My name is Bill Hornbuckle. I am a retired geophysicist, having spent 30 years at Shell Oil Company. I have worked plays all over the world, including domestic onshore and offshore plays with extensive experience in Texas, Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska. I served as the Chief Geophysicist for the Alaska offshore lease sales a few years ago, was the Geophysical Coordinator for a recent reevaluation of the offshore US East Coast, and participated in the assessment of the Eagleford Shale play in South Texas before my retirement. Linda Curtis asked me to summarize my views on the ongoing onshore hydraulic fracturing plays currently being pursued in Central Texas.
There are several key issues to be considered in the responsible development of these unconventional reservoirs that require fracturing, but a little context is required to understand the factors that influence the business practices. These wells are characterized by high initial production rates that decline rapidly (in only a few hours or days) and have a long production tail. They don’t produce a large volume of hydrocarbon, take years to pay out, and are not highly profitable on a per well basis. Development depends on hundreds of wells drilled at a low cost; typically the wells must be completed for less than $3,000,000 apiece to be profitable, for a ballpark number. This often excludes major operators from these plays because their corporate overhead and required best practices simply make the wells too expensive.
The primary operators in these plays are companies like Chesapeake and Encana, who work hard to keep costs down, rig utilization high, and keep drilling practices and completion cost barebones and minimal. The cost structure also precludes any kind of extensive subsurface reservoir mapping and evaluation. The business model is similar in a lot of ways to onshore development in the 50’s and 60’s, when oil and gas was cheap ($0.25/gal) and would not support much besides poking a hole in the ground.
With this background, it is not surprising that the number one problem, by far, is poor completions and cement jobs that leak into shallow aquifers near the surface. Good completions and cement jobs are expensive and take time. Every step of the way the operator is tempted to cut corners. Use less cement. Don’t wait as long as you should for the cement to cure. Don’t run a full suite of completion logs to verify the seal around the casing. Don’t run a full suite of subsurface logs to make sure you set casing in solid shale intervals, etc., etc. As companies drill more wells in the same area, they cut back even more, reasoning they already know what they need to know from surrounding wells. The result, as one might expect, is completion failures and leaks into shallow aquifers, where the higher pressure in the well bore spews hydrocarbon into the low pressured shallow zone. Almost all documented contaminations result from this, and the economic pressure to cut costs never lets up.
It is clear that this problem, the primary real issue with these plays, can only be alleviated by requiring best practices to be followed, by careful regulation and monitoring to ensure quality completions. This needs to be backed up by tough enforcement and onerous penalties that are commensurate with the damaged caused by potential spills.
There is no other incentive for the operator to make these investments, because an occasional spill or bad cement job does not materially affect their production, so there is no economic incentive to perform the tasks in a more responsible manner.
Another issue that comes up is faults and small earthquakes. This is a red herring. Slight movement along existing faults is caused when pressure changes in a reservoir caused by injection alter the pressure gradient across the fault. But this is not a problem. Faults move all the time, even when they do not generate small earthquakes. Studies document fault movements on ocean seafloor that are caused by the moons gravity, like the tides. But these faults stay sealed, there are often hundreds of feet of shale on one side of a fault, transposed against the same shale on the other side. If it did leak anything, it leaks at the reservoir level, 7,000-10,000 feet below the surface, not into a shallow aquifer used by people. There are no documented cases of this causing aquifer problems.
Stepping back from operational aspects of the well bore, another big issue is a lack of understanding of the reservoirs and their connectivity. Because the economics do not support extensive 3D seismic surveys, extensive well logging and monitoring, or detailed mapping, there is not a very good understanding of the connectivity of the reservoirs, the drainage area of the reservoirs, or the risk of commingling fluids from different reservoirs. This is a little bit like walking around in a room blindfolded. Sooner or later, you will walk into an unpleasant surprise. This same problem is even more acute when the issue of groundwater development comes up. Water marketers do not even practice reservoir management at all, they pump at maximum rates and encounter problems like drastically dropping water tables, surface subsidence, and well non-performance due to reservoir compaction and ‘coning’, which in this case will pull briny water from deeper in the reservoir and pollute the shallower fresh water.
The O&G industry put regulations in effect to limit these obvious problems long ago because the problems damaged the economics of the project. The water marketers should be required to do the same diligence, and should be required to abide by the results. Failure to do so will cause problems like the subsidence of the Houston Ship Channel area in the 1970’s due to groundwater withdrawal.
