New Reports Highlight Safety and Progress in the Bakken Shale

Over the past few days, there’s been a lot of great news coming out of the Bakken Shale region in North Dakota and Montana. First and foremost, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) just released a report that examined 33 water wells in the Fort Union Formation and the Fox Hills-Hell Creek Formations. The researchers came to this conclusion:

“Comparison of chemical concentrations to health based drinking-water standards, correlation analysis of concentrations with oil and gas well locations, and isotopic data give no indication that energy-development activities affected groundwater quality.” (p. 11; emphasis added)

The wells were chosen randomly and analyzed for a whole host of contaminants, including C1-C6 hydrocarbons, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and 19 other VOCs. While the researchers did find some evidence of methane, they were able to rule out any connection to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”):

Although some of the high-methane wells were located <1.5 km from an oil and gas well (Figure 6A), the Bakken Formation does not appear to be the source of high-methane concentrations in the upper Fort Union Formation. There was not a statistically significant correlation between methane concentrations in upper Fort Union wells and distance to the nearest oil and gas well (p = 0.28) or with the number of oil and gas wells within a 5-km radius of the water wells sampled in our study(p = 0.42) (Table S4). Moreover, data for hydrocarbon as compositions and δ13C-methane indicate that the methane in each high-methane sample was predominantly biogenic in origin (Figure 6B), whereas methane in the Bakken Formation is thermogenic. The apparent absence of VOCs and thermogenic methane in the upper Fort Union Formation under current (2013) conditions provides a valuable baseline against which future water-quality data can be compared. (p. 7; emphasis added)

As USGS hydrologist Rod Caldwell said of the report, “This is good news, really good news.”

That report wasn’t the only good news coming out of the region, either. On Friday, the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources released its monthly report, which found that as North Dakota continues to break records for oil production, flaring has gone done significantly. In fact, the report states that the “percentage of gas flared dropped to 24%,” down from its historical high of 36 percent in September 2011. Over that same period, North Dakota oil production has more than doubled.

In other words, flaring in the Bakken has declined by one-third over the past three years, and early tests show that groundwater is indeed being protected.

These reports add to the already overwhelming consensus that shale development is safe and that producers are continuing to improve their practices. That certainly is “really good news” for the economy and environment alike.


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