Fracking news: weekly summary

-Workers injured in frack site explosion-

Antero holdings in the Marcellus ShaleAccording to a 911 dispatcher, 8 workers were injured in an early morning explosion at a drilling site in West Virginia on Sunday, July 7.  Although the identities and medical conditions of those injured have not yet been released, it has been confirmed that 5 victims were evacuated to West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The site where the explosion occurred is owned by Antero Resources.  According to Kevin Kilstrom of Antero, the explosion occurred at the Hinterer 2H well, one of three wells currently under operation on the Ruddy Alt pad.  While Antero owns the site, well operations were contracted out to several other companies.  As such, the evacuated victims are not Antero employees, but workers for three as yet unnamed contractors.

Although hydraulic fracturing was being conducted at the Hinterer 2H well, it is thought to be a peripheral operation that caused the explosion.  The accident did not actually occur at the well, but near the holding tanks used for produced water.

‘The holding tanks that they were pumping into, that’s what exploded,’ said Pat Heaster, Doddridge County director of emergency services, ‘It was a supplementary operation to the drilling process, the wellhead was not involved.’

While the location of the explosion is clear, the cause is still unknown.  Pending investigations should hopefully shed light on the subject in the next few days.

Antero is conducting its own investigation alongside the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Antero Resources has a history of safety problems in their West Virginia operations and has received numerous past citations from the West Virginia DEP.

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Push for vote on fracking ban in Ohio

fracking ban in Athens, OhioReports of isolated incidents with links to fracking—like the one in West Virginia—have fueled public fears that include safety issues, pollution, and drinking water contamination.  Backlash from these fears is being felt in states across the nation.

The latest on the anti-fracking front is the initiative led by the Bill of Rights Committee (BORC) to place a fracking ban on the ballot in Athens, Ohio.  The ban proposed by BORC would include all deep shale oil and gas drilling operations and waste disposal.

The goal of the efforts by BORC is to have the ban placed on ballots as a public initiative in November.  Pursuant to this goal, BORC has been recruiting local volunteers to canvass the city for signatures for a petition over the last few weeks.  A Sunday press release announced the submission of the petition to city Auditor Kathy Hecht with a total of 780 signatures.  This number surpasses the 472 minimum required for certification to be included on the ballot.

According to Hecht, as long as the certification process is completed 90 days before the election, Athens voters can expect to see the proposed ban on the November 5th ballot.

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Proposed fracking ban in National Park sparks controversy

Fracking in GW National ForestFracking fears are also contributing to debate on the federal level.  A new plan for the future use of the George Washington National Forest in the eastern US is generating intense controversy as its final release date approaches.

A product of years of work, the final plan is intended to be a comprehensive package of legislation that sets forth guidelines that would govern forest management for the next 10 to 15 years.  Topics covered will include both recreational and industrial use, wildlife management, and natural resource development.

A preliminary draft released in 2011 caused alarm in the oil and gas industry as it proposed a ban on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the Marcellus formation.  The drafted ban drew commentary and opposition from oil and gas industry leaders like Halliburton Energy Services and the American Petroleum Institute.  If enacted in the final plan, the ban would be the first of its kind implemented in a US National Forest.

Opponents argued that groundwater pollution—the major concern raised by ban supporters—is not a risk of hydraulic fracturing and cited the fact that such an incident has never occurred in the state of Virginia.  Industry comments elicited a fervent response from environmental heavy-hitters and the debate continues to escalate as the final release date is expected late this summer.

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Expiration of British fracking ban leads to renewed push for UK production

Cuadrilla's Proposed Fracking Site

Cuadrilla Resources’ proposed fracking site in Lancashire.

On Friday, private British oil and gas company, Cuadrilla Resources applied for a permit to start hydraulically fracturing a test well it has drilled in Lancashire.  Cuadrilla hopes to be able to begin fracturing operations within the next year.

The recent application comes as a result of the expiration of an 18 month ban on fracking that was set in motion by fears stemming from small tremors that occurred during the fracturing of a UK shale gas well in 2011.

Although the road to shale gas production in the UK has been fraught with obstacles, Cuadrilla and other prospective British producers are hopeful that the current energy climate will open up regulatory blocks in the future.  Historically, the UK has seen high levels of offshore natural gas production from reservoirs in the North Sea.  As these reserves begin to decline, the nation is relying more and more on foreign fuel imports.  As the expense of energy imports rises, shale gas drilling in the UK may become an increasingly attractive alternative.

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Shale to sand: fracking boom expands supporting industries

fracking sand deposits in WIWhile citizens, industry, and environmentalists debate the risks and merits of the hydraulic fracturing industry, Wisconsin residents are witnessing its secondary effects.  As the US shale gas boom of recent years continues, its effects are being echoed in supporting industries around the world.  While Wisconsin is not known for natural gas resources, it is a source of large quantities of easily accessible and cheaply mined sand.

Sand is the standard proppant mixed with fracking fluid and used to prop open well fractures.  As such, sand is essential to fracking operations and is consumed by the industry on a massive scale.  According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a single well in the Marcellus Shale can require as much as 10,000 tons of industrial sand.  Accordingly, the shale gas boom has prefaced a massive expansion of sand mining in Wisconsin—a state that is the main supplier for industrial sand to the eastern US.

As the sand industry expands, Wisconsin residents are debating many of the same issues as residents of shale gas states like New York, Texas, and Colorado.  Sand extraction requires vast amounts of water and may strain local resources, just like hydraulic fracturing itself.  Sand mining also involves large amounts of acreage, sparking surface vs. mineral rights debates.  On the other hand, the industry is generating much needed revenue for the state, bolstering the economy, and providing essential jobs for citizens.

In weighing environmental and economic consequences of hydraulic fracturing, it is important to remember that the process has far reaching indirect effects as well as more obvious direct ones.

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