Alabama and fracking

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Introduction

According to the Oil & Gas Journal (2006), coalbed methane (CBM) from the Black Warrior Basin "is the backbone of northwest Alabama’s [gas] production." The Journal also discussed emerging shale plays in the state like Floyd as potentially boosting the state's gas production.[1]

Fracking is used to access gas in both CBM and shale plays. For CBM, the hydraulic fracturing involves forcing a pressurized fluid mixture including water, acid, surfactant, gel, chemicals, and sand into the earth around coal seams, ranging from 350 to 2,500 feet deep.[2]

History

The first drilling for coalbed methane in Alabama occurred in the Black Warrior Basin in the 1970s, and took off commercially in the 1980s. Tens of thousands of acres in the Basin are leased for drilling wells to access the coal seams; by 2012, there were over 5,500 coalbed methane (CBM) - natural gas - wells operating in the Black Warrior River watershed. Extraction involves hydraulic fracturing.[2]

According to the Oil & Gas Journal, "since 1994 Black Warrior CBM wells have consistently produced in the vicinity of 310 to 325 million cubic feet of gas per day, combined."[1] In the Black Warrior Basin, coalbed methane drilling targets the Pennsylvanian Pottsville Formation, which is part of an unconfined aquifer, and the Cretaceous outcrop, which is associated with high groundwater salinity.[2]

Industry focus has also shifted toward shale gas. Shale gas formations in the state include Floyd, Gadsden, Birmingham, and Tuscaloosa.

Shale plays

Conesauga Shale, Alabama

Wells are currently being drilled to produce gas from the Cambrian Conasauga shale in northern Alabama.[3] Activity is in St. Clair, Etowah, and Cullman counties.[4]

Floyd Shale, Alabama

The Floyd Shale of Mississippian age is a current gas exploration target in the Black Warrior Basin of northern Alabama and Mississippi.[5][6] The Floyd is found at depths between 4,000 and 6,000 feet and reaches a thickness between 100 and 200 feet.[1]

Public lands

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management planned to auction off oil and gas excavation rights to 43,000 acres of Talladega National Forest in Alabama on June 14, 2012. If the auction winners determine the land beneath the virgin forests contains petroleum or gas, the likely method of extracting it will be hydraulic fracturing.[7]

The NRDC challenged the auction, saying it violated federal law since the BLM did not do a site-specific analysis of the effects, but instead relied on a 2004 analysis that assumed only one well would be drilled in the entire Talladega in a ten year period. According to the NRDC, the study is inadequate and outdated as it does not consider fracking and its effects.[8]

After public pressure the auction was delayed, but state officials have said the auction could occur in 2013.[9]

Citizen activism

Legislative issues and regulations

List of regulations in the state.

In September 2013 it was reported that the Alabama state government would join Oklahoma, Montana and Alaska in protesting Bureau of Land Management plans to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal land.[10]

Citizen groups

Industry groups

Reports

Resources

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Peggy Williams, "Alabama Hat Trick," Oil & Gas Journal, March 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Coalbed Methane & Fracking," Black Warrior Riverkeeper, accessed July 2013.
  3. Alabama State Oil and Gas Board (Nov. 2007):An overview of the Conesauga shale gas play in Alabama, PDF file, downloaded 10 June 2009.
  4. "Operators chase gas in three Alabama shale formations," Oil & Gas Jour., 21 Jan. 2008, p.49-50.
  5. Mark J. Pawlewicz and Joseph R. hatch, Petroleum Assessment of the Chattanooga Shale/Floyd Shale Total Petroleum System, Black Warrior Basin, Alabama and Mississippi, US Geological Survey, Digital Data Series DDS-69-1, 2007, PDF file.
  6. Alabama Geological Survey, An overview of the Floyd Shale/Chattanooga Shale gas play in Alabama, July 2009, PDF file.
  7. "Fracking risks in Alabama," Decatur Daily, June 1, 2012.
  8. Amy Mall,"NRDC challenges illegal oil and gas leasing in Alabama National Forests," NRDC, April 17, 2012.
  9. Mike McClanahan, "Fracking still a possibility in Talladega National Forest," CBS, April 26, 2013.
  10. "Montana joins 3 other states in protesting fracking rules" Associated Press, August 29, 2013.

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