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Arkansas and fracking

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of CoalSwarm and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.

Introduction

The Fayetteville Shale is a geologic formation of Mississippian age (354–323 million years ago) composed of tight shale, named for Fayetteville, Arkansas. It stretches from Morrilton on the western side to Searcy on the eastern side. Hydraulic fracturing is increasingly used to access the natural gas.[1] It accounts for 75% of gas production in the state.[2]

From 2005 through 2012, over 4,000 wells were fracked in the Fayetteville Shale,[3] with natural gas production in the state increasing from 200,000 mmcf/year in 2005 to over 900,000 mmcf/year in 2010.[2]

History

Fracking in Arkansas

The Mississippian Fayetteville Shale contains gas in the Arkansas part of the Arkoma Basin. The productive section varies in thickness from 50 to 550 feet, and in depth from 1500 to 6500 ft. The shale gas was originally drilled through vertical wells stemming back to the 1920s, but operators are increasingly going to horizontal wells in the Fayetteville. Producers include SEECO, a subsidiary of Southwestern Energy credited with "discovering" the play, as well as Chesapeake Energy, Noble Energy, XTO Energy, Contango Oil & Gas, Edge Petroleum, Triangle Petroleum, and Kerogen Resources.[4]

Production

Click here for files from the Arkansas Oil & Gas Commission (AOGC) that show the location and information for natural gas wells, pipelines, disposal wells, and production sections.

In December 2010, ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy purchased 150,000 acres from Petrohawk in the Fayetteville Shale Trend in Arkansas, bringing XTO’s total acreage in that play to 560,000 acres, and over 10,000 wells.[5]

Tremors

In April 2009, 1- to 3-kilometer-deep fracking wastewater disposal wells were sunk in the vicinity of Guy (population 706) and Greenbrier (population 4706), Arkansas. Shortly after, there was a cluster of earthquakes near Greenbrier. The Guy-Greenbrier area had had only one quake of magnitude 2.5 or greater in 2007 and two in 2008, but there were 10 in 2009, the first year of deep disposal, and 54 in 2010. Geologists warned the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, the state agency that regulates deep injection, to “watch out” for more earthquakes. In October 2010, a magnitude 4.0 struck about a kilometer northeast of the deeper of the two new wells, and on November 20, a magnitude 3.9 struck 2 kilometers farther to the northeast toward Guy. Then, in February 2011, magnitude-4.1 and -4.7 quakes struck to the southwest of the deeper well, toward Greenbrier. By spring 2011, nearly 1000 recorded quakes had struck the area since the wells had started up.[6]

The State Oil and Gas Commission was concerned enough about a probable link between the disposal wells and the earthquakes that in July 2011 it ordered that one well be shut down, and it placed a moratorium on new ones in an 1,100-square-mile area. Three other disposal wells closed voluntarily. While small earthquakes are still occurring in the area, their frequency has declined substantially.[7]

An article in Science later explained that "data from the seismometer network... painted a detailed picture of exactly how the injected wastewater triggered the [Arkansas] quakes. It was injected into an aquifer 3 kilometers down, where it increased the pressure of groundwater in the rock’s pores and fractures. From there the increased pressure due to injection spread through a previously unknown buried fault into the underlying rock, triggering quakes on the fault as it went."[8]

In 2012, some residents of Faulkner County affected by earthquakes filed a lawsuit against subsidiaries of Chesapeake Energy, which operated two of the wells, and BHP Billiton, which acquired the wells from Chesapeake as part of a larger purchase in 2011. The suit alleges that the quakes were caused by negligence, amounted to trespassing, and created a public nuisance, and that the companies knew of the risks.[9]

According to Reuters, over a dozen residents of Greenbrier have filed five federal lawsuits against the drillers. The first of the suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Eastern Arkansas, is scheduled to go to trial before Judge J. Leon Holmes in March 2014, though the parties have been engaged in settlement talks, according to the court docket.[10]

