Fracking Could Be More Dangerous Than We Realize

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Originally Published on The ECOreport

The first indication sounded like a jet plane taking off, only it kept reoccurring day and night. Then there were the blinking lights. Her taps started whistling like there was a train coming. She developed “terribly caustic burns” after bathing. Ten years later, Jessica Ernst still does not know what chemicals Encana used when they fractured into her community’s water supply. Her lawsuit against Encana and the Alberta government agencies that failed to protect her has become famous. How uncommon is her story? A number of reports from British Columbia suggest fracking could be more dangerous than we realize.


No Confirmed Cases

According to a spokesperson from BC’s Oil & Gas Commission, “There have been no documented cases of groundwater pollution in BC associated with the process of hydraulic fracturing.”

To which Calvin Sanborn, Legal Director the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Center, responded, “The politicians will tell you there are no confirmed cases of water contamination, that’s because they haven’t hired anyone to look.”

Sanborn supervised the 2014 study that concluded,

We don’t really know what toxins were in the waste water, or how much may have leaked into ground water or surface water. … Wastewater from fracking operations can contain radioactive materials, toxic metals like lead and arsenic, carcinogens like benzene and hexavalent chromium, chemicals used in fracking and high concentrations of salts.

According to statistics on page 11, more than 100 billion gallons of waste water have been injected into the province. This “wastewater is not tracked after disposal” (and) the fate of this massive quantity of wastewater is unknown.”

An event more chilling passage, on the next page, states there are:

…few requirements for natural gas wells at this time, and no requirements for disposal of produced water. The lack of previous regulation is concerning because many old wells are currently in operation today; indeed … the majority of wastewater has been injected into old wells. Age is a factor in well integrity because the tube of cement casing surrounding disposal wells can degrade over time, creating a potential risk of leaks into surrounding layers of rock or aquifers …”

May Cause Earthquakes

This is important because of the danger that disposal wells and hydraulic fracturing wells may cause earthquakes.

In what is becoming a well-known investigation, the BC Oil and Gas Commission concluded that 38 earthquakes, ranging from 2.2 to 3.8 on the Richter scale, “were caused by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing in proximity to pre-existing faults.”

Screenshot 2015-04-29 13.54.18

The Environmental Law Center added that the workers on Horn River:

…were fracking at even lower pressures than they are now. Disposal well injection occurs at lower pressures: therefore, while disposal operations may also induce seismicity, such seismic events are usually too small to be detected at the surface. However, if wells or fractures intersect with and reactivate existing deep faults, it can cause a larger seismic event. This happened recently with the Cuadrilla shale gas operations in the UK, which triggered two earthquakes. Finally, while induced seismicity itself is troubling, seismic events are also relevant to wastewater disposal – earthquakes may result in the creation of more fractures in deep bedrock horizons, generating new pathways for wastewater to move between layers of rock.


If There Is A Problem

So if there is a problem with water contamination, where is the proof?

Amanda Frank, Policy Analyst for the Center for Effective Government, says it is very difficult to obtain unless you have ongoing water monitoring data that started two years before a permit is issued. This is a requirement in Maryland’s proposed fracking regulations.

“Unless operators have actually done pretesting of this water you really can’t say fracking did it. You might be absolutely sure, but you don’t have the scientific evidence,” she said.

However BC’s Oil and Gas Commission say, “There is no regulatory requirement for groundwater monitoring in B.C. unless specified by a permit.”

The is no regulations for setbacks from private wells, which compares poorly with the 2,000 feet called for in the Maryland regulations.

“I don’t know that a 2,000 foot setback would completely cut out cases of water contamination, but its a better practice than what is happening in other states and can hopefully reduce those instances,” said Frank.

The Maryland regulations have been put on hold because the state legislature has just voted for a two year moratorium on fracking.

How long will it take for places like British Columbia to start adopting similar measures?

Photo Credits:A fracking wastewater storage site located on the Farrell Creek road between Fort St John and Hudson’s Hope, BC. Note the “no smoking” sign! by Joe Foy, Wilderness Committee; Red triangles show NRCan reported epicentres, Bovie and Trout Lake Fault zones noted. Liard Basin to west of Bovie Fault. Blue star indicates location of Kiwigana seismograph array form the BC Oil and Gas Commission Report, Investigation of Observed Seismicity in the Horn River Basin (August 2012); Fracking site as seen from the air, near Fort St. John, BC. by Jeremy Sean Williams, WiIderness Committee

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Roy L Hales

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

Roy L Hales has 441 posts and counting. See all posts by Roy L Hales

7 thoughts on “Fracking Could Be More Dangerous Than We Realize

  • Not to play the devil’s advocate, but ‘earthquakes ranging from 2.2 to 3.8 on the Richter scale’?

