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Science Cafe OSU, Potential Impacts of Oil and Gas Exploration: Frequent Questions & Answers

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The questions and answers on this page are from the five Science Cafe OSU, Community Programs held at Stillwater Public Library May - Nov. 2014. Questions were asked by audience members. Answers are from various program speakers.

Frequent Questions & Answers

Nov. 20- Forum

  1. Why is there a discrepancy in the the magnitude of earthquakes posted by OGS vs. USGS?
  2. What can people do to try to change the Corporation Commission permitting process to more "common sense" regulation such as no oil/gas operations within 1-2 miles of subdivisions and city limits?
  3. Why not hire some people to provide real-time information to the agencies and public?
  4. Is a pipeline running through an area having so many earthquakes (200 or more a year) really a good idea?
  5. What are some of the illnesses associated with chemicals used in fracking?
  6. I report almost every earthquake I feel. Why do so many earthquakes go unlisted?
  7. Following on the Interim Study, what is the next legislative step with regard to earthquakes? 
  8. Large amounts of saltwater, also known as produced water, have been injected for many years. Why is it just now becoming a problem or possibly causing earthquakes?
  9. What research is there regarding the effect of fracking upon real estate values?
  10. Are there regulations for noise levels to residential areas due to oil and gas and other commercial activities, at least when activities occur overnight? and Why aren't residents near a drilling site not notified when the drilling operations will take place?
  11. How can citizens help legislators pass legislation?
  12. Have there been studies on effects of 2-3 magnitude earthquakes occurring often (2-4 times a day)? We are told that below magnitude 4 or 5 there are no effects, but smaller, more frequent earthquakes surely that repeated and frequent shaking has effects? 
  13. Do the flames at the fracking site contribute to greenhouse gas? 
  14. Why do we not know where injection fluids go when they reach the basement?
  15. Why does anyone think that they have any control over their neighboring land? Are they willing to give up their electric, oil and gas use? That is their option. Someone has to sacrifice for the good of the rest of society.
  16. So far, some people have gone to quite a few city, county, and state agency officials. The county commissioners tell them "there is nothing we can do about the frack sites and deep injection wells." The County Corporation Commission representative says there is nothing he can do about these troubles. With this sort of stock answer being given to the citizens and with even some of the officials stating to us nothing will change until the legislature passes new laws and regulations, don't you think the Oklahoma legislature will have to act rather than trust that the Corporation Commission will actually change?
  17. Aside from keeping a log, what can we do to get the attention of the government? Who can we call?
  18. Going beyond the legislative Interim Study, what would be the most effective plan of action to implement a moratorium on either horizontal drilling or deep injection well disposal or both?

June 12- Costs and Benefits

  1. Can landowner be compensated for reduction of property value due to oil activity on their property? Can landowner be compensated for “inconvenience” or “annoyance” due to oil activity on their property?
  2. I would like more information on the concerns of methane leaks ‒ how that is going to impact us.
  3. Do you have a say as a land owner if a company puts a tank battery on you?
  4. If one company has a well and another wants to do seismic measuring, who has the rights?
  5. What about regulations on the number of pipes being laid?
  6. What about spacing between tank batteries?
  7. What kind of connection is there between hydraulic fracturing producing more oil & gas, and gas prices at the pump?
  8. Are there mechanisms, outside of government, to publicly fund research? i.e. crowdsourcing?
  9. Can you provide information about other states/communities’ laws regulating oil/gas industry (and/or hydro fracking) ‒ specific legislation we can use to model legislation for Oklahoma?
  10. If the known, demonstrated, inferred reserves have doubled or even tripled, how much if any of it, did we know about but couldn’t access until recently?
  11. Why don’t solar & wind get the same tax breaks?
  12. How do I know that some company isn’t under my house from a mile away?
  13. What if damage ends up being more than paid amount?
  14. What law states surface owners have the right to gas from a well?  I read the company is supposed to run a line to the owner’s house. The owner would pay the same rate that gas sells for at the same rate it is sold at the closest municipality.
  15. Is there any research on the effects of oil and gas operations on wildlife and the changes to the area impacted?

