The "2 Million Safe
Pro-fracking lobbyists are misleading bot
Parliament and the public.
1. Peter Lilley and Cuadrilla are
misleading the public in stating how many wells
have been fracked in the US.
2. Peter Lilley and Cuadrilla are wrong in
suggesting there is no confirmed evidence for
water contamination by fracking itself (it is
clear that there is evidence showing
contamination from the wider practice involved in
shale gas wells).
3. UK lack of regulation is likely to encourage
unmonitored migration of fracking fluids out of
shale formations and possibly eventually into
aquifers, even without accident.
On BBC 4 Radio Question Time this week
over-the-hill climate sceptic Nigel Lawson said
"There is not a single authenticated case of
fracking causing water contamination in the
In parliamentary debate Lilley said:
"There have been some 2 million wells
fracked in the United States and not a single
person has suffered from water contamination as a
and the Cuadrilla lackey said, according to a BBC
"There have been over two million hydraulic
fracture treatments carried out globally, the
majority in the US, and from that activity we are
not aware of one single verified case of
fracturing fluid contaminating aquifers."
Looking first at the comments about numbers, are
either of these near the truth? If we take what a
paper for the Institute of Petroleum Engineers
said in 2012, the answer is no, neither.
The paper, by George E King of Apache Corporation
"Millions of fracs have been pumped (Society
of Petroleum Engineers estimate 2.5 million fracs
worldwide and over 1 million in the US) and tens
of thousands of horizontal wells have been
drilled over the past 60 years."
Since this article was published by the IPE it is
assumed they confirmed the figures he quoted.
Another article in the NY Times quotes Rex W.
Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, as
saying at a Congressional hearing in 2010:
"There have been over a million wells
hydraulically fractured in the history of the
industry, and there is not one, not one, reported
case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been
contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one.
The first point to make is that clearly the two
million figure quoted by Peter Lilley is
seriously exaggerated. And even if we accept that
according to Cuadrilla the majority of 2 million
were in the US, which is in conflict with the
2012 IPE data, then many of the wells
"fracked" have been outside of the US
and we have no data to judge any water impact. If
the US has been lax in regulation and secretive
we can assume on past experience that the impact
of fracking in the rest of the world remains to
But the second point to make is - again clearly -
whether it is one million or a few more, the
figures quoted for the US are NOT hydraulic
fracturing as we understand it in recent
technology terms. The estimate of US shale gas
fracked wells stands at around 50,000 according
to a September EU report. No way have these each
been fracked 20 or more times.
The Lilley and Cuadrilla figures are simply
deception, designed to make the safety record
But tackling them on their own terms, is it even
true that fracking has no documented history of
pollution of water supplies?
A recent survey by Duke University reported
pollution of water wells in Pennsylvania was high
within a kilometer of shale gas wells. The main
pollutant was methane. Thois puts the lie to
Lawson's claim. However the study did not find
any fracking fluid in the water they tested.
Perhaps one reason was that they did not know the
full range of fracking fluids to test for. Due to
a lack of US disclosure requirements and industry
secrecy it is not clear what frackers use. You
can't test unless you know what you're looking
for. A more recent report from Pennsylvania
injected tracer into fracking fluid and monitored
the result. During the period of the study - a
year - there was no indication of fracking
contamination of wells. Maybe if they come back
in another few decades they might come to a
different conclusion. The concern is of long-term
migration. As slickwater fracking is relatively
new, it is simply to early to know what might be
the future consequences, which renders reports
like this of questionable value..
So yes, if we interpret the fracking activity in
a wider sense, including all activities relating
to fracking, from drilling through fracking to
production, just on the Duke University report
there IS evidence of water contamination.
But is there evidence of fracking itself
contaminating water? The pro-frackers demand an
answer NO to justify their case.
As it turns out there is. Hidden away in a 1987
report on waste management by the US
Environmental Investigation Agency is the killer
blow to the argument that fracking itself has
NEVER caused water contamination.
EPA/530-SW-88-003 Report to Congress, Management
of Wastes from the Exploration, Development, and
Production of Crude Oil, Natural Gas, and
Geothermal Energy Vol 1 Dec 1987.
"In 1982 Kaiser Gas Co drilled a gas well on
the property of Mr. James Parsons. The well was
fractured us1ng a typical fracturing fluid or
gel. The residual fracturing fluid migrated into
Mr. Parson's water well (which was drilled to a
depth of 416 feet). according to an analysis by
the West Virginia Environmental Health Services
Lab of well water samples taken from the
property. Dark and light gelatinous material
(fracturing fluid) was found, along with white
fibers. (The gas well is located less than 1,000
feet from the water well.) The chief of the
laboratory advised that the water well was
contaminated and unfit for domestic use, and that
an alternative source of domestic water had to be
Analysis showed the water to contain high levels
of fluoride, sodium, iron, and manganese. The
water, according to DNR officials, had a
hydrocarbon odor, indicating the presence of gas.
