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Fracking ruins an American bouldering mecca
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By topher donahue
Jun 20, 2012
A conversation following a photography blog I posted about natural gas fracking next to an elementary school in Colorado - that led to a discussion about a ruined bouldering wonderland in Pennsylvania:

"Topher, I grew up in central PA. The area I'm referring to is Clinton/Lycoming county, often called the "Big Woods". Used to be miles upon miles of unspoiled wilderness.(not counting the logging of the late 1800 and early 1900's) Some of the best bouldering I've ever seen. Gritstone, just like England. I'm kinda surprised that PA didn't hit the charts when the whole bouldering thing took off, but then most of the rock is way remote. And of course now you can't get to most of it because of the fracking."

See the original blog here:
lighthousesolar.com/blog/frack...

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By Woodchuck ATC
Jun 20, 2012
Rock Wars, RRG, 2008
You never think these things will happen in lovely Colorado. What was the story with PA situation? Did it close up the bouldering area or destroy rocks and substructure, groundwater etc. of the area? It's sad any way you look at it.

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By topher donahue
Jun 21, 2012
I'll get more details from Eric, who told me about it, but as I understand it the area is now closed to public access and there has been much road building and thousands of drilling platforms bulldozed into the landscape - not sure how those have affected the boulders themselves.

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By Rigggs24
From Denver, CO
Jun 21, 2012
Eldo Painting
Fracking is really not the problem here nor is it really causing the large majority of any problems that many think it does. Now, you could blame the drilling program that built the roads and moved the rigs in. But they dont do that without easements from the surface land owner and proper leases of the mineral rights. Fracking is just a technique to increase the rate and amount of production of gas and/or oil from the ground. Hate the Oil/gas industry if you want but fracking is not nearly as bad as all these uninformed people would have you believe.

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By 1Eric Rhicard
Jun 21, 2012
It is a good sized roof. Photo: Jimbo
Rigggs, I am not an expert but it is my understanding is that we don't yet know all the negative ramifications. You should inform those of us that are uninformed why fracking isn't as bad as many would have us believe.

Bummer about the loss of bouldering.

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By csproul
From Rancho Cordova, CA
Jun 21, 2012
Summit of Wolf's Head with Pingora in the background
Rigggs24 wrote:
Fracking is really not the problem here nor is it really causing the large majority of any problems that many think it does. Now, you could blame the drilling program that built the roads and moved the rigs in. But they dont do that without easements from the surface land owner and proper leases of the mineral rights. Fracking is just a technique to increase the rate and amount of production of gas and/or oil from the ground. Hate the Oil/gas industry if you want but fracking is not nearly as bad as all these uninformed people would have you believe.

Of course people are uninformed. Most companies that frac won't even disclose what chemicals they are using in the process. Chemicals that are sometimes discharged into waste treatment plants or sit in shallow surface ponds that have the potential to leak. Until there is some disclosure as to what they are using, we are all uninformed.

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By Morgan Patterson
Administrator
Jun 21, 2012
Stoked...
Rigggs24 wrote:
Fracking is really not the problem here nor is it really causing the large majority of any problems that many think it does. Now, you could blame the drilling program that built the roads and moved the rigs in. But they dont do that without easements from the surface land owner and proper leases of the mineral rights. Fracking is just a technique to increase the rate and amount of production of gas and/or oil from the ground. Hate the Oil/gas industry if you want but fracking is not nearly as bad as all these uninformed people would have you believe.



So Rigggs - I'd be interested in your take on fracking and earthquakes? Are they directly linked? What have independent studies shown? Has the USGS ever done any studies and if so, how many years ago and what were there scientific conclusions?

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By Rigggs24
From Denver, CO
Jun 21, 2012
Eldo Painting
Eric,

Being a scientist, i do not limit possibilities so i will agree that we may not completely undstand all the possible negative ramifications. But that goes for a whole lot of things. Basically everything that is not completely black and white, which happens to be almost everything. But I will say that fracking has been going on for quite some time and that there is a very good understanding of what it does.

Now what I was talking about was the fact that everyone is blaiming fracking for water catching on fire and ruining peoples lives and there litarally has not been an actual recorded case of this anywhere ever that could be linked to fracking. The instances are mostly related to shallow pockets of gas that have moved into the water reservoir once the reservoir has decreased in pressuse allowing the gas to move in. Now where it has been the Oil/gas industries fault is where a poor operator sets cheap casing and puts a poor cement bond through the wellbore. When that happens, gas can leak and get into reservoirs. This is monitored and the operator should pay. But still not related to fracking.

csproul, you are wrong. Especially here in Colorado. Over 95% of all companies have been volunteering these details. Some for quite a few years and all will be required soon. Same goes for California. I am not sure what the protocol is in other states but i assume they are all heading in that direction and may be doing this already. For the most part completion fluids are public record and if you look on the right websites, you can find this info.

As for chemicals sitting on the surface for fracking. The SOP is not to leave them there for months at a time and let them leak. You get fined for this and have to do the remediation. Usually the fluids are there a week at most and operators doing their job correctly will have proper isolation of these fluids. There are redulations in every state about doing this properly. Unfortunately, as with every business, you have companies that cut corners and dont do wonderful work.

Alright i need to get back to work....



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By ddriver
From SLC
Jun 21, 2012
Morgan Patterson wrote:
So Rigggs - I'd be interested in your take on fracking and earthquakes? Are they directly linked? What have independent studies shown? Has the USGS ever done any studies and if so, how many years ago and what were there scientific conclusions?


Well, since you asked. This story just popped in the news this week. Was in my local paper in fact, you know the kind that comes out on paper.

Here's an e version: U.S. study sees little earthquake risk from fracking

"(Reuters) - The fracking drilling technique used to tap shale oil and gas is unlikely to trigger earthquakes, but underground injection of waste water from drilling offers more risks for seismic activity, a new U.S. study said on Friday.

The National Research Council study, which also examined the risk of earthquakes associated with tapping geothermal energy and carbon capture and storage, found that the total balance of fluid injected or removed underground was the biggest factor in causing earthquakes related to energy development."

There's more...

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By Rigggs24
From Denver, CO
Jun 21, 2012
Eldo Painting
Morgan Patterson wrote:
So Rigggs - I'd be interested in your take on fracking and earthquakes? Are they directly linked? What have independent studies shown? Has the USGS ever done any studies and if so, how many years ago and what were there scientific conclusions?


Alright, one more quick response. I am not an expert in this but I have read a few things and did study earthquakes for my masters. So i think this is just not well understood. Earthquakes in general are very difficult to predict and understand exactly what the mechanism was. This is why predicting them is so difficult. But the USGS has done some studies. i know one is currently going on and there has been some done in the past. The study that sticks out in my mind, is the one along the San Andreas. The were attemping to inject fluids at high pressures (frack) the fault zone in order to dissipate stress along the plate boundary and thereore trigger a series of small earthquakes. The hope was to eleviate the stress so it would not build up enough to cause a major earthquake. I do not remember details but i do remmember the take away. This did not work and it did not cause any noticable increase in seismicity. But again that is one study and I do not think that this is completely understood.

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By csproul
From Rancho Cordova, CA
Jun 21, 2012
Summit of Wolf's Head with Pingora in the background
Rigggs24 wrote:
csproul, you are wrong. Especially here in Colorado. Over 95% of all companies have been volunteering these details. Some for quite a few years and all will be required soon. Same goes for California. I am not sure what the protocol is in other states but i assume they are all heading in that direction and may be doing this already. For the most part completion fluids are public record and if you look on the right websites, you can find this info. As for chemicals sitting on the surface for fracking. The SOP is not to leave them there for months at a time and let them leak. You get fined for this and have to do the remediation. Usually the fluids are there a week at most and operators doing their job correctly will have proper isolation of these fluids. There are redulations in every state about doing this properly. Unfortunately, as with every business, you have companies that cut corners and dont do wonderful work. Alright i need to get back to work....

This is simply not true everywhere. In states like PA, the fracking fluid/waste is reused from storage ponds. It is not removed in a week and I don't believe there is any requirement that it is. I just went to a seminar given by the director of environmental toxicology at U. Penn and he said that in many cases where the chemicals are disclosed (and in many they are not), the MSDS listing simply states "proprietary", ie not very informative. And in some cases, the individual components are listed but not the proportions or where they are specifically used (ie in which step of the process, information that is important to predicting potential exposure risks). This has severely hampered the ability to measure potential contamination or assess the potential health risk should contamination occur. I think the disclosure is getting better, but I still think that there is a long way to go and that the research to potential human exposures is still in it's infancy. To claim that it is perfectly safe is just as irresponsible as jumping to the conclusion that it not. In fact, maybe worse given that it is more prudent to err on the side of caution when dealing with large-scale environmental use of chemicals known to cause human toxicity.

