EARTHWORKS

Op-Ed: South Texas lubricated with oil fracking boom

Fracking spreads in South Texas

Digital Journal | Lynn Herrmann

June 13, 2011
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A controversial method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has settled over South Texas and is set to transform its oil fields, the brush country and its water sources into a chemical wasteland, even as media reports "unfortunately" strike out.
The Eagle Ford oil shale field stretches from near Del Rio at the Mexico border in a long, sweeping curve all the way up to Dallas County, and as in many other parts of the US besieged by the fracking rush, is creating padded pockets, chemical contamination and meaningless news coverage.
This largely rural, isolated, and in many instances, impoverished part of the state where the Eagle Ford shale calls home is undergoing a transformation unseen in the history of the state, with oil and gas companies swarming like locusts, but one has to dig beyond the woohoo of it all for a dose of reality.
On Sunday, Yahoo! News noted

Unfortunately environmentalists claim that the fracking process poses a threat to ground water, which in turn could harm agriculture and public health.

Additionally, Yahoo! News reports the Obama administration has repeatedly sided with environmentalists on issues involving the oil and gas industry, stating

The fly in the ointment to this happy scenario is that the Obama administrative, in virtually every dispute that has pitted the oil and gas industry against environmentalists, has sided with the environmentalists.

Typos notwithstanding, one might ask if Yahoo! News has apparently forgotten about the BP oil spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico, a man-made disaster of such proportions an entire food web has been impacted. Not so, for Yahoo! News added while the Obama administration has failed to open up ANWR in northern Alaska,

It has used the BP oil spill disaster to virtually shut down deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, despite court orders to the contrary.

A five minute search on the Internet will show how bogus such reporting, if one can call it such, truly is. Not only has the Obama administration resumed permitting for deepwater exploration and drilling in the Gulf, one of the first companies to receive such a permit was non other than BP itself.
Equally as apparent, Yahoo! News has not read, or heard of the recently-released scientific report, Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing. If so, perhaps we could have read about the pattern linking fracking, natural gas wells and methane contamination of drinking water, instead of “unfortunately” reading of the “bountiful resource” which will wean the US off foreign sources of oil and lead the country out of the bowels of a second Great Depression and onto the path of a so-far elusive economic recovery.
Another scientific report, Methane and the Greenhouse-Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations, released in April, provides information on the fugitive emissions of methane gas associated with the fracking industry. A lack of oversight of the fracking industry, thanks to the Cheney-Bush administration, has allowed it to slip under the radar, invading communities and establishing itself and doling out mega amounts of cash before local citizens even know what happened.
Digressions aside, fracking for natural gas has now led to fracking for oil in a region of Texas where the oil was once thought worthless and inaccessible, thanks to its placement in layers of shale. It was believed worthless because its existence in these “tight rock” fields, as they are known, would not allow it to flow as freely as natural gas.
All this changed when engineers determined fracking and horizontal drilling were the perfect cure for the problem of accessing the tightly situated oil, as well as having the price of oil finally move beyond its turning point of $100 per barrel.
As Americans are enjoying their fleecing at the gas pumps and oil companies are enjoying even more their insane profits, thanks to taxpayer subsidies - call it double fleeced and it all makes so much sense - these once worthless oil fields are suddenly quite valuable, with at least a dozen oil companies planning to frack their way to the tune of around 3,000 wells in the Eagle Ford within the next year.
So sophisticated has horizontal drilling become, a single frack well is now multi-directional, meaning drilling operations can be conducted from a single site going in multiple directions. Compounding this assault on the environment, these multi-directional wells are capable of producing multiple fracturing events. And yes, each drilling operation and frack event requires the use of millions of gallons of water, injected under extreme pressure to break apart the shale and rock, thereby releasing the oil.
In addition to sand which accompanies these high-pressure injections, chemicals, many of them toxic and many of them proprietary, are used while fracking the shale formations. A new Congressional report, Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing, also released in April, lists many of the known carcinogenic agents being used in the fracking industry and provided information on the gutting of the Safe Water Water Act (SDWA) in 2005 (hint: the Bush years) which then, according to the report, gave a green light for unmonitored fracking.
Adding to environmentalists’ claims of detrimental effects caused by fracking are scientists and government agencies, on record in noting the detrimental effects caused by fracking, but it’s those damn environmentalists we need to be afraid of, keeping a close eye on them to ensure they don’t let us drink clean water. Or bathe in it.
Unfortunately, the Eagle Ford is intrinsic with the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer. Even more unfortunate is the fact Texas is besieged with a drought of exceptional proportions. Last week it was announced the current drought, far from over, is third worst in the state’s history, trailing only the droughts of 1918 and 1956.
The Eagle Ford’s unique geology requires staggering amounts of water for the fracking process to be viable. It is estimated each frack well in the Eagle Ford will use as much as 13 million gallons of water. “This is not the drilling your grandparents knew in west Texas,” said Sharon Wilson, one of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project organizers, Bloomberg reports. “It’s a heavy industrial activity with massive amounts of water and chemicals.”
Predictably, the oil industry is elated over the fracking possibilities in a state long known for its rugged independence and a turn-the-other-cheek attitude on adhering to environmental rules and regulations. Texas has long led, or been near the top of the list of, states in the US with the most polluted air, thanks in part to its network of oil refineries along its section of the Gulf coast.
“It’s the one thing we have seen in our adult lives that could take us away from imported oil,” said Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake Energy’s chief executive, the New York Times reports. Chesapeake, through its aggressive desires, is one of the more prominent names in the Eagle Ford region. “What if we have found three of the world’s biggest oil fields in the last three years right here in the U.S.? How transformative could that be for the U.S. economy?” he asked. And what about those pump prices, a few Americans might be asking.
The Eagle Ford is already producing more than 100,000 barrels per day, with the first well drilled just three years ago. By 2015, the number could balloon to 420,000 barrels per day, almost equal to Ecuador’s production, according to Bentek Energy, an energy analytics company, the Times notes.
To the dismay of some and no doubt to the delight of a certain truck driver, the impact of fracking in South Texas is getting a unique spin.
Just last week a fracking truck hauling unknown quantities and qualities of frack sludge dumped its load of frack sludge on the streets of Laredo. To be specific, right in the middle of Interstate 35 near its intersection with Victoria Sreet. If there were witnesses, they’re not very forthcoming about the accident which temporarily shut down the freeway. The truck driver drove off, leaving the scene of the accident, so no one really knows where he was headed with the load and why he was hauling it through the middle of Laredo.
Apparently the city of Laredo, just across the river from Mexico’s war on drugs and right on the international border of America’s war on terror, does not have big-brother surveillance cameras at every street intersection like the rest of the country does. If it did, the issue could be easily investigated.
As this environmental disaster-in-the-making unfolds, the residents and ranchers of South Texas, consumed in all things monetary associated with fracking, will wake up one morning to find their Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer no longer potable.
Farmers, landowners, and yes, environmentalists are sounding the alarm bell over the water issue, but poverty and economic hardship, staples for many in South Texas, becomes a strange bedfellow with free-flowing greenbacks associated with oil and gas development.

Tagged with: texas, natural gas, fracking