To date Mr. Parsons has not resumed use of the
well as a domestic water source. (API states that
this damage resulted from a malfunction of the
fracturing process if the fractures are not
limited to the producing formation, the oil and
gas are lost from the reservoir and are
Here is the evidence that fracking fluid wastes
migrated into a well. It is irrelevant that the
gas well was less than 1,000 metres from Mr
Parsons' well, or that the gas well casing only
extended some 10 metres below the sandstone from
which Mr Parson's well drew its water.
The report states that although the area might
have been prone to "natural" pollution
from other contaminants -
"However, the constituents of concern found
in this water well were the gelatinous material
associated w1th the fracturing process, and
The report is clear - this contamination was down
How general was this likely to be? The report
could not say, it attempted only to identify
causes for concern rather than any statistical
analysis, which was impossible for several
"First, record keeping varies significantly
Second, very often damage claims against oil and
gas operators are settled out of court, and
information on known damage cases has often been
sealed through agreements between landowners and
oil companies. This is typical practice, for
instance, in Texas. In some cases, even the
records of well-publicized damage incidents are
almost entirely unavailable for review. In
addition to concealing the nature and size of any
settlement entered into between the parties,
impoundment curtails access to scientific and
administrative documentation of the incident...
A third general limitation in locating damage
cases is that oil and gas activities in some
parts of the country are in remote, sparsely
and unstudied areas. In these areas, no
significant population is present to observe or
suffer damages, and access to sites is physically
So there it is. It only takes one case to
disprove what Lilley and Cuadrilla are claiming,
and there it is. Add to that the evidence that
well failures have led to water pollution. Not
least add all the "anecdotal" evidence
that is piling up.
Lilley and Cuadrilla are either ignorant or
It's worth another look at the EIA's comment on
the reasons Mr Parsons' well was tainted.
They blame fracking extending beyond the target
Cuadrilla claim the Bowland shale is something
like three times as thick as the US shales. This
makes them able to horizontally fracture at three
or four levels within the 790 metres they quote
as shale depth they have found. Assuming four
horizontals spread evenly through the shale this
would put the upper horizontal around 100m below
the top of the shale formation.
In his work for Durham University Professor
Richard Davies recommended a minimum distance of
600m and preferably double that between any
fracking and aquifers. This was on the grounds
that in the data he studied from the US the
maximum distance fractures travelled was around
600m. In the Marcellus the fractures had a
probability of 20% or so of exceeding 100m and 5%
or so of exceeding 200m. On US experience, with
Cuadrilla's projected 4,000 wells, fractures
extending beoyond the shale WILL happen.
If fractures extend into other than the target
formation this is not only a matter of concern
for creating the opportunity for migration of
fracking fluid up towards aquifers, but it would
be contrary to the Waste Directive which requires
wastes to saty in the target formation, and
requires operators to track, seal and monitor.
This is, of course, not represented in UK
regulation nor in EA ability to monitor. The
conclusion we can draw is that fracking fluid
waste is very likely to migrate beyond the target
shale. And where it ends up then is anybody's
guess. Cuadrilla certainly don't know, as Mark
Miller once indicated.
Are there more reports of contamination from
shale gas wells? There certainly are. We've
already mentioned the Duke University
peer-reviewed June 2013 report.
"The scientists analyzed 141 drinking water
samples from private water wells across
northeastern Pennsylvanias gas-rich
Marcellus Shale basin.
They found that, on average, methane
concentrations were six times higher and ethane
concentrations were 23 times higher at homes
within a kilometer of a shale gas well. Propane
was detected in 10 samples, all of them from
homes within a kilometer of drilling."
There are more recorded cases of trouble in
Pennsylvania. Frack Off has uncovered data from
the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental
Protection which lists citations for violations
of regulations preventing contaminating water
sources by well activity. These violations are
available for public view on the DEP's web site.
Frack Off lists 6 specific well violations and a
further 14 more. It also lists 140 cases of other
wells unlawfully discharging pollution into
To add another nail in the coffin of the no contamination myth, in July 2013 news came in that an Exxon subsidiary is being sued for polluting Pennsylvania drinking water. XTO Energy is accused of polluting groundwater with fracking waste from its natural gas well pad and storage facility in Hughesville, Lycoming County, according to a federal lawsuit.
The idea that there are no documented, verifiable
and clear cases of contamination of water
supplies is simply wrong. The idea that our water
will be safe, without any adequate regulation
from the government because they do not believe
water contamination is a possibility is wrong.
This makes Lawson, Lilley and Cuadrilla very