Steel corrodes and rusts, cementing cracks and sharp rocks poke holes in pit linings . Leaks occur in all stages of the oil and gas drilling process:
- in well casings
- in valves
- in lined pits holding fracking fluids, produced water or rock debris from drilling
- in tanks holding condensate or other toxic fluids
- in pipelines and tanker trucks moving natural gas or oil to different locations
Condensates are hydrocarbon gases that become liquid during the production process.
Leaks increase over time
In November 2011, Karlis Muehlenbachs, a geochemist at the University of Alberta, presented at the "Managing the Risks of Shale Gas" conference in Washington D.C.
Muehlenbachs has been fingerprinting leaking gases since 1994 and is a leading authority on identifying the unique carbon fingerprint or isotopes of shale and conventional gases.
He says regulators must do better baseline groundwater testing and rigorously check wells for leakage. He also says that hydraulic fracking may create more leaks in wellbores over time.
"They'll frack each well up to 20 times. Each time the pressure will shudder and bang the pipes in the wellbore. The cement is hard and the steel is soft. If you do it all the time you are going to break bonds and cause leaks. It's a real major issue," said Muehlenbachs.
Whenever methane leaks from one well into a neighboring wellsite, "industry says let's fix the leaks," says Muehlenbachs. "But as soon as the leaks enter groundwater, everyone abandons the same logic and technology and says it can't happen and the denials come out."
Although petroleum engineers now admit that companies routinely blast fluids and gas into other industry wells hundreds of meters away (British Columbia, Texas and North Dakota have all documented such cases), they still claim that "fracture communication incidents" can't happen with groundwater. Muehlenbachs, who has documented numerous cases of groundwater contamination, calls such denials dishonest.
Oil & Gas Industry Spills and Releases, Oct. 13, 2011
August 12, 2011 spill: This was a historic spill, discovered when a pipeline was tested as required by Rule 1101 and a corrosion hole was detected. The volume of fluids spilled is unknown. The operator closed off the leak area, repaired the pipeline, and collected soil and groundwater samples for laboratory analysis. The soil samples met state standards, but the groundwater samples exceeded state standards for benzene and toluene. These compounds are naturally occurring constituents of the condensate (liquid hydrocarbon) produced by the wells in the area. The operator subsequently removed approximately 250 cubic yards of affected soils and 2,760 gallons of affected groundwater to an authorized disposal site.
August 22, 2011 spill: Condensate and gas were released into the ground through a corrosion hole in a pipeline . Surface water sampling detected no contaminants 800 feet downstream of the leak. No spilled material was released into or reached Boulder Creek. Groundwater present near the damaged pipeline had detectable levels of benzene, toluene and xylenes above state limits. Approximately 1,100 cubic yards of affected soil and 12,600 gallons of affected water were removed and transported for disposal.
August 24, 2011 spill: Company personnel discovered a leak in an oil tank during a routine daily inspection. The operator closed off the leak area, removed the damaged tank and excavated approximately 115 cubic yards of affected soil. Shallow groundwater beneath the soil was sampled and found to contain benzene levels over state standards. Therefore, about 14,700 gallons of affected groundwater were removed as well.
COGCC Rule 341 requires operators to continuously monitor and record the bradenhead annular pressure during hydraulic fracturing and to notify the COGCC as soon as practicable if the pressure increases more than 200 psig. This provides prompt notice to the operator and the COGCC of circumstances indicating that fracturing fluids may have escaped the producing reservoir. Rule 327 requires operators to report loss of well control as soon as practicable, but in not less than 24 hours.
Fracking Contamination 'Will Get Worse'
How fracking is harmful
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