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ProPublica's dishonest defense its dishonest article:

My media column for the Saturday Rocky Mountain News, discussed gross misstatements of fact which had appeared in a November 13 article by ProPublica, an organization which supplies investigative articles for free to the mainstream media. A shorter version of that article had appeared in the November 17 Denver Post.

Today, ProPublica author Abrahm Lustgarten has written a defense of his article. He claims that my article is "indisputably misleading." Let's take a look at each of the three charges which I leveled at the ProPublica article.

1. I wrote:

The theme of the ProPublica article, headlined "Buried Secrets," is the natural gas industry's refusal to disclose a list of all chemicals which are injected into the ground in hydraulic fracturing. The article accurately characterizes the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as the "most stringent" regulatory agency regarding hydraulic fracturing.

The COGCC promulgated its final draft rules on Nov. 7, before the Nov. 13 ProPublica article, and before its Nov. 17 appearance in the Post. The article misdescribes the new regulations, and, significantly, omits the fact that the commission's new disclosure rule is nearly identical to what the drilling company Halliburton proposed in its June testimony to the commission. Section 205 of the new regulations protects drillers' trade secrets about the precise chemical recipes, while mandating full disclosure when specifically needed by the state for health or environmental protection.
In the spring, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had proposed draft regulations which would have required natural gas drillers to disclose the exact recipes for the fluids which are injected into the ground in hydraulic fracturing. During summer hearings, the industry vehemently objected, and said that they would pull out of Colorado, rather than disclose their trade secrets. Lustgarten's article accurately describes this part of the story.

Then, according to Lustgarten:
In August, the industry struck a compromise by agreeing to reveal the chemicals in fracturing fluids to health officials and regulators — but the agreement applies only to chemicals stored in 50 gallon drums or larger. As a practical matter, drilling workers in Colorado and Wyoming said in interviews that the fluids are often kept in smaller quantities. That means at least some of the ingredients won't be disclosed.

"They'll never get it," says Bruce Baizel, a Colorado attorney with the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, about the states' quest for information. "Not unless they are willing to go through a lawsuit. When push comes to shove, Halliburton is there with its attorneys."
This is entirely wrong. Under section 205 of the the final draft rules, which were published on November, the reporting trigger is not 50 gallon drums, but whether an individual well site uses 500 more more pounds of a chemical product in a quarter. Significantly, fracking companies must disclose to the public the trade names of the fracking ingredients; moreover, whenever an environmental or health official needs information for a specific investigation, the companies must disclose the exact chemicals in their recipes, with the chemical list being treated a Confidential Business Information by the officials who receive the list. As a described in my article, the final rule is similar to what Halliburton proposed in its June 6, 2008 testimony.

Lustgarten's January 12 self-exculpation does not even mention his misdescription of the regulations, and does not attempt any rebuttal of my evidence that he falsely accused the natural gas industry of hiding "buried secrets" even though the industry had proposed a disclosure rule and the "most stringent" (Lustgarten's words) agency had adopted something very close to that rule.

2. A second issue is Lustgarten's bait and switch about data. The article includes an extensive discussion of a case in Sublette County, Wyoming, in which groundwater was alleged to have been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing, and in which the federal Bureau of Land Management determined that fracturing might be the cause. Lustgarten wrote:
The contamination in Sublette County is significant because it is the first to be documented by a federal agency, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. But more than 1,000 other cases of contamination have been documented by courts and state and local governments in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In one case, a house exploded after hydraulic fracturing created underground passageways and methane seeped into the residential water supply. In other cases, the contamination occurred not from actual drilling below ground, but on the surface, where accidental spills and leaky tanks, trucks and waste pits allowed benzene and other chemicals to leach into streams, springs and water wells.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of each contamination, or measure its spread across the environment accurately, because the precise nature and concentrations of the chemicals used by industry are considered trade secrets.
In an e-mail to Lustgarten, I specifically asked him what he now calls "a precisely tailored question." I asked him for the documentation of his claim that there were over a thousand "documented" state and local cases of groundwater contamination from "hydraulic fracturing." ("where can the data be found which substantiate the fact about over a thousand documented cases of contamination from fracking in five states?") He responded by pointing to the Colorado and New Mexico agencies. ("The New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have together documented more than 1000 cases where water was contaminated by drilling activities.") I asked the Colorado and New Mexico agencies the same question I had asked Lustgarten, and the response was "zero" for Colorado; and that New Mexico has no such data.

Now, Lustgarten says that all along he was talking about any water contamination that resulted in any way from oil or gas drilling--such as leakage of chemicals from a waste pit on an oil-drilling site.

But that's not the question that I asked Lustgarten, and it's not what he wrote in his article. His article contrasts "the first to be documented by a federal agency" with "But more than 1,000 other cases of contamination have been documented by courts and state and local governments in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania." How many times do you think that any "federal agency" has "documented" groundwater contamination that resulted in any way from oil or natural gas drilling. If and only if the 2008 BLM case in Wyoming is the first and only case of such federal documentation can Lustgarten's defense of his article be true.

3. I also wrote that Lustgarten had falsely described a study by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission:
The Commission surveyed regulatory agencies in 28 states (including Colorado and the other four states where ProPublica claimed that there were more than 1,000 "documented" cases of contamination). The response covered the entire history of hydraulic fracturing in those states. Every single one of those 28 states reported that there had never been groundwater harm due to fracturing.

The ProPublica article did not report the evidence from that government study, but brusquely dismissed it as "an anecdotal survey done a decade ago." Actually, the 2002 study has no anecdotes, and with a dataset of almost a million wells, it cannot plausibly be considered "anecdotal."
There are three comprehensive studies about hydraulic fracturing: a 2004 study by the EPA; a second, earlier, study about the same subject as the EPA study (groundwater safety as it relates to about hydraulic fracturing in coal methane beds); and the third study, mentioned above, by the Interstate Commission. My article mentioned and discussed only the third study.

Lustgarten writes:
The drilling industry, echoed by Kopel, cites three documents when asserting the environmental safety of hydraulic fracturing. They are a 2004 EPA study (PDF), a 2002 survey of state agencies (PDF) by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and a similar survey in 1998 by the Ground Water Protection Council (PDF).

In its Nov. 13 article, ProPublica detailed flaws in the EPA study and reported that the two surveys were "anecdotal," meaning that they included none of the basic data required to qualify as a scientific study.
To say the least, that's an extremely idiosyncratic meaning of "anecdotal." The dictionary defines "anecdotal" as "based on personal observation, case study reports, or random investigations rather than systematic scientific evaluation."

"Anecdotal" is an accurate description of Lustgarten's article, which examines a few cases of alleged contamination. There's nothing wrong with anecdotal news stories. "Anecdotal" is not an accurate description of the Interstate Commission study, which has no anecdotes, and which collected decades of data from 28 state regulatory agencies.

Now, we find that Lustgarten apparently has his own definition of "anecdotal"--that is, something is "anecdotal" if does not include "the basic data required to qualify as a scientific study." Perhaps at some time Lustgarten will explain what basic data he thinks were lacking from the two studies. As a media critic, I would not have criticized him for offering plausible critiques of the studies. His article, however, did not contain any argument about what data he thought were missing, and his characterization of the studies as "anecdotal" was false and misleading--at least for readers who understand the word to mean what the dictionary says it means.

Today I received this e-mail from Mark Thiesse, a Wyoming groundwater regulator who is quoted in Lustgarten's original article:
I'd like to thank you for your recent editorial on the ProPublica article. I was one of the folks (I'm with the WY Dept of Env Quality) interviewed for this article by Mr. Lustgarten. I spent several hours on the phone and around a dozen follow up emails to try and help him write a factual article. Unfortunately he seemed to have his own agenda. The one error that was most blatant from my perspective was the "20 mile long plume" that he mentions. I must have told him 5 times that it was individual impacts to separate water wells due to water well drilling practices -- not related to oil and gas drilling at all -- but that did not make it into his article that way.
If you had to make an important decision, would you rely on the factual information in a ProPublica article? I have only studied one article from ProPublica in detail, but the organization's implausible efforts to defend the validity of a wildly inaccurate article would make me hestitate to rely on anything from ProPublica.