In all, whether it is oil and gas, or groundwater, withdrawing fluids from the subsurface is a major engineering undertaking that can have far reaching consequences. There is no substitute for knowing what the subsurface looks like, knowing how to do the job right, and getting it done properly and responsibly. There are not always economic reasons to do the right thing, and when that incentive is not there in a capitalist enterprise, regulation and monitoring must play a role in managing the public asset and ensuring the safe, clean, publicly responsible operation of the enterprise. Failure to do so can and will have unintended and catastrophic results sooner or later.
Thank you for your time,
Media and Community Advisory
Central Texas Water War Escalates
as Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District at Crossroad Tomorrow Night
On Wednesday, April 16th, the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District will hear from citizens and then deliberate on a board
replacement of aquifer conservation stalwart, Travis McPhaul, who passed away on March 4. Though most applicants are free from ties to industry and political movers and shakers, there is the application of none other than Dan Shelley, one of the most well connected lobbyists in the state who led the failed effort for Governor Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor. Shelley lives in Austin, not Lee County, where he owns a second home.
The Board will also deliberate in Executive Session about the recently filed suit by Forestar Real Estate Group and their continued attempt to move 45 acre-feet per year (not the 12K AFY Lost Pines GCD granted Forestar last summer) of Lee County’s groundwater to the IH-35 growth corridor.
The backdrop of this meeting is a flurry of other activity honed in on the Lost Pines GCD, including a decision last Friday by the State Office of Administrative Hearings recommending that the GCD grant End Op, LP (controlled by former Williamson County Commissioner, Frankie Limmer) 46,000 acre-feet per year of groundwater.
Then there are central Texas officials outside the district making clear their determination to get their own access to the aquifer through the formation of a regional water authority or utility district. Those officials include members of commissioners courts in Hays County (including Hays County Judge Bert Cobb and Commissioners Ray Whisenant and Will Conley, who also chairs CAMPO), and several Williamson County officials (including Williamson County Judge Gattis). Alhough it is unclear if anyone on the Travis County Commissioners Court is doing anything more than observing, both Commissioners Daugherty and Gomez have attended meetings.
There is, perhaps, one thing that could unify everyone. That is the fact that over 100 permits have been filed for hydraulic fracturing in the Serbin Field alone in Lee County. No one really believes that the Railroad Commission is doing proper monitoring of fracking in Texas, so there is mounting concern for contamination of the water everyone seems to want.
There’s so much happening, our heads are swirling!
First, please MARK YOUR CALENDAR to come to Paige, Texas, on Saturday, May 3rd for an event held by the new League of Independent Voters ot Texas. Details soon! Here’s the news:
DALLAS: We’re thrilled that Eric Williams stepped up to run as an independent (non-affiliated) for U.S. Congress challenging Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX 30th District). (There will be no Republican on the ballot in November.) Read this. MARK YOUR CALENDAR to meet us and Eric at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 19th at the Breath of Righteousness Christian Fellowship Church, 370 W. Pleasant Run Rd., Lancaster. Look for the campaign bus. You might come ready to help get some petitions signed for Eric’s access to the ballot!
CENTRAL TEXAS: Forestar Real Estate Group has sued the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District, including most of its Board members individually. Talk about sour grapes! Read more here from Environmental Stewardship and please MARK YOUR CALENDAR for the next meeting — in Giddings, 7 pm, Wednesday, April 16th, location TBA.
AUSTIN: Save Our Springs Alliance’s, Bill Bunch, tells us that current lame ducks on the Travis County Commission goosed forward, with $15M, the controversial toll road (SH45) over the sensitive and fast re-charging Edwards Aquife. More here. Please sign up at ChangeAustin.org to follow indy news in Austin.
NE TEXAS: Farmer Shirley Shumake sounded the alarm that, yes, it’s back — the Marvin Nichols Reservoir — thwarting local control once again! The “new & improved” (that’s a joke) Texas Water Development Board is trying to resurrect (with Prop 6 money passed last November) the wasteful Marvin Nichols Reservoir involving 70,000 acres and 50 miles of the Sulphur River. Please read this from Janice Benzanson (Texas Conservation Alliance), then send your comments in to the TWDB before May 2. We’ll keep reminding you.
THE STATE: Our too-honest-for-the-Republican-Party-machine and friend, Debra Medina, is putting years of efforts on hold for now, to take care of things at home. She has a very small campaign debt she’d like to retire, so if you’d like to help, please do so right here and no donation is too small.
