Natural Gas Drilling, Hydrofracturing, and Ground Water – Drink Up?

A couple of YouTube videos have been making the rounds and causing some alarm among the ever-increasing number of homeowners who have active natural gas drilling in their area, and rely on groundwater for their drinking water supply. This video shows common, normal operations at a modern natural-gas drilling site in western Colorado, operated by the Canadian company EnCana, a major player in the Rockies. One video shows drilling fluids being stored onsite in a plastic-lined open pit (a “fluid reserve pit”) while the well is hydrofractured, or “fracced.” The other video shows this same pit being closed: as a crew removes residual fluids and pulls out the liner, a bulldozer buries the pit.

We’ve created a small gallery showing the drill site depicted in these videos, and adjacent residences. Although the operations depicted are probably allowed by Colorado law, nearby homeowners who have water wells for drinking and bathing are concerned about these practices as drilling permeates the area. Multiply this scene tens of thousands of times, and you get the idea what’s been happening in recent years with drilling in many parts of the country.

UPDATE 9/16/09: In response to a comment, we thought folks might appreciate these links to other resources about fracking:

  • A summary report on chemicals found in fraccing fluids, their toxicity, and health effects
  • Tables that list chemicals used in drilling and fraccing
  • This press release from The Wilderness Society supporting pending legislation that would require companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in fraccing
  • Announcement that EPA found fraccing chemicals contaminating residential water wells in Pavillion, Wyoming
  • A wealth of additional information on hydrofracturing from Earthworks

Grasberg Mine Tailings Inundating Forest in Indonesia

File this under “you gotta be kidding me” — tailings (waste rock, mud, etc.) from the massive open-pit Grasberg copper/gold mine in Irian Jaya, Indonesia, are actually dumped right into the river system. It’s called “riverine tailings disposal.” Sounds very sophisticated. When the fast-flowing mountain streams hit the forested lowlands, though, they slow down and dump their load of crud across a steadily growing floodplain of desolation, killing most of the vegetation:


Grasberg mine tailings in 1988 (above) and 2003 (below)

According to the New Orleans-based mine operator, Freeport McMoRan, this is all perfectly legal in Indonesia. But some of their investors aren’t too happy about this.

We’ve created a gallery of satellite images showing how rapidly the area of devastation grew between 1988 and 2003. Can’t wait to see a more recent image…

Our images appear about 4 minutes into a 2007 documentary film by Kurt Diegert called “Exploiting West Papua.” The film also includes spectacular low-altitude aerial shots of the inundated floodplain.

SkyTruth – How Do We Help (Part 2)?

All too often, public notice of a proposed well or other industrial facility — particularly those related to oil and gas drilling — gives the location in legal terms that are meaningless to the average citizen. Where, exactly, is the thing going to be drilled or built? We just got another great example of this: a proposed well to dispose of acid gas (carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, waste products of natural gas processing) on the site of a large gas processing plant, by injecting it into an underlying rock formation. Here is the public description of the location:

CASE 14329: Application of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation for approval of an acid gas injection well, San Juan County, New Mexico. Applicant seeks approval to drill an acid gas injection well at its Kirtland New Mexico site. The well will be drilled 1650 feet from the North line and 2310 feet from the West line in Unit F of Section 1, Township 29 North, Range 15 West NMPM, to inject up to 2000 barrels of acid gas per day at a maximum pressure of 1985 psi, into the Entrada Formation, at an approximate depth of 6500 feet to 6700 feet.

Concerned citizens in New Mexico contacted SkyTruth. We loaded the township/range grid into our GIS software, identified the location, and converted it to latitude/longitude coordinates. Then we plugged the location into Google Earth to generate a few images showing the proposed disposal well. Here’s the response to our work:

Thank you so much! I do believe you have located it. I was not aware that the plant was this large and so near Kirtland. It is much closer to residences than their permit request implies. We of course are worried about H2S leaks as well as the underground process…

It is really amazing how much we use these satellite pictures now. You have really opened up a valuable tool to us with your work. I find that they really help cut to the chase when shown to someone during a discussion. Usually people are stunned to see them. Can’t hide and it is hard to argue with pictures. They are a terrific and valuable tool for sure. – Kris Dixon