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By Jeremy Hand
Jun 21, 2012
slopey
What about the potential contamination of the watertable and wells by the fracking fluid that is used to lubricate and drill deep into the earth's surface?

I'm not AS worried about the earth quakes but by poisoning the watertable you've pretty much effed an entire region of fresh water and there would be no possible way to purify that water back to its normal state.

I'm all for using oil but I'm kinda impartial to poisoning all the surrounding area's populace in the process...

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By Tom Grummon
From Golden, CO
Jun 21, 2012
Top of Montezuma's Tower
I don't know many details on the earthquake subject, but I do know that no self respecting geologist would knowingly drill across an active fault and then frac the well. If the fracking caused the fault to slip it could shear the casing, collapse the hole, and just in general ruin the well and therefore the chance of getting oil/gas out of it. That would make the whole thing a pretty costly mistake.

As rigggs said, its the drilling in general that did this, don't just throw the word fracking in there to incite anger against a hot button issue that many don't understand.

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By Tom Grummon
From Golden, CO
Jun 21, 2012
Top of Montezuma's Tower
Jeremy Hand wrote:
What about the potential contamination of the watertable and wells by the fracking fluid that is used to lubricate and drill deep into the earth's surface? I'm not AS worried about the earth quakes but by poisoning the watertable you've pretty much effed an entire region of fresh water and there would be no possible way to purify that water back to its normal state. I'm all for using oil but I'm kinda impartial to poisoning all the surrounding area's populace in the process...


Just as a note, contamination to the water table come from leaky casing. The actual well is drilled MUCH deeper than the aquifers. The areas being fracked are 1000's of feet below the water table.

I'm not saying there isn't a risk of contamination, but that risk comes from leaky casing (which is a potential problem for all wells, not just wells that are being fracked) and surface spills.

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By topher donahue
Jun 21, 2012
I tried to keep an open mind about fracking for years, but recent research, the fact that they are fracking in front of elementary schools and in neighborhoods in my county, and it messing with my favorite recreation - climbing - changed my mind about fracking.

Here's a report fracking chemicals found last year in a town's aquifer in Wyoming:
msnbc.msn.com/id/45246260/ns/u...

Here's a computer modeling study that suggests fracking itself may help the toxic fracking chemicals rise thousands of feet into to aquifer much faster than previously thought:
propublica.org/article/new-stu...

You guys all seem to know more about it than I do, but it sounds like nobody knows enough and we're doing a whole lot of something that could be causing a whole lot of damage in the long run and nobody seems to know for sure what it is doing. Not talking about it because it is a hot button issue doesn't seem like a good approach - especially since it is happening in our backyards.

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By Scott McMahon
From Boulder, CO
Jun 21, 2012
Bocan
Jeremy Hand wrote:
What about the potential contamination of the watertable and wells by the fracking fluid that is used to lubricate and drill deep into the earth's surface? I'm not AS worried about the earth quakes but by poisoning the watertable you've pretty much effed an entire region of fresh water and there would be no possible way to purify that water back to its normal state. I'm all for using oil but I'm kinda impartial to poisoning all the surrounding area's populace in the process...


Here's an interesting article on water needs for fracking in CO in yesterday's paper.

dailycamera.com/energy/ci_2089...

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By Jeremy Hand
Jun 21, 2012
slopey
Tom Grummon wrote:
Just as a note, contamination to the water table come from leaky casing. The actual well is drilled MUCH deeper than the aquifers. The areas being fracked are 1000's of feet below the water table. I'm not saying there isn't a risk of contamination, but that risk comes from leaky casing (which is a potential problem for all wells, not just wells that are being fracked) and surface spills.



I remember coming across a graph illustrating how this would happen but can't remember the link -- I'm searching though.
Here are some links that show that contamination does happen... there are alot of alternate web sources but I'll try to stick to the big boys.

This one is recent
online.wsj.com/article/SB10001...


This one is from '87
nytimes.com/2011/08/04/us/04na...


Here is a link to an EPA study on fracking and its implications on the enviroment.
epa.gov/hfstudy/HF_Study__Plan...

It documents the risk of water withdrawal which results in less water supply in the groundwater, water table, and lowered streams.

It talks about the severity of above ground spills from faulty equipment and accidents that affect the containers the fracking fluid is held in and how these occur frequently and increase the probability of water contamination.

