Oil Fracking Poses Similar Concerns As Gas Fracking

March 2, 2011

The technique called hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) that is increasingly being used to extract natural gas is drawing widespread attention, concern, and media coverage across the country. Next up: oil fracking.

As fracking for gas has proven successful from an industry perspective, companies extracting oil are jumping on the fracking bandwagon. Their method is very similar to that used for natural gas, and therefore may pose some of the same health and environmental risks. Oil fracking is already occurring or being explored in many states and in Canada (including CA, CO, KS, MT, ND, NE, NM, TX, WY, and Saskatchewan), after it took hold in 2007, and likely will continue to expand considerably in volume and location in the near future. Some experts are saying it could reduce US oil imports by half within a decade.

EPA is conducting a study of fracking, no matter where it is used (e.g., gas shale, oil shale, coalbed methane, tight sands). Public comment is being allowed as the agency's Science Advisory Board meets March 7-8, 2011, to review the draft study plan. Initial study and research results are possible by the end of 2012, and a report may be published some time in 2014. Any agency actions at that point are uncertain. Until then, federal and state regulation of oil fracking will be operating under the same limited set of rules that provide oversight over gas fracking.

Strong economic incentives for both industry and government bodies likely will also play a role in how aggressively any government acts in the near future, as they have with gas fracking.

The areas and geologic formations that already are hotbeds of activity include:

Among the many companies working in one or more of these areas are Anadarko, Bill Barrett Corporation, Cabot Oil and Gas, Canadian Natural Resources, Carizzo Oil and Gas, Chesapeake Energy, Climarex Energy, Comstock Resources, Concho Resources, ConocoPhillips, Continental Resources, Crimson Exploration, Devon Energy, Encana, EOG, EV Energy, Exxon Mobil, Forest Oil Corporation, Gastar Exploration, GeoResources, Goodrich Petroleum, Hess, Marathon Oil, MDU Resources, Murphy Oil, Newfield Exploration, Noble Energy, Occidental Petroleum, Penn Virginia, Petroleum Development Corporation, PetroQuest Energy, Pioneer Natural Resources, Plains Exploration and Production, Quicksilver Resources, Rex Energy, Rosetta Resources, Samson Oil and Gas, Schlumberger, SM Energy, Spectra Energy, Swift Energy, Talisman Energy, Venoco, Voyager Oil and Gas, and Whiting Petroleum Corporation.

An overall industry perspective on fracking is available from the American Petroleum Institute.

Health and environmental advocates dealing with issues related to fracking often are local or regional, and may already be known in your area through their gas fracking efforts. For much more information on fracking related to natural gas, and leads on some local and national groups dealing with the issue, see the TipSheet of Sept. 15, 2010.

Some of the possible health effects of fracking fluids were highlighted in the Feb. 21, 2011, issue of High Country News. The chart notes a range of potential adverse health effects from 28 fracking fluid ingredients that industry was forced to disclose through a new law in Wyoming. However, about 70 other ingredients remain hidden. Anywhere from 30-70% of the initially injected ingredients likely remain underground after the process is completed, allowing them to potentially mix with groundwater, and the rest of the ingredients are mixed in with the extracted slurry that is placed in evaporation pits, according to HCN. That soup can volatilize or possibly leach into the ground.

A few examples of media coverage include: