Hydraulic fracturing’s impact on the environment received another mark this week when an oil well blowout occurred on a farm located about a kilometer away from a fracking well in Alberta, Canada.
Canada’s Energy Resource Conservation Board was alerted late last Friday about an oil spill in a field, about 25 kilometers west of Innisfail, after a neighboring landowner spotted a pumpjack gushing oil and chemicals onto the ground.
Regulators believe a fracking well located about a kilometer away caused the pumpjack to rupture. “We don't know the details yet . . . but my understanding is that it appears the fracturing process affected the other well,” the Calgary Herald reports.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a highly controversial process of injecting pressurized water and chemicals - some toxic, some unknown - into the ground to release gas in layers of rock. Reports of contaminated drinking water and a rising string of earthquakes are believed connected to the process.
“We're still not quite sure what happened,” said Scott Ratushny, chief executive for Midway Energy, according to the Herald. “We're still investigating it, but something allowed the frack to carry into the same zone, 130 to 140 metres away (underground).”
Calgary-based Midway Energy, working through Canyon Technical Services, had been finishing a 16-stage frack job at a depth of 1,400 meters when the blowout occurred. Oil, fracking fluid, nitrogen and sand were reportedly involved in the spill.
The spill took place as a result of oil producers working the Cardium oil formation, extending from just north of Calgary to the Edmonton region of Whitecourt. “We have drilled over 40 wells in the Cardium in the region without any incidents,” Ratushny added. “We’ve never seen this before.”
The accelerated pace of multi-stage fracking in the Alberta area is beginning to draw attention to itself and may impact underground water resources. “We're concerned that these things are going to start damaging aquifers,” said Don Bester, president of the Alberta Surface Rights Group, the Herald notes. “If they can hit another well, like this one here, what if they communicate and put all that frac fluid into an aquifer and destroy it.”
The “communicate” term describes an increased geological trend where a fracture moves underground, connecting two gas wells. British Columbia’s Oil and Gas Commission states communication events pose no contamination risk.
A recent report revealed fracking in Canada is at an all-time high, both in wells fracked and water being used in the fracking process. In 2010, the Apache Corporation conducted a fracking job which used 259 million gallons of water.
In the U.S., residents in Pennsylvania and Wyoming are blaming the fracking in shale process for contaminated drinking water. Long-denied by fracking companies, a new EPA report suggests fracking is involved in the contamination process. Encana, North America’s second-largest natural gas producer, and the major fracking operation in the Pavillion, Wyoming area, is fighting such allegations.
“Incidents like this, and the recent (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) study about Encana Corp.'s activities in Wyoming, all add weight to concerns being raised about hydraulic fracturing,” said Matt Horne, director of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank, according to the Herald.
Joe Oliver, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources, recently called opposition to the country's energy market "radical groups" involved in a "radical ideological agenda."