Advanced methods in oil and gas drilling prompt concern - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Advanced methods in oil and gas drilling prompt concern, TTU professor weighs in

By Michael Slother - email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Two weeks ago we told you about oil and gas companies taking a growing interest in properties south of Lubbock. After our story aired, viewers came to us with questions about how the advanced drilling methods could affect the environment.

Tuesday, we spoke with the chair of Texas Tech's Petroleum Engineering Department to get some answers.

As we reported, geologists are looking for natural gas and oil in a large rock formation more than a mile below the surface. They'll inject a combination water, sand, and sometimes chemicals into the rock called shale. When it breaks, companies hope to use horizontal drilling to extract any oil or gas from the tiny fractures, but many ask, is it safe?

In a scene from the documentary "Gasland," a man holds a lighter up to his sink, and eventually the small ember bursts into flames. Environmentalists say it can happen when impurities in natural gas reach our drinking water.

Texas Tech Petroleum Engineering Department Chair Mohamed Solimon has researched the advanced drilling method called hydraulic fracturing. "It's like any other industry. People can make mistakes, but if you do it right there should not be an issue or any problem," he said.

Geologists think the shale formations are in Lynn, Terry, Gaines, Dawson, Hockley, and other South Plains counties. They estimate the formation could be thousands of feet below the earth's surface.

Many land owners are concerned that drilling could release gas and impurities that could contaminate groundwater in the Ogallala Aquifer. The Ogallala supplies drinking water to several West Texas cities. Solimon doesn't think it's an issue.

"We're talking about formations that may be several thousands of feet deep," he continued. "And you're talking about contaminating an aquifer that is 200 feet deep, the fluid will not move that distance and there are many variables in between," he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency reported water contamination in the Fort Worth area from natural gas drilling. On its website, the EPA said they recognize natural gas as a vital resource, but they want to make sure development is safe, and they're studying the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. Solimon says people need to educate themselves on the issues.

"I think that the issue is that people are not familiar with fracturing or production of oil. This is something new," Solimon told us. "Once they realize how safe it can be, they will lose that fear."

As of March, there were no reports of any new wells, but experts tell us that process could begin as early as this summer.

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