Utah and fracking

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This article is part of the FrackSwarm coverage of fracking.
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Utah's 10-year Strategic Energy Plan, unveiled in 2011 by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, calls for tapping the state's oil sands and oil shale reserves while continuing to develop fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. The plan also calls for putting together an energy-efficiency plan, but concludes that wind and solar power are not likely to have "a major impact" on the state's energy portfolio over the coming decade.[1]


Over the past decade hydraulic fracturing has increased in Utah’s Uinta Basin. Natural gas production in the area has steadily increased and reached an all-time high of 226 billion cubic feet (BCF) in 2006. The rise in production has brought an economic boom to the Uinta Basin.[2] The 2011 Utah natural gas rates were the lowest in the continental United States at the 8.98 per thousand cubic feet.[3]


Environmental impacts

Environmental Working Group study

In January 2010 a report was released by an environmental watchdog Environmental Working Group highlights problems posed to drinking-water supplies by fracking, including contamination of cancer causing chemicals. The report, titled "Drilling Around the Law," details a study that tracked six months' worth of chemical-disclosure records filed by several of the largest drilling corporations and includes information provided by some state and federal regulators, who concede they do not track fluids used in the process.[4]

University of Texas study

A study released in February 2012 by the Energy Institute of the University of Texas at Austin ("Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development") was reported by various media as determining that many reports of contamination are actually the result of above-ground spills or other mishandling of wastewater from shale-gas drilling, rather than the fracking process itself, and that many problems ascribed to fracking actually have other causes, such as "casing failures or poor cement jobs" (which was regarded as part of the drilling rather than the actual "well simulation," fracking process).[5]

Critics say that proponents of hydraulic fracturing have erroneously reported in the press and other media that the University of Texas Study found that hydraulic fracturing caused no environmental contamination,[6][7] when the study found that all steps in the process except the actual injection of the fluid (which proponents artificially separated from the rest of the process and designated "hydraulic fracturing") have resulted in environmental contamination.[8] The radioactivity of the injected fluid itself was not assessed in the University of Texas study.[8]

Statoil announced a $5m research agreement (part of which will focus on oil shale) with UT's Bureau of Economic Geology in September 2011, whose program director, Ian Duncan, was the senior contributor for the parts of the Texas study to do with the environmental impacts of shale gas development.[9][8][10]

Ozone pollution

In 2010 and 2011, ozone levels in Utah's Uintah Basin soared. The peak value in 2011 was 139 parts per billion, according to Utah officials - 85 percent higher than the federal health standard of 75 ppb, and above the 99 ppb peak for 2011 in the bustling New York metropolitan area.

In response, the oil and gas industry made more than $100 million in investments to curb emissions and set up a system to cut activity on days when ozone is likely to form. Even with the reductions and investments, in March 2011, there was a 124 ppb ozone reading.

In winter 2012, NOAA and University of Colorado at Boulder researchers began fanning out across the Uintah Basin to determine the link between the area's 10,000 oil and gas wells and high levels of winter ozone.[11]

Proposed projects

On March 16, 2012, the Obama administration authorized the Gasco development project: nearly 1,300 new natural gas wells, including more than 200 new wells in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness and gateway areas in Utah. The Department of the Interior also rejected calls by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and tens of thousands of citizens to approve an alternative to Gasco’s proposal, which would have allowed for drilling while protecting the department’s plan to designate Desolation Canyon as wilderness and reduced the overall footprint and impact of the project. According to EcoWatch, the Desolation Canyon region is a $4 billion industry that generates approximately $300 million annually in state tax revenue and supports 65,000 jobs. Gasco is a Colorado-based natural gas company.[12]

Citizen activism

Legislative issues and regulations

Citizen groups

Industry groups



  1. Scott Streater,"Utah governor to push development across the West as WGA chairman," EnergyWire, June 14, 2012.
  2. "Drilling Boom Tied to Spike in Utah Air Pollution" Water Contamination From Shale, accessed February 29, 2012.
  3. "Utah natural gas rates lowest in U.S." Jasen Lee, Deseret News, November 10, 2011.
  4. "'Fracking' pollutes our drinking water, study says" Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News, January 20, 2012.
  5. "UT study finds no direct link between fracking and groundwater contamination" Jack Z. Smith, Star-Telegram, February 16, 2012.
  6. Vaughan, Vicki (16 February 2012). Fracturing ‘has no direct’ link to water pollution, UT study finds. Retrieved on 3 March 2012.
  7. Munro, Margaret (17 February 2012). Fracking does not contaminate groundwater: study released in Vancouver. Retrieved on 3 March 2012.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development. Retrieved on 29 February 2012.
  9. Scott, Mark (17 October 2011). Norway’s Statoil to Acquire Brigham Exploration for $4.4 Billion. Dealb%k. New York Times. Retrieved on 4 March 2012.
  10. Barry Harrell (19 September 2011). "Norway-based energy company, UT agree on $5 million research program". Retrieved on 5 March 2012. 
  11. Mark Jaffe, "Like Wyoming, Utah finds high wintertime ozone pollution near oil, gas wells," The Denver Post, February 26, 2012.
  12. Stefanie Penn Spear, "Obama Administration Greenlights Disastrous Gas Development Project in Pristine Wilderness," EcoWatch, March 16, 2012.

Related SourceWatch articles

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