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Aquifers Are a Chief Concern for Oil and Gas Industry

If you pick up a newspaper, turn on the television or attend a town hall in south Louisiana, a similar conversation is taking place. The talk consists of protecting the aquifers due to the hydraulic fracturing process. First, the history of drilling through aquifers in our state must be reviewed.

Since 1901 when the first oil well was drilled near Jennings, Louisiana, the aquifers of our state have been drilled through to reach the natural resources. This may come as a great surprise, but of the over 40,000 wells that are producing in our state today, 99.99% of them were drilled by going through the aquifer system. Something that is overlooked is the fact that of the 40,000 plus producing wells currently in our state, zero accidents have been reported with regards to an aquifer being contaminated by drilling activities. These statistics do not need to be overlooked. With over a century of drilling history and around a quarter of a million wells in Louisiana, the success rate for aquifer protection stands at 100%.

Whether in the north part of the state where the Sparta Aquifer is the chief water source, or in the southern part of our state where the Abita Aquifer is the prominent source, protection of this ground water is a chief concern to the industry. Protection not only occurs in the drilling process but also by the industry utilizing surface water. Therefore, the aquifers longevity and current day levels are kept secure.

How are the aquifers kept safe from contamination during drilling? Through the use of multiple layers of steel casing (pipe) with successive layers of cement between another layer of casing, the aquifer stays secure. By the time production or drilling fluids make its way through the aquifer, at least four layers of casing surrounded by cement have been put into place stretching beneath the aquifer system.

This practice of securing the aquifer is not simply an encouraged practice, but it is in fact a state law that is thoroughly regulated and monitored by the Department of Natural Resources and the Office of Conservation.

Unfortunately, environmental groups in our state are using scare tactics to create an unnecessary fear in the minds of our citizens. Through the use of protests, videos, social media and attempts at new legislation, the environmental activists are neither using facts nor good common sense.

Common sense about aquifer use and drilling brings the second conversation to light. Hydraulic fracturing, which has been taking place since the 1940’s, is a tried and true completion method for extracting natural resources from the earth. The process of hydraulically fracturing a well takes place usually over two miles beneath the surface of the earth. In between the aquifer and the fracturing zone is two miles of rock, mud, clay and other natural occurring resources. A simple review of gravity tells us that fluids, water and sand used in the fracturing process will not travel against these two miles of reverse gravity to make any contamination possible. However, this is such simple science, that the opposition to the industry does not want the general public to be aware of the basics of the fracturing process. As a side note, greater than a million wells have been completed using the hydraulic fracturing method in the United States since its inception in the 1940’s. Each state has regulation oversight of the hydraulic fracturing process.

Don Briggs is President of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association

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  1. Oil exists where there is SALT. Adding liquids to areas like this is obviously going to create significant risk. Fracking is like making swish, it’s a rinse made from a barrel and then it’s gone after the first few rinses. Meanwhile, we have vertical fractures, contamination via bedrock aquifers, minerals that dissolve all mixed up into these areas. Industry relies on modflow models that assumes aquifers are simply contained. That is not natural. They also assume that water will magically stay in basins without regard for draw down impacts of wells. Wells are like straws that will suck in water from a wide area of influence. It has the potential to reverse flow of creeks and drain them dry regardless of topography. Meanwhile, bore holes are still being used to assess risk in spite of the fact they do not work on hill slopes. Moraines are formed as glaciers melt. The distribution of minerals is fanned like shingles on a roof. Some of those shingles have pure recharge in between. Bore holes make it look impervious. Ground Penetrating Radar shows a different picture. Recharge exists on hill slopes. Also we must get over the myth that clay is impervious! It only slows rate of transfer, it does not BLOCK it. In other words: Contamination is LIKELY to happen from fracking. Fracking is FINITE and using it creates significant geological risks. Best not to do it in my view.

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