is a market for my firm. Municipalities, large and small, are coming to grips with the exigencies represented by return frack water, flowboack. Only those ventures that believe they can get away with direct surface discharge even flirt with such. Any size municipal water treatment system these days is becoming aware of the issues such a large discharger modern-day O&G operations can generate. And it isn’t pretty. Even for a boutique wastewater treatment enterprise, such large volume, near instantaneous discharges pose an engineering challenge. If surface discharges of flowback water are still occurring, my presumption would be that such a practice is destined for extinction.

Dave Worley

We must continue to remove these poisonous hydrocarbons from the environment. I recommend that we either burn them or convert them to inert plastic products so they can do no more harm.


I’m torn on the subject: Oil or water?
In all seriousness, lately it seems that clean water is more rare than hydrocarbon deposits (here in the US) and something that we ought to be spending more time and effort in securing.
Jus’ sayin’


The ONLY reason fracking has been in the news is environmentalists’ campaign against abundant cheap energy afforded by shale gas. period.


Barbee says:
April 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm
Where is there a source of water in the US that is NOT approved for human (and animal) consumption?
What water supply in the US is threatened by anything (or anyone) OTHER THAN the extremist enviro groups who are cutting off water to the Central Valley of California and areas in the west mountains by breaking dams and filing lawsuits in the cracks they leave behind? There have been droughts now – as they have been in the past, ever since the original Indians in the SW were killed out by drought and famine, since the Mayans were killed out from their peninsula, ever since the Jamestown settlers were nearly out by drought ….
Few things have been more success in saving the lives of hundreds of millions of innocents than the conversion and treatment of common water supplies in the US and the first world since the 1910’s and 1920’s.
Few things have killed more people (other than socialist governments!) than the enforced lack of clean water and simple sewage treatment, cheap energy and better transportation and food storage by the uniformly corrupt governments in the third world. And THAT is a policy the UN wants to retain through its CAGW demands as they try to pay those same corrupt governments.


I also work in the oil industry, 20 years, manager with major international, based in SE Asia, earth scientist by background.
This article has the correct conclusions (frakking is not an issue as its been going on for decades) but unfortunately is not well written, misses some key points and pieces of information and makes some erroneous statements. Not least of these is that source rocks occur below reservoir rocks. Generally true for [the] traditional petroleum system but this has nothing to do with what is being targeted under current frack type development proposals. Source rocks occur everywhere and the areas where they are currently being don’t necessarily have to be deep or associated with reservoir rock at all.

William McClenney

Barbee says:
April 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm
Yeah, well, that is what I have been doing for the past quarter-century plus. The first horizontal well for chlorinated solvent remediation was drilled over 10 years before the first commercial horizontal well for oil at the Savannah River National Laboratory site. Oddly enough, this involved release of methane gas to stimulate growth of naturally occurring methanotroph bacteria which excreted oxygenase waste products which neatly oxygenated the solvents so fast that it was uncanny.
You might be surprised what we can do in terms of aquifer rehabilitation. It’s what I have been doing for over a quarter-century now since being ushered out of the oil and gas industry after the last boom cycle…….

Steve from Rockwood

Mike Bromley the Canucklehead says:
April 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm
Sorry about my rapid-fire postings here, but:
Keep them coming Mike. You’re educating a lot of people including me.


(responding to)
ImranCan says:
April 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm
Fine. Then “copy and paste” the original and edit it. Do that NOW, don’t wait, don’t try to make it perfect. Make it better with your corrections and expansions.
If it is not “better” …. Make it better, more readable! THAT is your challenge.
Do NOT ever simply criticise another person’s effort, but work harder yourself to make it better. And, by making it better, better inform the rest of us who read it.


@ Mike Bromley the Canucklehead (April 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm)
Mike: if there is no surface release, then how to account for the numerous articles under Google
“Fracking Flowback”.
Now the EPA attempts to regulate this discharge, but the disdain for EPA reg’s I would imagine can be fairly common. Much like the illegal dumping of hazardous material in the countryside/back country roads via truck, I can imagine this or perhaps simply drilling a “secret” “dump hole” for disposal. Lest you think that these companies are naturally “honest”, I think that there has been much evidence over the decades that where profits are involved, anything can go.


That would be: Texas, California and Florida to start.
Ever heard of those places?

