With environmentalists crowing that “Gasland” is proof that fracking causes contamination and the industry denying any such thing, it’s turned into another politicized free-for-all.
The national debate over fracking has darkened a good-news story for the country: horizontal multistage hydrofracking has reversed the growth of imported oil and natural gas, created hundreds of thousands of American jobs and, in the case of natural gas, dramatically cut prices.
In the past few months, the fracking debate moved to Kansas as large companies using horizontal multistage hydrofracking started drilling in Sumner, Harper, Barber and Comanche counties. They are drilling through a 320 million-year-old layer called the Mississippian limestone 4,500 to 5,000 feet below the prairie.
Fracking isn’t new or unusual, Kansas oilmen are quick to note. It’s been done for more than 60 years and is used on virtually all of the more than 5,000 conventional wells drilled in Kansas every year.
That’s why many in the industry in Kansas are dismayed, even disgusted, by the fact that there is a controversy. To them, there’s a debate only because gas drilling is growing rapidly in Pennsylvania and New York, where East Coast environmentalists are thick on the ground.
Kansas regulators say the record for fracking is clear: There has never been a case of groundwater contamination caused by fracking in the state’s history.
But environmentalists say the new wells raise the stakes. These wells run 4,000 feet horizontally and require many thousands of gallons of hazardous chemicals per well.
No matter what the record is, say environmentalists, accidents are inevitable. In booming areas such as western Pennsylvania’s gas area, the Marcellus Shale, some of the producers have been sloppy, cutting corners.
Environmentalists aren’t quite as thick on the ground in Kansas, but there are some – and they are worried about Kansas.
Joe Spease, chairman of the Kansas Sierra Club’s hydraulic fracturing committee, said the record of drillers in Pennsylvania makes him worry about Kansas.
“We have to take a hard look at this,” he said. “If these chemicals get into the groundwater, it’s ruined forever. This is a major threat to the water supply.”
The EPA is in the midst of a massive study on fracking and its impact on water. It expects to issue its first report before the end of the year.