    You make that sound as if it’s bad. For reference: an earthquake scoring 2.2. on the richter scale can be measured, but barely if at all felt. An earthquake scoring 3.8 is similar to a heavy truck driving through your street: some small things might rattle a little.

    This intensity of those earthquakes is not different to the intensity of non-fracking drilling operations, construction projects or even heavy traffic.

    So far, there have been only a handful of serious earthquakes caused by drilling/fracking of any kind. Most have been associated with conventional gas extraction in fields approaching depletion or with coal seam gas, not with fracking.

    The groundwater issue is more serious of course. While it can be mitigated with proper casing design and maintenance, it’s hard to tell if that’s the case with such weak regulatory oversight.

    • “You make that sound as if it’s bad.”

      It is bad Larmion. Why else do you think industry is recommending they shore up their equipment against the “intense shaking” from their own frac quakes? Who’s going to shore up your house and water well?

      “One of Canada’s foremost experts on earthquake hazards recently told an audience of Calgary engineers that earthquakes triggered by hydraulic fracturing can exceed ‘what the natural hazard was in the first place’ and pose risks to infrastructure only built to withstand natural earthquake hazards.

      As well, earthquakes induced by fracking can produce more damaging ground motion at lower magnitudes than natural quakes due to their shallowness, said Gail Atkinson, the NSERC/TransAlta/Nanometrics Industrial Research Chair in Hazards from Induced Seismicity at Ontario’s Western University.

      Natural earthquakes have an average depth of 10 kilometres, whereas industry-made tremors are much shallower and closer to the ground surface where people can feel them more strongly.

      Natural earthquakes typically cause structural damage in buildings at a magnitude of 5.0, Atkinson said. But earthquakes triggered by fracking could possibly cause damaging ground motions at magnitudes as low as 3.5 to 4.0, due to their shallowness.”

      www dot thetyee dot ca/News/2015/02/02/Fracking-Quakes-Study-Required/

    • Californian here . . . Meh . . . 3.8 is pretty small stuff. However, 3.8 can definitely cause some serious damage right where the epicenter is. And since these are places that traditionally had no earthquakes, their building codes allowed buildings that are not in the least prepared for quakes. So they have had some chimneys topple in Oklahoma and other masonry damage.

      • “These quakes are definitely a legal quandary and it is just a matter of time before someone files a lawsuit against the frackers.”

        People are launching lawsuits, and companies are already settling and gagging people.

        “In a case expected to set a precedent for future earthquake claims in Oklahoma, the state Supreme Court will consider whether two oil companies can be held liable in state court for injuries a Prague woman suffered during the 2011 earthquake.

        … The lawsuit by Sandra Ladra of Prague is among dozens of lawsuits filed in the past several years across the country alleging oil and gas companies are responsible for earthquakes. Similar lawsuits seeking class-action status have been filed against energy companies in Arkansas and Texas.

        … Arkansas-based attorney Scott Poynter, who represents Ladra, said: ‘I think the Supreme Court sees this is a current issue and it’s a very important issue.’

        Poynter also represented plaintiffs in the Arkansas earthquake lawsuits. Those lawsuits were voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs in March and Poynter said he could not comment on them.

        Court records show the eight Arkansas plaintiffs were in settlement talks with the defendants, which included Chesapeake Operating Inc., before they dismissed the case.”

  • All I see on tv the last few months (im in BC) is commercials claiming how safe and wonderful fracking is. how we have all this clean burning natural gas just a fracture away. makes me sick. want to tell them to frack off.

  • Well two things, in Alberta, next door to BC, there was an earthquake of over 4, in an area that never had any before, due to fracking.

    The other thing is when will we (mankind) learn that if we subject nature to harm it will come back to us and bite us in the butt?

    The way we are going we are on track to make us extinct or close to it by our own actions! :((


    • This past December 2014, the BC Oil and Gas Commission released another report on more frac quakes. One frac quake in BC registered a 4.4M (as strong as the recent Fox Creek frac quake in Alberta) and now 10 frac quakes, and 1 wastewater disposal quake, were felt at surface in BC.

      “The Commission identified five areas within the Montney where seismic events were linked to hydraulic fracturing operations.

      Two additional areas where seismicity has been observed (Graham and Pintail) appear linked to deeper, sub-Montney wastewater disposal and not hydraulic fracturing.

      From Aug. 1, 2013 to Oct. 10, 2014, NRCan recorded 231 events in the Montney, ranging from 1.0 to 4.4 ML, attributed to oil and gas activities.

      Thirty-eight of these events (1.2 to 2.9 ML) were triggered by wastewater disposal wells at Graham and Pintail.

      Another 193 events (1.0 to 4.4 ML) were triggered by hydraulic fracturing operations in the Montney.”

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