The exact composition of fracking fluid is unknown but "between 2005 and 2009, the 14 [leading] oil and gas service companies used more than 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 chemicals and other components” (Waxman et al., 2011). This included “29 chemicals that are: (1) known or possible human carcinogens; (2) regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act for their risks to human health; or (3) listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act”

It continues on talking about the possibilities of faulty wells, cement cores, etc... and also talks about the possible implications of man-made features or geological features that could leak out fluids.
"Although hydraulic fracture design and control have been researched extensively, predicted and actual fracture lengths still differ frequently (Daneshy, 2003; Warpinski et al., 1998). Hence, it is difficult to accurately predict and control the location and length of fractures. Due to this uncertainty in fracture location, EPA must consider whether hydraulic fracturing may lead to fractures intersecting local geologic or man-made features, potentially creating subsurface pathways that allow fluids or gases to contaminate drinking water resources."

That EPA report is just specifying potential areas of risk and lays out the ground work for their future studies they will be undertaking. By no means is it definitive but it is worthy of consideration.

I know this is off topic and the oil companies will not be willing to pursuit it but if we focused more on alternative energies we wouldn't have to worry about destroying layers of the earth, causing earthquakes and possibly entire fault shifts, poisoning local communities, or disturbing neighborhoods that these procedures will be implemented in.

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By topher donahue
Jun 21, 2012
Ok, so here's the reply from Eric. Sounds like there is still some good bouldering to be had:

Eric wrote: "Morning! And Happy Summer! I know a lot of the bouldering is still reachable if you're willing to hike, and I mean hike, to get there. Unfortunatly, a lot isn't. I don't know if the rocks themselves have been blown-up or plowed over or what because the roads that have been cut in for access (through once pristine woodland) are all gated and there are severe penalties for trespass. The last itime I was back there ('09, the beginning...) several of my favorite areas were not reachable. And let me say again it's not just the climbing but pretty much the whole ecosystem that's taking a beating. Amazing trout streams, timber rattlesnake habitat, and yes even elk have had their homes ruined. My sister has an 'amusing ' story. One Sunday morning she was enjoying her coffee and her back-yard view. Then she noticed a tanker style truck on the back edge of her land, close to the stream that runs there. She went out and confronted the guy who was with the truck. "Well little lady, I'm gonna dump this water I've got into that water there." She ended up 'escorting' the dude off her land at gunpoint. Most likely he found another spot to dump his toxins, bit I found this to be a crazy example of how far this thing has gone out of control. Barely belivable, right? I mean, this nut had backed up to a PRIVATE stream, on PRIVATE LAND and was on the verge of dumping a semi tanker full of who knows what into the water. WOW! But I digress. I'll make some calls and find out the current situation. I haven't been back because it's just too depressing for me to go there. Sounds as though you've got some knowledge of the area. Have you ever been? There really is some pretty amazing bouldering to be had. There's a TON that hasn't been affected by the fracking, I'm only refering to what's going on in 'my' neck of the woods."

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By Nick Stayner
From Billings, MT
Jun 21, 2012
Nick Stayner near the crux. Ryan Minton photo.
Rigggs24 wrote:
Now what I was talking about was the fact that everyone is blaiming fracking for water catching on fire and ruining peoples lives and there litarally has not been an actual recorded case of this anywhere ever that could be linked to fracking.

The EPA links fracking to groundwater contamination in Pavillion, WY, in
this draft report. from December 2011.

Naturally, both Encana (the company "developing the resources" near Pavillion) and the State of Wyoming dismissed this study as bad science. I believe the USGS and EPA are conducting additional studies.

Should be interesting to see how this plays out. Good on the residents of Pavillion for standing up and getting something done.

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By bdiddy
Jun 21, 2012
I agree that the issue is a hot button, especially where I live and work here in WY. I am a hydrogeologist and currently work for both the operators and regulators in WY and CO. I also have reviewed in detail, the Pavillion report and am personal friends with a regulator who lives just outside Pavillion.

The report lays out several lines of evidence that are pretty obvious that fracking created several pathways for both fracking fluids and natural gas to reach the shallower units that function as a water supply for many residents. Now I will also say the EPA screwed the pooch on their methodology. They tried to do it themselves and cut corners on data integrity issues and there are also issues with the monitoring wells they installed. The WHOLE oil and gas industry is all over this. But it is my professional opinion that if the EPA really want to do this, and do it right, they can prove beyond a scientific reasonable doubt, that fracking caused the major problems.

