Update on NETL Faults & Fracking Study

Earlier this week MDN covered news of a study about to be released by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) which looks at whether or not fracking fluids can find their way to the surface through faults or cracks (see this MDN story).

Based on the article MDN read, we floated the question, “Are we being set up?” Any time MDN reads about “this is science and incontrovertible and this will settle it once and for all” it sets off red flags—like we’re about to be railroaded.

Fortunately Pam Casey, a reporter with the West Virginia State Journal, read the MDN article and dug deeper. What she found is reassuring:

Researchers are gathering data in two stages.

The first, just completed, is a microseismic study conducted in conjunction with hydraulic fracturing.

By showing in three dimensions where rock is breaking, the microseismic data map an "envelope" of the impact of fracturing and help to answer ongoing questions about whether fracturing could enable fluids or gas to flow upward to drinking water aquifers, which are typically within hundreds of feet of the surface.

"The (highest activity) we’ve seen is 1,500 feet up from the Marcellus," [NETL geologist Richard] Hammack  said in summary of a preliminary look at the data, which the agency only finished gathering earlier this week.

That’s still more than a mile below drinking water aquifers.

These data are in line with data accumulated earlier from hundreds of fracturing stages in the Barnett and Marcellus shales.

The current NETL study adds to a picture of improbability, although no study can ever prove it impossible.

"Geology is specific to any particular site," Hammack said. "If there were more of these studies done in different areas, then you could start to put together the big picture."

In a second phase of the research, the microseismic data will be complemented by longer-term monitoring of the producing Upper Devonian well that overlies these Marcellus wells.

"We’re looking for indications of communication between the two zones and we’re using mobile lines of evidence to do that: pressure differences as well as manmade and natural tracers," Hammack said.*

Read the rest of Pam’s excellent and insightful piece of investigative journalism by clicking the link below.

*Charleston (WV) The State Journal (Jun 13, 2012) – NETL studying upward migration of fracture fluid