by Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG- Shell Oil officially approached the Walsenburg City Council during its regular meeting last Tuesday and made their pitch to lease five acre feet of water to be used in the drilling of a test well. The well is to be located within 3-4 miles of Grandote Golf Course.
The verbal request from Shell Oil drew comments from the audience concerning the effects of hydro-fracturing fluids. Hydro-fracturing, or “fracking,” is a process that energy companies use to fracture the rock strata where natural gas is found. Fluids comprised mostly of water and sand with chemicals mixed in are forced under great pressure into the bore hole of a gas well. As the mixture flushes out into the strata, it fractures the rock, and the sand holds open the fractures. This process allows more natural gas to flow into the well bore.
Chemicals are used in the process for various reasons. Some help to lubricate and assist the flow of sand into the cracks of rock strata. The sand is a proppant and is used to hold fissures open, allowing gas to flow out of the cracked formation. Other chemicals are used as friction reducers that make the water slick and minimize the friction created under high pressure in order to increase the rate and efficiency of movement of the fracking fluid.
Different chemicals are used as biocides. Biocides prevent bacteria that can produce acids that erode pipes and fittings. They also break down the gellants which ensure that fluid viscosity and proppant transport are maintained. Biocides can produce hydrogen sulfide, a very toxic gas that smells like rotten eggs. Hundreds of chemicals in various combinations can be used in the fracking process.
Close to the end of the fracking sequence, breakers will be added that will allow the breakdown of gellants used to carry the proppant and enhance flowback. Flowback is the process where the frack fluids are pulled back out of the well, put into evaporation pits on site or they are hauled away and put into a waste water injection well.
Some of the evaporation pits in the Marcellus Shale operations in Pennsylvania and New York have been found to leak the fluids which then made their way into the area’s ground water. Activity on the Marcellus Shale in the eastern United States is a coal bed methane operation. The proposed drilling by Shell Oil in Huerfano County is for natural gas which is located much deeper in the earth than is coal bed methane.
Studies conducted on spilled fracking fluids in Wyoming by The Endocrine Disruption Exchange or TEDX, a scientific research group headquartered in Paonia, Colorado, found that of the 944 chemicals being used only 353 of them had a Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) number. The CAS number is used to identify unique chemical substances. A single substance can have many different names, but only one CAS number. TEDX researchers used only chemicals that had a CAS number for their study.
They found that 75 percent of the chemicals on the list can affect the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system and the liver. Over half the chemicals show effects on the brain and nervous system.
A website lists the chemicals generally used in fracking fluids. It can be accessed at http://fracfocus.org. Companies operating in Colorado can voluntarily list the chemicals they use in fracking with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).
Twenty-two drilling chemicals were identified from a well blow-out in Wyoming in August 2006. All of the chemicals used in the drilling fluids were associated with respiratory effects. Nearly 60% were associated with ‘other’ effects, a category that includes outright mortality as an end point.
Because of the lack of information about natural gas drilling operations, the city delayed any decision on the leasing of water to Shell Oil and decided instead to have the county schedule a County, City, Town (CCT) meeting. The city would like to hold the meeting on Wednesday, May 18 at 5:30. However the county administrator sets up the meeting schedule and the suggested date is only tentative.
Shell Oil will be drilling between a mile and a half to three miles deep for the natural gas. This will put their fracking activity below any ground water in Huerfano County.