Hydrofracking exposes controversy in Kansas
Economic interest in prying more oil from rock layers far beneath the Kansas prairie is fueling controversy about one of the drilling industry's key extraction techniques — hydraulic fracturing.
The Sierra Club of Kansas is raising an alarm about the process, often simply called fracking, that involves injection of an unsavory chemical cocktail, heavy consumption of water and possible contamination of water resources relied upon by agriculture.
Critics contend this technology could jeopardize integrity of the Ogallala Aquifer, the underground reservoir making rural life possible in western Kansas.
"We can't possibly threaten our water supplies," said Joe Spease, chair of the Sierra Club's fracking committee and a wind energy advocate. "We're going to appeal to commonsense farmers, ranchers and hunters."
He said state and federal lawmakers should cover fracking with an umbrella of regulations designed to mandate operational transparency at job sites, minimize potential of groundwater contamination and hold violators accountable for mistakes. Of particular concern, he said, was introduction of radioactive minerals in the slurry of fluid to help measure fractures around well bores.
There has been a spike in both mineral rights acquisition and activity by hydrofracking companies in northwest Kansas, where analysts suspect to find shale associated with oil deposits. There is also a movement in the south-central portion of the state. The Oklahoma border counties of Harper and Barber are especially active.
An interim joint committee of the Kansas Legislature is taking an interest in fracking, with the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association scheduled to offer testimony on the subject Friday at the Statehouse.
Energy producers, led by KIOGA, are aggressively defending the exploratory method developed during the past 60 years. Crews drill deep vertically and horizontally before injecting with tremendous pressure water with a chemical brew to open seams in oil- and gas-trapping rock. The mixture can include compressed gases, including nitrogen, as well as acid to increase permeability.
Sand or ceramic material is moved into fluid-driven channels to maintain width of openings and stimulate recovery of deposits from low permeability reservoir rocks.
It is an expensive but routine approach to securing deposits beyond reach of vertical drill rigs.
"The vast majority of wells are fracked sometime in their life," said Ed Cross, executive director of KIOGA. "There has not been one documented case of fresh water contamination by hydraulic fracturing."