We’ve taken a balanced approach to our reporting on hydraulic fracturing (“Fracking”) here at Plunderbund since the topic made headlines last year.  The topic is not as simple and clear-cut as you might imagine, so we spent a good deal of time studying the issue and digging through ODNR data about oil and gas wells to make sure we were well informed before we starting writing about it.

We’ve attempted to present the facts in a fair manner and we expect the media and politicians to do the same.  And when they don’t, we’re going to point it out.

Today’s example of bad info on fracking comes to us from State Representative Andrew Brenner, in an article he published on his wife’s blog back in July.  Sara Marie Brenner, a member of Powell city council, typically uses her blog to discuss right-wing politics and to promote her conservative radio show, but in a change of pace, she allowed her husband to write a piece that presents “the facts, not fiction, about oil and gas development.”

Unfortunately, Andrew’s facts need a little review.

The most glaring oversight in the piece comes from Mr. Brenner’s failure to differential between vertical wells and horizontal wells.   And there is a very big difference.

Brenner claims fracking is a “60-year-old, well-stimulation technique that’s been used on … 80,000 wells here in Ohio.”  And technically he is correct.  According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR),  there have been an estimated 80,000 hydraulically fractured wells in Ohio since the mid-50’s.

But what Brenner fails to mention is that all of these wells are vertical wells, which use a very different technical and present very different risks than modern horizontal wells.

According to Anthony Ingraffea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University, Vertical wells require much less water (about 80,000 gallons) pumped in at much lower pressure, which means the risk of equipment failures – like valves and pipes leaking – is lower than in high-presser horizontal well.   They also pose a smaller risk to the cement casing that protects ground water from the well.

Horizontal wells, which Brenner is clearly discussing in the rest of his article, require  “approximately 4.5 million gallons of water” according to Brenner.  ODNR says 5 to 6 million.  Either way, there is a huge difference between 80,000 gallons going into a vertical well, and millions of gallons going into horizontal well.  And this is an important “fact” left out of Brenner’s piece.

Unlike the 60 years of history and the 80,000 wells Brenner mentions at the beginning of his article, Horizontal wells are new.  Very new.  And there aren’t nearly as many.

According to ODNR’s Heidi Hetzel-Evans, Ohio’s first horizontal shale well – Chesapeake’s Buehl well – wasn’t drilled until 2011, and Ohio is expected to have only “250 horizontal wells drilled by the end of 2012 and up to 2,250 horizontal wells drilled by the end of 2015.”

Brenner’s assertion that hydraulic fracturing is safe because we’ve been doing it for 60 years seriously misrepresents the facts.  There’s a big difference in the process and the risks between the vast number of vertical wells Ohio already has and the new, Horizontal wells that are currently being drilled.  And to claim the second is safe because of the first defies logic.

It’s like comparing two different medical treatments just because they target the same illness.   Why would we possibly need to do testing on a new radiation treatment for cancer when we been using a completely different chemical treatment for 60 years?  They both treat cancer, right?

It’s clear Brenner doesn’t understand the difference between the two drilling techniques – or he is intentionally trying to deceive his readers by presenting the two as the same – either way, we aren’t getting the “facts” as Andrew promised.

I would be remiss if I also didn’t take a second to comment on the picture they chose to include with Brenner’s article.

While Brenner spends nine paragraphs trying to convince his readers of the safety of hydraulic fracturing, the accompanying diagram is clearly designed to show the dangers.

Notice how the fracture lines coming from the horizontal well go all the way into the water table (arguably a very unlikely scenario)?  Or the little question marks next to the cement casing and the storage pond and the truck?    These are all the points in the fracking process where leaks and human exposure can occur.    Which makes a lot of sense :  since this diagram actually came from the movie Gasland, an anti-fracking documentary.