Bode:
Out of curiosity, is the organization defending the article, or the author?

I can't comment on the article above, but I can say some good journalists have left the Los Angeles Times over the past several years and joined ProPublica (Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber, specifically, who collectively won a Pulitzer price for their reporting on Los Angeles' troubled King/Drew hospital). The ProPublica-based work that has appeared in the Times appears to be high-quality, and has generally been a collaboration. It's unfortunate the above article fell short, I'd expected more from ProPublica.
1.12.2009 8:21pm
gran habano:
Yeah that PP group sounds pretty shaky.

When the guy you're quoting in your article bails on you, you got problems.

And that's too bad. Here's a subject, hydraulic fracturing, that could use some straight, clean coverage, but unfortunately this hack outfit is incapable of it.
1.12.2009 8:23pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Compared to Pajamas Media?
1.12.2009 8:26pm
Kevin P. (mail):
The author, Abrahm Lustgarten is an environmentalist (not that there's anything wrong with that).

I agree with Kopel that Lustgarten's article is essentially a compendium of anecdotes, linked by suggestion about hydraulic fracturing.
1.12.2009 8:53pm
Moneyrunner43 (www):
Based on the evidence so far, It Pajamas Media 1, ProPublica 0.
1.12.2009 9:35pm
Muskrat (mail):
So when Lustgarten reports that the threshold for reporting chemical use is 50-gallon drum storage, when in fact the threshold is 500 pounds used per quarter per well, you say he got his facts "entirely wrong"? How so? His point is that the rule will allow significant quantities of unnamed chemicals to be used with no notice to the public. How does the difference between the two thresholds invalidate that conclusion? I can think of plenty of chemicals that I wouldn't want pumped into my groundwater in quantities of 499 pounds per well per quarter. Carping that the loophole was described using the wrong metric doesn't mean there isn't a loophole.
1.12.2009 10:04pm
Doug Collins (mail):
The pro publica writer is either ignorantly or deliberately conflating surface spills with accusations of problems with hydraulic fracturing. While I can't say that there are no cases of shallow hyudraulic fracturing, I can say that they are not common and certainly don't involve "millions of gallons". (I'm a 37 year industry veteran). The reason is simple: Fracturing is done to increase the permeability of rocks to the flow of gas. Because strata are mostly horizontal, already with some natural horizontal permeability, the objective is to form vertical fractures connecting the horizontal flow pathways together. Vertical fractures normally form at deeper depths, where the horizontal confining stresses are less than the vertical compressive stresses. At those depths the rocks break more easily across the beds than they do parallel to them. A shallow frac would make a relatively useless horizontal fracture (and incidentally would be unlikely to breach the surface, since it's horizontal.) The depth where rocks begin to fracture vertically varies from place to place depending on local stress fields and the density of overburden, but it will be roughly 6,000 feet or deeper in most areas. That's over a mile down!

Claiming that would impact surface water supplies is either silly or alarmist. I wonder if Pro Publica or their friends are trying to hit up somebody in the industry for a big contribution? Cherchez le money!

As far as good journalism goes - Take a look at the 'graphic' on hydraulic fracturing on the Pro Publica website. According to those einsteins, natural gas is carted away from the well in tanker trucks.
1.12.2009 10:39pm
mrbill:
For one thing we would have a better handle on this if we knew the water table depth and then the pay zone depth of the wells being frac'd.

I have been an oily for 30 years and not seem much contam. from fracking. WHY, because oil I have dealt with is FAR below any ground water used for drinking.

Wells I dealt with were in the 3000 to 15,000 ft deep. No drinking water down here, as all are WAY below potable water. Ive found potable ground water usually between 50 and 600 feet or so.

