America's booming domestic oil and gas industry is made possible through technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Trucking has enjoyed lower fuel prices and a boom for those carriers involved in hauling sand, water, equipment and more to and from drilling sites.
However, those lower oil prices have left some wells unfinished, with one fracking executive this week predicting half of all fracking companies will be gobbled up or out of business by the end of the year. And new reports from national and state geologists raise concern about the effect of the oil and gas boom on the planet.
For the first time this week, the U.S. Geological Survey unveiled a map of earthquakes believed to be triggered by human activity in the eastern and central United States.
Seismic activity has increased in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Ohio. All of the areas highlighted on the map “are located near deep fluid injection wells or other industrial activities capable of inducing earthquakes,” the study said.
The New York Times has an excellent article delving into the very technical USGS report.
Oklahoma, the worst-hit state, last year had more earthquakes magnitude 3 or higher than California.
This week, the Oklahoma Geological Survey issued its most strongly worded statement yet linking the oil and gas industry to the state’s earthquakes, saying the spike in seismic activity is “very unlikely to represent a naturally occurring process.”
However, it said the primary suspect was not hydraulic fracturing itself, but "the injection/disposal of water associated with oil and gas production," or dewatering.
For the dewatering process, extremely salty water, which coexists with oil and gas below the Earth’s surface, is separated from those substances after extraction. Then barrels of wastewater are deposited into wells far deeper than their point of origin.
Some of this wastewater is a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking: a process in which high-pressure liquids are blasted beneath the ground to fracture rock, releasing natural gas. But fracking only accounts for a small percentage of the water deposited in these wells.
Much of the wastewater, with much higher salinity levels than ocean water, travels many miles away from its injection site and seeps into the underlying crystalline basement; such permeability makes it difficult to link a specific well with seismic activity.
It can take anywhere from weeks to more than a year of this water pouring in before it triggers naturally occurring stresses in the Earth — causing earthquakes.
Lower oil prices
Meanwhile, the U.S. oil and gas business is already suffering from the effect of lower oil prices. Low oil prices have spurred companies to leave fracking wells uncompleted.
Rob Fulks, pressure pumping marketing director at Weatherford, the fifth-largest fracking operation in the U.S., has been forced to cut costs “dramatically” in response to lower demand, and we're seeing consolidation already among bigger players.
He told Bloomberg this week that half of all fracking companies will be out of business or sold by the end of this year.
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