A DOE test well in Pennsylvania has proven that a frack can travel up to almost 2,000 feet. Which means that a frack can contaminate an aquifer – if the separation between the two is less than 2,000 feet. Immediately.
That means that any fracked horizontal lateral that is closer than 2,000 feet to any aquifer may have already contaminated that aquifer. No longer a matter of “if” – just how many have been contaminated and by how much.
The proposed separation between a frack and an aquifer in New York is only 1,000 feet.
“Seismic monitoring determined one hydraulic fracture traveled 1,800 feet out from the well bore. That’s significant because some environmental groups have questioned whether the fractures could go all the way to the surface. The researchers believe that fracture may have hit naturally occurring faults.” (The report, which came out without a press release from the DOE, was the result of an industry leak via AP’s resident frak flak Kevin Bogus)
The frack does not have to go “all the way to the surface.” It just has to hit an aquifer. Big difference. Since 1,800 feet would be more than sufficient for a shallow frack to hit a deep water aquifer – which is what probably happened in Pavilion, Wyoming. Where the separation between the frack and the aquifer was only 400 feet.
So the real “news” here is that a shale gas frack can directly and immediately contaminate drinking water aquifers – if the separation between the two is less than 2,000 feet. Which is not exactly good news. Particularly if your state allows wells to be fracked within less than 2,000 feet of an aquifer. Which New York does – it allows the frack to be 1,000 feet from an aquifer – close enough for the DOE test well to have hit one. (Memo to DEC: Do not let the DOE attempt to duplicate this experiment in NYS without adult supervision)
The AP’s captive frak flak, Kevin Bogus reported that the test well “proved” that the fracks do not contaminate aquifers – since the sensors were 3,000 feet away from the frack. Had they been half that distance – 1,500 feet – the test would have proven that a frack can hit an aquifer.
1,500 feet would be 500 feet more than the separation proposed in New York. Meaning the DOE test well could have wiped out an aquifer in New York. Nice proof.
The distance the frack can travel from the horizontal well bore tends to increase with depth. The deeper the well, the bigger the frack. And the test well was 8,000 feet deep. But this relationship is not entirely linear, as indicated by the chart below of mapped Marcellus fracks. The frack radius does not increase consistently with depth, in fact the length of the fracks are about the same between 7K and 6K feet in depth as they are between 6K and 5K. The fracks between 8.5K and 9K in depth are the same as the ones between 5.5K and 5,000 feet. No data beyond that, but clearly frack radius is not strictly linear with depth in the Marcellus, and, most significantly, many fracks go over 1,000 feet at all depths mapped. All it takes is a sufficiently strong frack and a local fault, of which New York has plenty. There is no requirement to shoot seismic in New York, nor is there any obligation for the driller to identify localized faults before fracking. Such localized faults are the vectors by which fracks can go “out of zone” and hit an aquifer.
The Marcellus formation is over-pressured where it is most prolific, so the frackers are taking advantage of that over-pressurization. Plus the frackers can simply add more pumps in series to increase the pressure downhole in order to maintain an adequate frack radius. Most significantly, since there are naturally occurring faults at all depths – particularly in the Marcellus – when a frack hits one, up comes the frack fluid – from any depth.
Since fault-assisted fracks happen, this means that a shale well horizontal would have to be at least 3,000 feet below the lowest known aquifer – or risk contaminating it irreparably.
The DEC is not unmindful of the phenomena – which is why they have proposed to protect aquifers – as a function of population density – basing the aquifer protections on pure political science:
Lou Allstadt’s take on the matter is a nice summary of the significance of the test:
“The article describes a test in PA to determine how far fracking fluids can migrate above a gas well that is 8,000 feet deep. A few observations and comparisons to NY:
3) The test showed a frack that extended 1,800 feet. New York States proposed regulations would allow fracking at 2,000 below the surface or 1,000 feet below the deepest drinking water acquirer, which ever is deeper. Either of these depths is ridiculously shallow. The 1,800 feet frack observed in PA would reach many drinking water wells and acquirers if it had originated in a 2000 feet deep well in NY. We have made this comment to the NY DEC many times and it has been ignored. There is no margin of safety in the proposed NY depths. (Note: A report indicating that fracks can extend further than expected was expunged from the NY draft SGEIS between July and September of 2011.)Lou Allstadt
The test was conducted over a year – but hydrologists know that water moves underground over time. So really a matter of how long it would take for frack fluids to enter an aquifer. Maybe not in a year – but within your lifetime.
Frack fluid can hit an aquifer 2,000 feet away. In one go. Thanks DOE.
We have been saying that for years. We even did a little sketch of it.