Texas regulations protect surface and groundwater

Texas Railroad Commission (RRC). The RRC’s regulations related to oil and gas well construction and water protection, while not specifically directed at hydraulic fracturing, effectively protect surface and ground water.  The RRC issues permits for oil and gas wells and monitors well drilling, completion, production, and plugging operations.  The RRC has strict well construction requirements that require several layers of steel casings and cement to protect groundwater.  The first protection layer for usable quality groundwater is the surface casing-a steel pipe that is encased in cement that reaches from the ground surface to below the deepest usable quality groundwater level. Surface casing acts as a protective sleeve through which deeper drilling occurs. The second protection layer for usable quality groundwater is the production casing-a pipe placed in the wellbore to the well’s total depth and permanently cemented in place.  A third protection layer is found in the tubing, in which gas or oil is produced from.  In addition, RRC rules require gauges that monitor these different wellbore casings at the surface, so if there is a downhole problem, it is easily and quickly identified.  To help you understand how wellbores (oil, gas, injection and disposal wells) are required by Commission rules to be constructed to protect water, view an illustration at the following link: http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/about/faqs/images/injectionwelllg.jpg  

After the well stimulation treatment is complete the operator is required to provide actual fracturing data in detail and resulting production results.  Forms G-1 (Gas Well Back Pressure Test, Completion or Recompletion Report, and Log) include a section on the back for an operator to list "acid, shot, fracture, cement squeeze, etc." In this section of the form, most operators indicate what and how much slickwater fluid and sand is injected.  The makeup of fracturing fluid varies from one geologic basin or formation to another. The additives generally represent less than 0.5 percent of the total fluid volume. Although the hydraulic fracturing industry may have more than 200 compounds that can be used in a hydraulic fracturing fluid, any single fracturing job would only use a handful of the available additives.  Material safety data sheets for all materials used in oil and gas operations are required to be maintained on location by Hazard Communication Standards of OSHA.

After the well stimulation treatment is complete the operator is required to provide actual fracturing data in detail and resulting production results.  Forms G-1 (Gas Well Back Pressure Test, Completion or Recompletion Report, and Log) include a section on the back for an operator to list "acid, shot, fracture, cement squeeze, etc." In this section of the form, most operators indicate what and how much slickwater fluid and sand is injected.  The makeup of fracturing fluid varies from one geologic basin or formation to another. The additives generally represent less than 0.5 percent of the total fluid volume. Although the hydraulic fracturing industry may have more than 200 compounds that can be used in a hydraulic fracturing fluid, any single fracturing job would only use a handful of the available additives.  Material safety data sheets for all materials used in oil and gas operations are required to be maintained on location by Hazard Communication Standards of OSHA.

The hydraulic fracturing process is designed to ensure that the resulting fractures are confined to the targeted producing formation, which is at a depth of over 7000 feet in the Barnett Shale area.  Great care is taken to ensure that fractures are not propagated into other formations overlying or underlying the target formation.  In addition, before operators or service companies perform a hydraulic fracturing treatment of a well, a series of tests are performed to ensure that the well, well equipment and hydraulic fracturing equipment is in proper working order and will safely withstand the application of the fracture treatment pressures and pump flow rates.  Hydraulic fracturing operations are monitored to ensure that fractures created by the process are limited to the targeted formation.  Operators have an intense financial interest in protecting the integrity of the targeted formation and the well itself.

Most of the hydraulic fracturing that occurs in Texas, such as in the Barnett Shale around Fort Worth, occurs in geologically confined formations that are more than a mile deep.  In contrast, the groundwater in the Barnett Shale region goes no deeper than 500 feet.  For fracturing fluid, oil or natural gas, or disposed produced water to affect the usable quality water, a leak would have to occur outside of a wellbore and go through several layers of protection.

The practice of reservoir stimulation by hydraulic fracturing has been used safely in Texas for over six decades in tens of thousands of wells across the state and plays a key role in the development of unconventional gas resources in Texas.  Had hydraulic fracturing caused harm to groundwater in our state in anything other than a rare and isolated instance, we are confident that we would have identified that harm in the course of our surveillance of drilling and production practices and our investigation of groundwater contamination incidents.  While there have been incidents of groundwater contamination associated with oil and gas drilling and production operations in the State of Texas, none of the documented incidents have been associated with hydraulic fracturing.  A review of the State’s 2007 Joint Groundwater Monitoring and Contamination Report, out of a total of 5,267 active groundwater contamination cases in Texas, 354 are under the jurisdiction of the Railroad Commission.  Out of the 354 active cases, three are related to disposal wells and two are related to enhanced oil recovery (injection) wells.  None of the contamination cases resulted from hydraulic fracturing activity.