Gayathri Vaidyanathan ::

When drillers frack each other

During a frack hit, a company inadvertently ends up fracking a nearby, often older well owned by someone else.

This is a problem because fracking happens at immense pressures — 10,000 psi. Oil wells constructed in the 1980s or even a century earlier are unable to cope with such immense pressures.

In Canada

The first inkling Alberta regulators had of frack hits was in 2011. A farmer in Innisfail noticed a spray of oil, chemical-laden water and methane from an old wellhead and called it in. Investigation revealed that a company had been fracking 3,000 feet away. Quite far — so far, in fact, that regulators were surprised that it was having an effect on an inactive well located on a distant field.

Workers clean up an oil spill in Innisfail, Alberta

Workers clean up an oil spill in Innisfail, Alberta in 2011

Between 2010 and 2012, Alberta regulators recorded 21 separate frack hits in the province, according to records provided to me following a year-long Freedom of Information Protocol process. This resulted in a story for EnergyWire.

In the U.S.

The question then was, do frack hits happen in the U.S.? The nation has been in the middle of an oil and gas boom since at least 2005. Drillers have pioneered directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and they are extracting oil from rocks that were previously considered impermeable. It stands to reason, then, that a problem in Canada would be a problem in the U.S. as well.

But no one tracked frack hits in 2013. The oil and gas industry is regulated primarily by states in the U.S. and the regulators did not separating out the signal of frack hits from the background noise of routine oil spills.

I filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the states to get info about individual incidents, and then talked to state regulators and industry professionals to confirm my suspicions. It soon became clear that frack hits were happening in the U.S. and were a unrecognized problem.

This was my first story on frack hits in the U.S. It documents a number of hits:

  • New Mexico: A horizontal well being fracked communicated downhole with an older producing well on Feb. 22, 2012, leading to a spill of 9,000 gallons of oil. The wells were separated by 600 feet. The spill was cleaned up.
  • New Mexico: Two vertical wells, both fracked, communicated across a distance of 2,000 feet on July 7, 2010, causing a spill of 19,000 gallons of produced water. The spill was cleaned up.
  • Oklahoma: A well being fracked communicated with a neighboring well on Oct. 10, 2012, spilling 420 gallons of oil. The spill was cleaned up.
  • Oklahoma: A well being fracked communicated with a neighboring well on June 7, 2012, spilling 714 gallons of oil and produced water. The spill was cleaned up.
  • Arkansas: A well being fracked hit another well on Nov. 2, 2012, spilling 3,300 gallons of produced water. The spill was contained in the berm and cleaned up.
  • Montana: Two wells communicated during fracking on Jan 3, 2012, spilling about 35,000 gallons of oil and water. The spill was cleaned up.
  • West Virginia: Two frack hits have come to the attention of the DEP since 2011: one where a company was fracking in the Marcellus Shale and communicated with producing wells, and another where a company was fracking in the Berea sandstone formation and communicated with an abandoned well.


My stories have resulted in some regulatory action. It has been quoted in documents by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been working regulate the oil and gas industry in the U.S.The Department of Interior, which regulates oil and gas drilling on publicly-owned lands, this month released its long-awaited fracking rules. The agency had modified its regulations to include some protections for frack hits.

Here’s a list of all my stories on the topic, done for E&E News.

One Response to “When drillers frack each other”
  1. Ritik says:

    Just thought, I would like to help carfily one major error in your opening statements: They’re claiming that owners representing over 77,000 acres of land are pro-fracking. The figure you have is correct however the 77,000 represents landowners NOT ACRES! .The actual holding of those 77,000 people are well over 2 Million acres . The 2 million acres are land coalitions for leasing but not yet leased. The actual amount of land with leases at this time represents an additional 48% of NY land.Sorry but that’s the facts do your own research and have someone check it.

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