At the oil pay sands level all we get is BRINE water which is far saltier than sea water and has to be re-injected at a disposal well. Many oil wells have as much or more Brine water to dispose of as oil. You may have 50 barrels per day of oil and then pay someone to get rid of 100 bbls per day of natural Brine.

Now if its being contaminated from ABOVE, this is a different thingy. He may be speaking of ground water contamination from above..which is always possible. Although most of this is from old time sludge pits etc. Not much allowed any more.

Although I suppose there is the chance of water contamination AFTER the well has been in service for years. The cement and steel casing could be breached and allow contamination into the water.
1.12.2009 11:08pm
Kazinski:
Enhancing the facts to support the narrative is sometimes necessary to tell the larger truth.
1.12.2009 11:15pm
a knight (mail) (www):
It is my personal opinion that ProPublica is not a valid news source. Far to many of ProPublica's citations are self-referening to their own articles, or do not support the conclusions which are claimed.

Just the same: Moneyrunner43 - ROTFLMAO - Joe has as much experience being a journalist as he has being a licensed plumber. I like the Volokh Conspiracy, and consider it to be a very good source for current legal affairs, but PJ Media has made themselves an incredulous joke hiring Joe.
1.12.2009 11:42pm
Heh:

His point is that the rule will allow significant quantities of unnamed chemicals to be used with no notice to the public. How does the difference between the two thresholds invalidate that conclusion?


The issue here is that he knew the correct info, and he chose to insert something false instead. To me, it seems to suggest more malice to say that someone is running around with 5-gal buckets of something as opposed to drums of it to skate a rule. The suggestion being that a rather large amt of something is in use. Whereas with the true info, it just seems like the companies are obeying the set rule that they can only put 499 gal of something over a period of time. That just seems like business.

I'm not debating you on whether I'd want 499 gal of certain things or not. I'm sure I wouldn't in some situations. My point is that he tried to tailor his facts (in this case inventing some out of whole cloth) to make it sound worse than it is because he really didn't have much of a leg to stand on. And when he did that, he shot himself in the foot. Again, I think you and I would both agree that the true statement could have been just as concerning. So why didn't he use it? Once I have to ask that question, my skeptic side wakes up. And now that we've determined that he made that up, we have to ask what else he made up.

As a boss once said to a fellow co-worker: "I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that I can't trust you anymore".


[DK: I asked him twice about this regulatory issue by e-mail, and got no answer to the question. My guess is the that error regarding 50 gal drums vs. 500 pounds of fluid was not deliberate. He may have relied on some source who provided what turned out to be an incorrect "insider" tip about what the regulations were going to contain. He should have checked with the regulations before the final article was published, and, in any case, should have corrected his article once I sent him the information, along with a link to the published regs, on December 30. In my view, the reporting trigger error is much less serious than overlooking (to give it the kindest perspective) the fact that the Colorado Commission apparently thought Halliburton's disclosure proposal was reasonable, and adopted it. Halliburton asked to disclose to the public the trade names of fracking ingredients, and to provide a confidential list of exact chemicals in the fracking whenever told to do so for a specific health or environmental investigation.]
1.12.2009 11:42pm
Heh:

but PJ Media has made themselves an incredulous joke hiring Joe.


Well, for many of those same people PJ was already a joke. So in reality this didn't change anything in their eyes. Which means the issue isn't that they hired Joe, it's that he's a convenient point to jab at PJ with. That's a completely different thing.

I mean, really, more than a few of the PJ guys don't have any more background in media than Joe. Sure, they've got experience now, but were they automatic jokes as well at the beginning? Some of the people on cable news laughing at Joe leave out the fact that they, and some of their cohorts, had done only a few weeks at a local station, and had no journalism education, before getting picked up by the cable net because they seemed interesting and/or beautiful. As one said in an interview "I sent a tape along expecting nothing, and two weeks later they asked me to come up and interview".