THE WORLD: We regret to report that Julia Trigg Crawford and Family’s appeal to
the Texas Supreme Court was denied. The Crawford’s challenged TransCanada’s right to take their land through eminent domain for the Keystone XL pipeline has been denied. The high court had nothing to say as to why. Our dear friend, Julia Trigg, upon getting the news, said “”How can the people in power continue to exert such undue influence, and suppress the voices and rights of the rest of us? Money seems to be the movtivator, and the means. I’d rather have integrity and honor, and upon these pillars I will continue to fight”. Read the full story here.
We hope to see some of you in Dallas on the 19th and all of you in Paige, on May 3rd. If you’d like to help with this event, or otherwise volunteer, please reply or give me a call.
As always, we can use your financial support too. Please donate make a donation Independent Texans here or by sending us a check to the PO Box below.
On Friday, March 21st, 2014 the Texas Supreme Court informed us that our petition for review had been denied (document attached), meaning their decision was to not take our case on appeal.
With years invested in this fight for our land, and frankly the lands of many Texans threatened by eminent domain abuse, we are obviously disappointed our case would not be heard. We believe, as do thousands around the world who have supported us in our fight, that the issues at hand are crystal clear, and the abuses being perpetrated are undeniable.
A foreign corporation, building a for-profit pipeline, promoted as but absolutely unproven as being for the public good, and simply transporting products across our state for refinement and/or export should not have the right to take a Texan’s land through eminent domain.
The facts remain…
The Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees pipeline permitting, has stated it does NOT have jurisdiction over TransCanada’s Keystone Project because it is an interstate pipeline. (Document attached). Yet this Commission processed the application, and rubber stamped Keystone as a Common Carrier, a designation they indicate they’ve never denied if the right box is checked. This coveted Common Carrier designation, even in the absence of any documentation of tariffs or contracts, is the key that opens the door to absolutely unmonitored land condemnation and seizure through eminent domain
Common Carrier designation was codified in Texas in 1917 with Senate Bill 68. The preamble to this bill (Document attached, see Section 1.D) indicates that the statue would pertain to pipelines that transport crude petroleum from one place in the state of Texas to another place in the state. Since Keystone was built as a straight shot across Texas, with ZERO onramps for Texas oil to be introduced, the only way Texas oil can get into this pipeline is to first be shipped to Oklahoma, the nexus of the Gulf Coast Segment. How can Keystone be complying with the foundation of Texas Common Carrier law when our state’s products can’t even get into this pipeline?
Our legal challenge showcased not just these, but several other areas in Texas law where there is too little clarity, too few rights afforded to landowners, and too many legal interpretations that disproportionally benefit corporations over citizens.
While this door on our family’s legal case may be closing, there are many other battlegrounds where I will now redirect my focus, be they at the local, state or federal levels.There’s so much that needs to change…laws, processes, perceptions, our representatives, and more. I must not allow the momentum gained, the alliances forged, and the truths exposed during these past 3 years to be for naught, and I intend to continue fighting.
Julia Trigg Crawford
Red’Arc Farm/Crawford Family Farm
We want to introduce you to a very special person — Eric Williams of Dallas — with a very special independent message. (We’ll be in DFW on Saturday, April 19th, starting at 10 am with a meeting on Eric’s campaign bus parked at 370 W. Pleasant Run Rd., Lancaster–Breath of Righteousness Christian Fellowship Church.)
Eric is running as an independent (non-affiliated) for U.S. Congress against Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX 30th District). (There will be no Republican on the ballot in November.)
We were thrilled to hear his message! Eric tells us the truth about the Democratic Party — that there is more poverty and despair in the African-American and Hispanic communities that make up the bulk of the population of the 30th Congressional District, than in Martin Luther King’s day.
Eric says, “It is because these communities have put the Democrats first, when they put us last, that the 30th CD is in the predicament we are in today. Had we moved independent years ago, both parties would have been after our votes.”
What’s more, the people of the 30th CD have more in common with the so-called “conservative white” communities of East Texas than the Republicans would ever let you suspect. East Texas, where Eric is from, is so besieged by and oil and gas industry’s insistence on using eminent domain for private gain and endangering huge swaths of our most productive farmland and our precious water ways, it’s frightening! It too is causing poverty and despair.
We will be in DFW on the weekend of April 19th (starting at 10 am) and would like you to join us on Eric’s campaign bus. If you’d like to join us please email us (email@example.com) or call us at 512-535-0989.
Watch this video about just some of Eric’s work with Dallas youth — it gave us goose bumps! Come to the 30th CD and lend Eric and the independent movement a hand!