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Treading Water: Pros And Cons Of Fracking

I read with interest, the April 2012 Anton News article about the panel discussion pros and cons of so-called “hydrofracking.” The debate as framed makes good points, however, it also misses a few key points. What is overlooked in the current imbroglio, is that when I was an exploration and development geologist for a Fortune 100 oil and gas company, for all the majors I worked with the preferred industry standard well completion practice was called an “acid frac, or an acid job,” for both oil and gas wells. Based on my understanding, it is still the preferred method for non-horizontal wells (i.e. vertical wells, not the tight shale plays), not hydrofracking. The acids pumped into these wells are highly concentrated, such as hydrofluoric and hydrochloric acid, to basically “clean out” or dissolve rock and natural cements to produce preferential flow paths for oil and gas to enter into the well bore. These are old practices and involve hundreds of thousands of U.S. wells, than are typically hydrofracked. These are unregulated practices, as are the drilling muds that are used. “Mud” is also a misleading term, as these muds are laden with various polymers, chemicals, and heavy metals, formulated to bring to surface drilled crushed rock, to coat the borehole to prevent contamination of water bearing zones, and importantly to prevent blowouts as the borehole is being advanced. My company experienced a “blowout” of a 17,000 well in Oklahoma, that blew the entire drill string out of the hole because it had encountered an over-pressured gas zone and the mud was not thick or heavy enough to counter the massive pressure. “Muds” are excluded from reporting, regulation or oversight by the so-called “Chaney” clause. It must be noted that key to a successful well is the completion method employed, the type of mud used, and how the well casing is advanced and literally cemented into place. The blow out of BP’s Deep Water Horizon Anaconda well in the Gulf is a recent chief case in point of questionable cementing and related practices, there was also a major blowout several years prior in Ohio. Well drilling and completions are not regulated, left up to what is termed “best professional practice.” Large areas and groundwater zones in many old producing areas in the continental U.S. are contaminated from prior practices. This realization is kind of like the effort citizens and the government had to come up with to effect seatbelt and other safety standards for cars to reduce deaths and injuries, because inspite or despite best practice, accidents do happen. 


Stephen Cipot