And of course, some of these same people will tell you that other bloggers who they happen to like or respect more are somehow more valid. But that's more a function of viewpoint than reality. If two men haven't gone to journalism school, and have no real experience, but one is popular with the media crowd for his views and the other isn't, how does that really make the more popular one "better"? It doesn't :)

No, I don't see an issue with Joe working for PJ, even in Israel. He's doing his thing, and frankly having seen some of his work, I can't honestly say he's any worse than some of the third-stringers we see from time to time on the cable nets (and he certainly beats some of the local stringers over there we see stuff from. I mean, seriously, has Joe faked any hospital videos yet?). :)
1.13.2009 12:07am
Kazinski:

but PJ Media has made themselves an incredulous joke hiring Joe.

Indeed, they should be hiring Pulitzer prize winners like Walter Duranty to report the correct news, if they want any credibility.
1.13.2009 12:43am
jt007:
Liberal thinking is impervious to logic. Muskrat, the point made by Kopel goes over your head. Pro Publica made an objectively incorrect statement regarding the regulation mandating disclosure of the chemicals contained in fracturing fluids. The "500 pounds used in a quarter" trigger for disclosure is objectively different than "chemicals stored in 50 gallon drums". Furthermore, the context of this misstatement of fact indicates that it wasn't innocent. More likely, it was a purposeful falsehood. Pro Publica is implying that the industry proposed a the "50 gallon container" trigger knowing that the chemicals at issue were never contained in such containers to purposefully avoid any disclosure whatsoever. However, despite your ignorant fear of the use of chemicals in a fracturing process that occurs a mile or so beneath the earth's surface and which has apparently never caused damage to water sources, the "500 pounds in a quarter" trigger is unavoidable if 500 pounds or more of fracturing fluids are used in that time period. The only way that Muskrat's nonsensical "the facts may have been wrong but the point was still valid" rationalization would have any merit would be if it were the case that no well using fracturing techniques ever uses more than 499 pounds of fracturing chemicals in a quarter. However, there is nothing in Pro Publica's propaganda piece, nor in Kopel's rebuttal that suggests that is the case. Perhaps one of the commenters on this thread with drilling experience could weigh in on that question. Is 500 pounds of fracturing fluid an inordinate amount that would never be used and which, for practical purposes, would never lead to disclosure of the chemicals in question? The Pro Publica author, like many in the journalism "profession", doesn't know how to fact check thoroughly and his attempts to justify this falsehood are lame. This is yet another in a long line of instances where liberals are caught making a mistake (or more likely are busted telling an intentional lie) yet their damaged psyches prevent them from acknowledging their malfeasance.
1.13.2009 4:58am
paul lukasiak (mail):
But that's not the question that I asked Lustgarten, and it's not what he wrote in his article

actually, it is what he wrote in the article. You even quoted him saying exactly that in the article.

As for this guy from wyoming ('The one error that was most blatant from my perspective was the "20 mile long plume" that he mentions. I must have told him 5 times that it was individual impacts to separate water wells due to water well drilling practices -- not related to oil and gas drilling at all) sorry, but this isn't credible. In the area in which fracturing is being done, water wells in a 20 mile stretch of the aquifer are showing signs of contamination by the chemicals used in fracturing, and he's saying that its because of the way that the water wells are dug? At least Bushco's EPA isn't even saying that about the Wyoming wells (they're being agnostic, suggesting that the contamination by drilling chemicals might be caused by above ground spillage rather than seeping into the water table underground, and of course there are those claiming that the contamination is caused by anti-drilling saboteurs).

Bottom line on the PP piece is that I think it exaggerates the evidence of the level of current contamination to identify a very real (and highly plausible) threat to the water supply. The Bush EPA study downplayed one of its most important findings -- that there is a potential for major water supply contamination with hydrolic fracturing -- and simple logic tells us why that threat exists (its because the process itself places additional pressure on underground structures and there is no way to determine where the weak points are.)
1.13.2009 7:54am
Isherwood:

Enhancing the facts to support the narrative is sometimes necessary to tell the larger truth.