I do agree w Riggs and Grummon that the biggest issue is the drilling and casing integrity. BUT, since there are NO real enforceable rules on this, the O & G industry is basically free to do what they want when they want. By enforceable, I mean a mechanism by the State to actually go out and make each well casing be tested. They do this in NM and do a pretty good job of it. Fracking in and of itself is not the real problem, it is that the industry is free to do it in ANY well, regardless of the casing integrity.

For example, in Weld County CO, over 18,000 natural gas wells have been drilled and only 232 wells have had a casing integrity test of ANY kind. Both CO and WY have enacted legislation to "regulate" fracking fluids, CO being the most stringent in the US. But in WY, if you file for an exemption....you will get it.

But the O & G industry knows that the problem is the casing integrity. They also know that the drilling process is prohibitively expensive and it is the economic factor on whether to develop a play or not. They also know that most older wells have crappy cement jobs but they know that the fracking process can turn those old non-producers into gold mines. That coupled with the "Halliburton" rule passed in 2005 exempts them from disclosure through bypassing of the Clean Water Act, leaves all of their chemicals and waste unregulated via RCRA, AND they are exempt from CERCLA from having to clean up impacts from carcinogens.

So its left to the States to regulate their own cash cow. This is MERICA folks. Oh and back to the original PA post. Both the governor Tom Corbett and Rep Tim Murphy have received some of the most money from the industry lobby....$361K and $275K respectively.

Yeah its an issue, especially here in the dry mountain west.

Have a nice day!

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By Tradoholic
Jun 21, 2012
It seems the earthquakes are a non-issue? So there's some rumbles, has there been any reported damages? Sure makes for a great news story though, eh?

The toxins however, are another issue. The industry could use some tougher regulations, that's for sure.

We all use natural gas, oil, etc so I don't think it's reasonable to call for stopping all of these things but some additional transparency is definitely required here.

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By Jeremy Hand
Jun 21, 2012
slopey
Climbing Fascist wrote:
It seems the earthquakes are a non-issue? So there's some rumbles, has there been any reported damages? Sure makes for a great news story though, eh? The toxins however, are another issue. The industry could use some tougher regulations, that's for sure. We all use natural gas, oil, etc so I don't think it's reasonable to call for stopping all of these things but some additional transparency is definitely required here.


I wouldn't call destroying part of the earth's crust 8,000 ft below surface a non-issue, but the toxicity factor definitely outweighs it.

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By Jason N.
From Grand Junction
Jun 21, 2012
Indy pass
Climbing Fascist wrote:
It seems the earthquakes are a non-issue? So there's some rumbles, has there been any reported damages? Sure makes for a great news story though, eh? The toxins however, are another issue. The industry could use some tougher regulations, that's for sure. We all use natural gas, oil, etc so I don't think it's reasonable to call for stopping all of these things but some additional transparency is definitely required here.


Yeah, but wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where these types of issues were considered BEFORE drills hit the ground? Sometimes a little more foresight from companies would go a long way in improving public opinion.

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By Nick Stayner
From Billings, MT
Jun 21, 2012
Nick Stayner near the crux. Ryan Minton photo.
bdiddy, thanks for the response. Always interesting to hear from those directly involved. Do you have any idea as to the status of current studies being done by the EPA and/or USGS in the area?

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By mtoensing
From Boulder
Jun 21, 2012
Props to my home state show
Oil and gas companies have been saying that there is no harm from extracting methods used in fracking but there has been no real research to suggest that methods are "safe." The main issue is that these companies have a lot of spare cash and don't give a rat's ass about anything except increasing profits. The other side to this issue is the regulation. If one of these companies does get fined, it is usually not that much money for them and instead of fixing a problem (like a gas leak) they would much rather pay a fine.

The sad part is that we are looking at drought conditions in the state for the rest of the year and the poor farmers in NW Colo were beat out on a lot of their water rights to fracking. So while farmers will struggle this summer to keep crops alive, oil/gas boys will be using millions of gallons of clean water mixed with unknown chemicals to extract gas.

I am an aquatic toxicologist and get to work with many oil and gas companies in Colorado. Thinking too deeply about all of this is pretty depressing but it is rewarding to see some good that happens every once in a while. Just remember that water is the most precious resource we have and clean water is going to be a big part of the future.

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By bdiddy
Jun 21, 2012
Nick, I don't know the status right now. I do know that finally, the state regulators have gone through the report w a fine toothed comb and just finished their review. I'll be talking to my friend who lives there soon, I'm sure she'll know the scuttlebutt.

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