Jeff L

If I weren’t I petroleum geologist & I were a lay person, I think I would found this post to be confusing & left me with more questions than answers, which really isn’t that helpful.
A much more helpful discussion would have been from a reservoir engineering perspective & discussing what actually happens during a fracking operation, how & where the fractures propagate (staying in the zone of interest, if executed correctly) , how we know this (via microseismic & production data collected) & how the odds that any fracking operation would contaminate an aquifer are so incredibly remote & how much economic benefit this country is receiving from this technology (which is basically being used in every import new onshore North America play). The risk vs benefit analysis is a no-brainer as the benefits so far out way the risks.
As an industry, we have so much data & experience showing the risks to aquifers is almost nil, yet we fail to use this in any meaningful way to dispel the mountains of mis-representations & out right lies made by various left-wing & environmental groups. As usual in these situations, it is apparent that collectively as an industry , we have zero PR skills.


(responding to)
Barbee says:
April 29, 2012 at 5:33 pm
Grew up in south Texas, went to school in Texas, worked in Florida for years, worked in Texas, worked in California for years.
What part of your claim says the water problems in either or any of those regions is caused by a concentration on oil production, and what part is caused by the local enviro’s in those regions forcing their opinions on the rest of the state and nation?
Name a water problem in those regions NOT caused by government actions and re-actions, but rather by private industry.


[SNIP: If you have something substantive to contribute, do it, but quit baiting other commenters. -REP]

Firstly, a thank you is due to William F. McClenney for the head post, and secondly to the others technically versed in this industry who are also stepping in with comments and clarifications; I think I can speak for a number of us (general posters) out here, who truly appreciate the presentations and thoughts of those involved first-hand in the ‘trenches’ and front-lines of these activities, activities beyond the comprehension and understanding of our ‘press’ through which often in the past they were our only source of information on such issues, as we can’t all ‘fraternize’ with the geologists or petroleum engineers who posses the specialized science and ‘industry’ knowledge in these fields.
Again, thank you for taking the time to put this post together and having the willingness to withstand a few ‘unknowing questions’ from us, the unwashed, consuming public, who are largely ignorant of these technical fields …

Bill Illis

An important question is just how much fracking will increase recoverable reserves.
The approach could be expanded a 1000-fold versus what has been tried. Does this increase recoverable reserves to last another 30 or 300 years?

cheapsmack says April 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm:
… here is one place where ground water is affected by industry not the G&O industry but never the less

No connection whatsoever with the topic at hand; what’s next, cites of homeowners caught poring used motor oil down storm drains (verboten in an area like ours where surface reservoirs hold drinking water)?
Please, let’s stay on topic.

Robert of Ottawa

I am an engineer and enjoy difficult problems. Why, for example, is this second revision of my circuit board consuming 50% more power? (an actual problem).
When I think of the complexities of horizontal fracking, I see a playground of puzzles and difficulties.
…Ah, if only I had the time to explore them…but I am certain that there are a thousand engineers doing that just now. Life is good, engineering is good, humans are good – as far as any natural animal is “good”. So, why do the enviromentalists [sic] want to denegrate us? … and not their oh so precious piety, as exhibited by their Toyota Pious.


Follow the money? From that link, “Lockheed Martin officials say there is no reason to uproot the community because residents are not at risk. After having delineated the 131-acre plume with 137 monitoring wells and 468 soil samples, company officials argue that cleanup efforts should be confined to the plant property, and that soil and water samples of the plume offsite show it poses no threat to health and does not require remedial measures. Despite these assurances, State Representative Bill Galvano told county commissioners that federal, state, and county governments should come up with $20 million to move the 238 Tallevast residents near the plant to new homes.
On the legal front, lawsuits against Lockheed Martin have been consolidated under the direction of Motley Rice law firm in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.15 In all, 254 Tallevast residents have joined the suit. While Tallevast lawyers attempted to get the suit moved to the 12th Judicial Circuit in Manatee County, Lockheed Martin attorneys preferred to keep the case in Tampa federal court. Company lawyers maintain that Lockheed Martin has, as Subra writes, “no responsibility for residents’ alleged property damage or illness because work performed at the plant was done for the federal government.”
20 million, plus the money from lawsuits is a lot of incentives for activists, even for the “expert” called in with money from the MacArthur foundation. As bad as the pressure is on the residents is to promote their message, the company’s situation is nasty: They bought a contaminated site based on work beginning in 1948’s A-bomb production, then suffered upper surface leaks. A bad situation for those involved though, but notice that even the earliest of the beryllium work was done for for the government’s atomic programs. Is there an unbiased analysis of the residences’ situation?
Notice too that the shallow surface water problems from the spill are the direct and immediate result of the community NOT being on the county’s water system. Which returns to my original comment: Lower energy costs and more affordable water and sewage solve problems. They have not caused problems, they did not cause these problems.