Is that another way of saying, "it's okay to lie to get what you want?" We're trying to get my 5-year-old to stop doing that.
1.13.2009 8:54am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
jt007.
You missed the point. Muskrat knows what he's doing. He changed the subject in order to distract from DK's point about the 500 lbs/qtr and 50 gal drums.
Nobody's too dumb to miss that.
1.13.2009 9:45am
undrwlmd (mail):
most fluids weigh about 8 lbs per gallon plus or minus, so 500 lbs equates to about one 5 gallon container per week in a given quarter.
1.13.2009 10:38am
Kevin P. (mail):

paul lukasiak:
The Bush EPA study downplayed one of its most important findings -- that there is a potential for major water supply contamination with hydrolic fracturing -- and simple logic tells us why that threat exists (its because the process itself places additional pressure on underground structures and there is no way to determine where the weak points are.)


The commenters before you who have actually worked in drilling pointed out that water wells are at shallow depths (500 - 600 ft) while natural gas wells (and therefore the fracturing zone) are usually much deeper. Chemicals usually don't migrate several thousand feet upward through solid rock of their own accord. This piece seems to be a hit piece peddling a problem for which no actual evidence exists.
1.13.2009 11:07am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
In some circumstances, one side or another announces triumphantly, "follow the money", which may mean see who stands to gain, or track it back.
If PP is tracked back to George Soros can we have a reverse appeal to authority? That is, if PP says it, it must be wrong.
Or is this one of those circumstances where following the money is sort of redneck?
1.13.2009 11:16am
Kevin P. (mail):
I don't think ProPublica is funded by George Soros.

From Wikipedia:

ProPublica is the brainchild of Herbert and Marion Sandler, the former chief executives of the Golden West Financial Corporation, who have committed $10 million a year to the project.[2] ...
The Sandler Family Supporting Foundation has previously made grants to Oceana, ACORN, Rocky Mountain Institute, Environmental Defense and the Tides Foundation.[3]
1.13.2009 11:20am
David Warner:
Those are the SNL Sandlers, if I'm not mistaken, so Propublica is brought to you by the folks who brought us the financial crisis.
1.13.2009 11:27am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I believe that is right. Those Sandlers are about as lefty as Soros.
Question about following the money stands.
1.13.2009 11:49am
Howard Whitney (mail):
The problem with the PP article is that there may be a grain of truth in it, but the misrepresentation and confounding of contaminant sources discredits all of it.

Groundwater contamination is not rocket science. If fracturing was causing contamination of a fresh water aquifer, it is not required to know what every last component of the frac fluid is. As previously pointed out, these pay zones contain brine. Any leakage would be dominated by brine which would also cause the most harm to fresh waters.

I've surveyed plenty of agricultural wells in the CA central valley that had several feet of stinking, rotting pump lube oil floating on top of the water table. Many ag wells are powered by gasoline engines and are located near fuel storage. Up until the inspections became more commonplace in the 1980's, ag wells were typically gravel packed to the surface because it is cheaper than cement grout seal material. It is no surprise that ag wells are frequently conduits for surface and shallow contamination to flow directly into deep fresh water aquifers. This is the likely mechanism responsible for the "20-mile benzene plume" as explained by the regulator.

On the other hand, I'm sure there are some actual and potential problems with fracking, but you cannot tell with any certainty from the PP article which is an empty sales pitch. Ag wells, however, are the biggest sources of fresh water aquifer degradation via two principle mechanisms: 1) cross-contamination conduits and 2) over pumping (mining groundwater). Not sexy, scary or a source of regulator revenue, so not much attention is given.
1.13.2009 2:21pm
gran habano:
I haven't done a lick of research on this, but I think the commenters here seem to have captured the issues far better than PP.

The elevations are important, particularly as regards the elevation where the alleged contamination is taking place: at/from surface elevation, or at/from the fractured elevation. PP doesn't make that clear, and still hasn't described their criteria for these "1,000" incidents, unless I missed it somehow.

