Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Data points to environmental, health impact of Fort Collins-area fracking accident

Data points to environmental, health impact of Fort Collins-area fracking accident

20 people required to wrest control of well

Feb. 13, 2013 , Written byBobby Magill   

The gushing fracking water leak has stopped, but many questions remain about its impact.
It took at least 20 people to wrest control of the oil and gas well that spewed a horizontal geyser of green-tinted fracking water for more than 30 hours Monday and Tuesday about four miles east of Fort Collins.

After that crew gained control around 4 p.m. Tuesday, well operator PDC Energy has five days to file a final report to state oil and gas regulators detailing the cause and impact of the accident, PDC Energy Vice President Bart Brockman said Wednesday.

The volume of fluid released still isn’t known, but it will be revealed in PDC Energy’s report to the state, he said.

What that fluid contained and what hazard it posed to the people living in the area are much more complicated questions to answer.

A hydraulic failure caused a piece of equipment to fall and shear off a pin at the well head, breaking a valve and causing the release of a very large amount of “flowback” water, Brockman said.
The well, called the “Ochsner 50-441,” was hydraulically fractured, or fracked, by Halliburton on Feb. 5, according to a report on the industry’s fracking disclosure website,

Fracking involves the injection of millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into the oil well bore. In this case, Halliburton used 4.09 million gallons of water to frack the Ochsner well.

The chemicals used to frack the well included at least 15 solvents and other chemicals composed of various hydrocarbons, surfactants, salts, sand and other ingredients.

Some of those include petroleum naptha; naphthalene, a possible carcinogen; trimethylbenzene, a toxin not classified as a carcinogen; potasssium chloride, which is sometimes used for lethal injection; a toxic chemical commonly known as Tergitol NP-4; and many others, according to a list available on FracFocus.

“The failure had nothing to do with the hydraulic fracturing process,” Brockman said, calling the fluid that gushed from the well “flowback water” unrelated to fracking.

But that isn’t true.

“During a stage of well completion known as ‘flowback’, fracturing fluids, water and reservoir gas come to the surface at a high velocity and volume,” according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet on proposed EPA oil and gas air quality regulations.

Brockman said that the flowback returning to the surface includes fracking fluid and a lot more: All the hydrocarbons -- crude oil and natural gas -- the well was drilled to produce.

The EPA fact sheet says the flowback contains a high volume of volatile organic compounds and air toxics including benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane.

“The EPA estimates that uncontrolled hydraulically fractured wells may emit 240 times the amount of hazardous air pollutants as an unfractured well,” according to another EPA document. “The concern is that once the well has been hydraulically fractured, the large amount of fluid returns up the well bore to the surface where it was vented, releasing large amounts of hydrocarbons and chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process into the air.

“These flowback emissions are short-term in nature but are substantial,” according to the EPA.
About 1,000 feet away from the Ochsner well during the leak, a very strong petroleum odor wafted through the air. The nearest home was 1,500 feet away.