According to new research from US scientists, up to 16% of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells spill liquids every year. They found 6,600 releases from these fracked wells over a ten-year period in four states. The huge problems were reported in oil-rich North Dakota where 67% of the spills were recorded. The largest spill recorded involved 100,000 liters of fluid with most related to moving and storing liquids.
Over the past ten years, the rapid growth in the extraction of oil and gas from unconventional sources in the US has had a massive impact on the production and consumption of energy. The major role in expanding this is using hydraulic fracturing. It is the process of injecting fluids with chemical additives under pressure to ace underground rock and release the trapped resources.
However, environmental backers have long been troubled by the potential for this process to contaminate water supplies and the environment through spills and leaks. Around 457 spills had occurred according to the study carried out by the US Environment protection Agency on fracking in eight states between 2006 and 2012. But this new study, while constricted to just four states with adequate data, suggests the level of spills is much higher. The researchers found 6,648 spills between 2005 and 2014. The state reporting the highest level of spills was North Dakota, a hot bed of activity in both oil and gas recovery.
The data recorded 4,453 incidents in the state, much higher than New Mexico, Colorado and Pennsylvania. This can be explained by reporting requirements. In New Mexico and Colorado, 210 gallons spills was the requirement while in North Dakota any spill bigger than 42 US gallons has to be reported. Most of the spills occurred in the first three years of operation. Around 50% of spills were related to the movement and storage of fluids via pipelines. The hidden causes were difficult to determine because of different reporting requirements.
A surprising number of spills occurred at wells which had taped a previous incident, over half in the case of North Dakota. This suggests that focused inspections on these sites might have a significant impact in reducing spills. However industry sources bicker the impact that these spill are having. The argument was that very few have resulted in contamination to the environment. “70% of all spills in 2013 were contained on the well pad and never reached land or water”, according to the North Dakota Health Department.
The hidden message is that more and better uniform data collection and reporting across different states would allow the environmentalists and industry to better assess the impact of fracked wells on the environment.