Air pollution

Silica

In July 2012, two federal agencies released research highlighting dangerous levels of exposure to silica sand at oil and gas well sites in five states: Colorado, Texas, North Dakota, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania. Silica is a key component used in fracking. High exposure to silica can lead to silicosis, a potentially fatal lung disease linked to cancer. Nearly 80 percent of all air samples taken by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health showed exposure rates above federal recommendations. Nearly a third of all samples surpassed the recommended limits by 10 times or more. The results triggered a worker safety hazard alert by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.[11]

Citizen activism

In 2012, some residents of Faulkner County affected by earthquakes filed a lawsuit against subsidiaries of Chesapeake Energy, which operated two wells in the area, and BHP Billiton, which acquired the wells from Chesapeake as part of a larger purchase in 2011. The suit alleges that the quakes resulted from wastewater disposal and were caused by negligence, amounting to trespassing and creating a public nuisance, and that the companies knew of the risks.[12]

According to Reuters, over a dozen residents of Greenbrier have filed five federal lawsuits against gas drillers in the area. The first of the suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Eastern Arkansas, is scheduled to go to trial before Judge J. Leon Holmes in March 2014, though the parties have been engaged in settlement talks, according to the court docket.[13]

Legislative issues and regulations

Regulators: The Arkansas Oil & Gas Commission (AOGC) and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) perform inspections of well sites and other aspects of gas extraction like disposal sites. The AOGC typically regulates drilling and what happens below ground, while ADEQ regulates practices that could have an effect on the land, water, and air in the area.

List of regulations in the state. Regulations include surface casing cement requirements and fracking fluid disclosure.

In October 2010 the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission issued proposed amendments to Commission Rule B-19 "Requirements for Well Completion Utilizing Fracture Stimulation."[14]

Regulatory violations

Click here for a list of fracking violations in the state. (State violations compiled by ArkansasFracking.org)
Click here for a list of high profile fracking incidents in the state. (Map by Earthjustice.)

Citizen groups

Industry groups

Reports

Resources

References

  1. About the Fayetteville Shale. University of Arkansas. Retrieved on July 25, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bill Powers, Cold Hungry and in the Dark, NSP, 2013.
  3. "Where it happens," Arkansasfracking.org, accessed Sep 2013.
  4. Nina M. Rach, Triangle Petroleum, Kerogen Resources drilling Arkansas' Fayetteville shale gas, Oil & Gas Journal, 17 Sept. 2007, p.59-62.
  5. Jack Williams, "Shale Gas: The Keys to Unlocking its Full Potential: Speech by XTO President Jack Williams," ExxonMobil Website, June 14, 2011.
  6. Richard Kerr, "Learning How to NOT Make Your Own Earthquakes: As fluid injections into Earth’s crust trigger quakes across the United States, researchers are scrambling to learn how to avoid making more," Science, Volume 335, May 23, 2012.
  7. Henry Fountain, "http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/science/some-blame-hydraulic-fracturing-for-earthquake-epidemic.html?pagewanted=all "Add Quakes to Rumblings Over Gas Rush," NY Times, December 12, 2011.
  8. Richard Kerr, "Learning How to NOT Make Your Own Earthquakes: As fluid injections into Earth’s crust trigger quakes across the United States, researchers are scrambling to learn how to avoid making more," Science, Volume 335, May 23, 2012.
  9. Mike Soraghan, "Drillers face first class-action suit for triggered temblors," E&E, July 5, 2012.
  10. Mica Rosenberg, "Insight: Arkansas lawsuits test fracking wastewater link to quakes," Reuters, Aug 27, 2013.
  11. Adam Voge, "Fracking dust alert not shocking in Wyoming," Wyoming Star Tribune, July 30, 2012.
  12. Mike Soraghan, "Drillers face first class-action suit for triggered temblors," E&E, July 5, 2012.
  13. Mica Rosenberg, "Insight: Arkansas lawsuits test fracking wastewater link to quakes," Reuters, Aug 27, 2013.
  14. "Regulations" GroundWork, accessed April 24, 2012.

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