This fracturing process seems to be somewhat similar conceptually to the disposal of hazardous materials by deepwell injection, so it's not surprising that the usual suspects would be against it. Something's being pumped down into Mother Earth, and they resist that, even if the science says it's a benign practice, and is often used as deepwell is.

No problem with that resistance, of course, but PP and the others will find more supporters if they play it straight.

I suspect that surface contamination of water wells is the longtime problem, as mentioned above, and fracturing is at most an addition to that existing problem.

For PP, I'd recommend you bring less heat, and more light. Shrieking " 20-mile plume" and "Halliburton" ain't gonna get you too far with hardbitten civil engineers, for sure.
1.13.2009 4:36pm
Steve Koch (mail):
A related problem is the problem of loss of drilling mud into the formation. To keep a well in good shape while drilling, the well is filled with drilling mud. It is important that the drilling mud pressure at any depth at least match the formation pressure at that depth.

It can be difficult at times to match this up precisely but the driller always wants to have the drilling mud pressure >= the formation pressure. When the formation pressure exceeds the drilling mud pressure, there is an influx of fluids and gas from the formation into the drilling mud which can cause a "kick". "Kicks" can be very dangerous and can be enormously expensive to recover from.

Sometimes it is difficult to keep the mud in the well and tremendous volumes of drilling mud are lost to the formation. These losses could happen at any depth. Many land (as opposed to off shore) drilling operations in the USA are tiny operators who cut a lot of corners and are not even rigorously safe.

I would not be surprised if some of these mom and pop outfits are using drilling mud that is not real great for the environment and that some of those operators are losing a lot of nasty fluids into formations.
1.13.2009 5:23pm
mrbill:
The wells have a casing put in to stop the contamination of water tables. Most all wells use the drilling mud as: Coolant, Lubrication for the bit, method of removing drilling chips and moving them back to the top. It is called "mud" as it looks as such and is mostly Bentonite Clay and various additives. But it is a combination of clay and various lubricating elements.

But one of the more important functions of Mud , is it is used as a WEIGHT to keep any gas from kicking back and having a Blowout. You can buy MUD in varying WEIGHTS per GALLON. You can get 12 lb mud and 15 lb mud etc. It also maintains well bore stability and is used as hydraulic fluid to use different tools downhole.
1.13.2009 5:47pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
gran habano.
PP's audience does not include hard-bitten civil engineers, nor anybody else who knows what's going on wrt the subject under discussion.
1.13.2009 6:35pm
Steve Koch (mail):
Mr Bill:

Many of the wells that I worked on when I was developing a kick detection system used oil based muds, not clay based muds. Don't know if the casing guarantes the water table is protected since I really don't know that much about how drilling muds move through the formation.

I can guarantee that it is not an extraordinary event when drilling to lose a lot of drilling mud to the formation (sometimes huge amounts).

Again, I am talking about drilling, not fracturing. Of course, sometimes you accidentally fracture a formation when drilling.
1.13.2009 8:42pm
Hans Bader (mail):
Newspapers are often factually wrong. See Editorial, "Lilly's Cause: Obama Can Correct An Injustice of the Bush Years," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 12, 2009 (making false claim that the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear barred pay discrimination plaintiff Ledbetter's suit even though "she did not know she was being discriminated against until near the end of her career when she sued"); contra David Copus, "Pay Discrimination Claims After Ledbetter," Defense Counsel Journal, Volume 75, page 300 (Oct. 1, 2008) (Ledbetter suspected for years that she was discriminated against, and the Supreme Court left intact employees' ability to sue when employer deception leaves employees unaware of discrimination against them).
1.14.2009 3:39pm
Hans Bader (mail):
As noted above, newspapers reporting on the Ledbetter case falsely claim that there is a rigid 180-day deadline for bringing discrimination claims under Title VII, when the Supreme Court has long made clear that there are numerous common-sense exceptions to that deadline. See Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, 455 U.S. 385, 393 (1982) ("filing a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC is . . . a requirement that, like a statute of limitations, is subject to waiver, estoppel, and equitable tolling").
1.15.2009 11:29am

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