Good review and excellent comments too. I am presently a consulting geologist in Alberta. We have been fracking here since the beginning of the practice. I’ve supervised frack jobs myself. If done properly and well, no problem. Most of the time probably 98%, that is how it is done. That does not mean problems from time to time do not occur, they do. To my knowledge fracking has not caused drinking water contamination if Western Canada. Could have happened I suppose. I am aware of many instances of farmers getting gas in their water wells. Happens all the time in certain parts of Alberta, has since man started drilling or digging water wells here and will continue as long as we do. Those wells tend to be way to shallow to be effected in any measurable way by fracking. Every basin is different from every other. Geological things are not uniform in the slightest. They are highly heterogeneous. One can take principals from from place to another but the details are almost always variable. In the rush to explain and therefore oversimplify, two things happen. Universality is inappropriately applied and gross assumptions or generalizations are made.
The hype related to fracking is simply that. It is the same hype applied to global warming modeling results and a thousand other things we use or talk about. I have seen a number of MSM presentations about fracking, all misleading and highly inaccurate. Do we need to take care when doing this kind of work? Yes, absolutely. Remember the deep drilling and injections for Geothermal in California that caused seismic responses. Remember the seismic activity triggered by deep injections at Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Remember injection of massive amounts of fluids is not the same as some limited fluid + sand in a frack job, no matter what pressures are being used.


Thanks for the instructive lesson on oil geology. I think the fracking issue has to do with the integrity of the cementing job, as you said. The borehole down to the oil reservoir is sealed (more or less) with a steel pipe casing inserted to fit closely within the open hole. This is further sealed by pumping cement through the casing down to the bottom of the hole at some point, where it then rises up on the outside of the casing to fill all the voids and crannies that may exist between the earth, rocks, etc that are present between the drilled hole and the outside of the steel casing. Naturally, after it hardens, the cement cannot remain to plug the bottom of the hole, so it is eventually drilled out at the bottom.
If this cement sealing job is not done properly, the fluids that were injected under very high pressure (and remain pressurized for a long time even after fracking and cementing is completed) can rise up between the drilled hole and the steel casing. There have been few problems reported because the fracking fluids are usually injected many thousands of feet below the reservoirs where farm irrigation or drinking water are drawn, and because most of the fracking fluids must be removed before the fracked well can produce oil or gas.
However, it would seem prudent to establish some safety standards for cementing/sealing the more shallow oil and gas wells in situations where pure water is nearby above, and is needed for household use or farm irrigation.

Paul Marko

Erin Brockovich blew into Midland, Tx three years back looking for the source of Hexavalent Chromium that was poluting water wells south of town. She blamed Schlumberger, the well service company,and set out to prove it.
Problem was Schlumberger didn’t use chromium in any of its processes. And the Texas Commision on Evironmental Quality agreed. However, there still is a plume of chromium contaminated ground water down there some where. However, Brockovich is missing in action.

David Ross

“A nuclear test might, repeat might”
Actually, this has been tried.
Project Gasbuggy
Almost worth repeating -just to see the reaction of “environmentalists” 🙂

This may have been covered up thread, but fracs at depth would normally occur in a vertical plane: http://fracfocus.org/hydraulic-fracturing-how-it-works/hydraulic-fracturing-process
The rupture in the rock is determined by the least principal stress, and in most cases >2000 ft the greatest stress is from overburden.
In shales, micro seismic indicates the ruptures occur in dendritic branches or swarms away from the wellbore.
Fracking from a deep producing formation into a shallow aquifer is, for all intents and purposes, a geomechanical impossibility. There are cases where it would benefit the operator if a frack would extend vertically, for example to crack through confining shales for greater vertical communication. It’s difficult. Fracs are normally confined to the zone because of the different mechanical properties in the adjacent beds.
If the frack were to propagate outside the hydrocarbon pay interval, the operator has wasted a lot of money on horsepower, frac fluid & sand that will mostly be wasted.
Another factor which makes communication to aquifers extraordinarily unlikely if not impossible is that the frac always follows the path of least resistance. There are likely to be multiple horizontal beds between the hydrocarbon zone and the aquifer that would break down and “take” the frac if subjected to frac pressures.
Commenters above are correct: the most likely contamination pathway is via improperly handled fluids at the surface. The second most likely is a poorly constructed/cemented wellbore. I even have a hard time with that one.


Good article that could be improved with some of the comments to it. In respect to the uranium issue a couple of posters raised, I’ll make some comments. I headed up the South Texas uranium exploration and development program of a major energy firm for several years. In Texas, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, New Mexico and Colorado at the least, significant uranium deposits called “roll front uranium deposits” have been discovered and mined, in underground mines, open pits, and more recently, solution mining.
These deposits typically occur in sandstones that act as aquifers. The uranium content of these waters results from oxidizing, carbonate-rich water (meteoric water; rain water) leaching uranium from the rock it is moving through. These “source rocks” contain significant amounts of volcanic tuff, i.e. shards of mineral and glass ejected from volcanoes in explosive eruptions. Certain types of magmas are enriched in uranium (it has no home in the normal rock-forming minerals), and we have in the western US and northern Mexico numerous large volcanic events featuring these magmas. The uranium in the source rocks may occur as uraninite or as uranium adsorbed on the tuff shards. This uranium is easily dissolved in oxidizing, carbonate-rich water.
At a point where the water moving through the sand encounters chemically reducing conditions (i.e. the Eh of the water tends toward negative values), the uranium begins to precipitate out. This may happen where facies changes occur (the riverine sandstone for example begins to grade into a marshy, lignitic sequence), or where natural gas is seeping into the formation, etc. Once established, the roll-front concentration of uranium may be further moved down the hydraulic gradient by influxes of oxidizing water, often leaving behind some of the decay products of uranium, like radon and radium and so forth, that are significantly radioactive. In Texas the roll front-bearing aquifers may in fact be the sources of some drinking or stock water.
Solution mining basically reverses the geochemical process. Carbonate-rich, oxygenated water (not acids) is pumped into the formation, dissolves the uranium, and is pumped out. This water is run through an ion-extraction process to remove the uranium and then recycled back into the mining process.
We often encountered natural gas deposits in our drilling. In fact, in one incident, we had a blowout that destroyed the rig (no one was hurt, fortunately) and created a fountaining lake several acres in size. We had to call in the oil and gas boys to kill the well. Afterwards, in that particular area (now a significant solution mining area) we had to drill with blowout prevention devices (this on essentially water wells of at most a few hundred feet deep).

I enjoyed the OP and the comments. I have been studying this process beginning as a neophyte, and am hearing exactly from y’all, what I have been reading. Seems to me that the risk factors in fracking are well known, and that if a well is to be optimally productive, the cementing and fracking must be done properly. There isn’t a good reason not to do it right IMHO.

Mac the Knife

Barbee says:
April 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm
“I’m torn on the subject: Oil or water?
In all seriousness, lately it seems that clean water is more rare than hydrocarbon deposits (here in the US) and something that we ought to be spending more time and effort in securing.
Jus’ sayin’”
Where do you live? I’ve traveled, hiked, hunted, biked, back packed, fished, paddled and explored a lot of this great country and I never had a problem finding clean water. There was no effort required to ‘secure it’. Nor do I buy plastic bottled water (at $8 a gallon!). What is your basis for stating that ‘clean water is more rare than hydrocarbons’? Clean water is every where. Hydrocarbons (oil, natural gas, etc), conversely, are difficult for an individual to obtain from anywhere in nature.


“Are we not yet to learn the dirty details of Halliburton’s slipshod cementing of Macondo’s annulus?”
The Gentleman:
‘He,….snigger,….he said,….guffaw/chortle,….he said annulus’
His Mental health Practitioner:
“Alright, alright come away now sir, theres a good gentleman, if one will insist on fabricating deleterious verbiage which in no way furthers the discussion, Sir will have his InterCloudyWeb privileges revoked.”
The Gentleman:
His Mental health Practitioner:
“Nurse!, a sedative if you will.”
The Gentleman:
“Over Unity Windmills!, Burning Polar Bears!, Shub Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a thousand young!”
His Mental health Practitioner:


Bill Illis says:
April 29, 2012 at 6:16 pm “…An important question is just how much fracking will increase recoverable reserves….” Good question. As William McClenney said, this technique is now allowing us to consider – as resources – rocks that never before have been looked at in that way. For example, the Bakken Shale in the Williston Basin is thought to contain about 465 billion barrels of oil, trapped where it formed, and not subject to conventional production. The last reserve estimate I saw, made possible only by fracking, was 24 billion barrels. So, we went from zero to 24 on our way to likely some rather larger number. The same thing is happening all over the country (world, for that matter), both in oil-bearing and gas-bearing strata. The resource estimates are verging on gigantic – hundreds of years. The ultimate production will be rather less, but still staggering.