June 5- Communities & Housing

  1.  One speaker seems to be saying that hydraulic fracturing’s product is natural gas. I understood from last week that the products were both oil & natural gas. Which is correct?
  2. Who can we report damage to?
  3.  What is coming from the leaky pipes along the road?
  4.  I have well water. How can I get more information about water quality?
  5. Where are county educators?

May 29- Drilling Basics

  1. What happens to sodium salt leached out of spreading? Salty creeks?
  2. Do you have more information about the disposal of water used for drilling?
  3. How many disposal wells are there and where are they?
  4. Will casings be destroyed during earthquakes?
  5. Does any of the water used come from the Cimarron River?

Series Overview

  1. What is the purpose for this series?
  2. Who are the sponsors for the series?

Nov. 20- Forum
1. Why is there a discrepancy in the the magnitude of earthquakes posted by OGS vs. USGS?

The Oklahoma Geological Survey focuses on earthquakes with a magnitude of 2.3 and above. They look at a six-mile radius for magnitude 4.0 and above. The U.S. Geological Survey focuses on earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 and above.

2. What can we do to try to change the Corporation Commission permitting process to more "common sense" regulation such as no oil/gas operations within 1-2 miles of subdivisions and city limits?
It is a citizen's right to lobby and let legislators know how you feel. Some regulations were originally written to prevent pollution. House Interim Study 14-002 is looking at things like that.

3. Why not hire some people to provide real-time information to the agencies and public?
There are volunteers who are monitoring and providing feedback. Hiring more people is a funding issue. Tax cuts affect hiring.

4. Is a pipeline running through an area having so many earthquakes (200 or more a year) really a good idea?
It isn't a good idea to have pipelines through an active seismic area. Pipelines could break.

5. What are some of the illnesses associated with chemicals used in fracking?
Not a lot of studies have been done on this, but proximity to chemicals can matter. Some chemicals may cause asthma, headaches, neurological difficulties, stability issues, dizziness, and nausea.

6. I report almost every earthquake I feel. Why do so many earthquakes go unlisted?
This goes back to the number of analysts there are and the magnitude of most interest at the agency. If an earthquake is less than 2.5 magnitude, chances are they won't be able to locate it, especially if it occurs over the weekend.

7. Following the Interim Study, what is the next legislative step with regard to earthquakes?
Legislators turn in legislation placeholders by mid-Dec. for the upcoming term. The legislative session opens in February and ends in May.

8. Large amounts of saltwater, also known as produced water, has been injected for many years. Why is it just now becoming a problem or possibly causing earthquakes?
There is more clarity now about the practices. There aren't great records of what the injection specifics used to be, so data cannot be compared over time.

9. What research is there regarding the effect of fracking upon real estate values? 
One of the Colleges is funding some research in this area thanks to Science Cafes!

10. Are there regulations for noise levels to residential areas due to oil and gas and other commercial activities, at least when activites occur overnight? and "Why aren't residents near a drilling site not notified when the drilling operations will take place?
We aren't aware of any regulations for these.

11. How can we help legislators pass legislation?
Grassroots organizations and social movements can influence legislation. States generally fund more regulations in states in which citizens are more vocal.

12. Have there been studies on effects of 2-3 magnitude earthquakes occurring often (2-4 times a day)? We are told that below magnitude 4 or 5 there are no effects, but smaller, more frequent earthquakes surely that repeated and frequent shaking has effects?
One long-term study often cited looked at effects on a house built next to mine blasting. That particular study found that 28 years of constant tremors at a 3 caused significant damage.

13. Do the flames at the fracking site contribute to greenhouse gas?
Methane is more powerful than CO2 and calculations can be done. The bigger flare is probably a nuisance and affects air quality surrounding it, but as far as we know not greenhouse gases.

14. Why do we not know where injection fluids go when they reach the basement?
The basement structure is composed of rocks that have been beaten up millions of years. Faults can't actually be seen on site. The best way is to inject and see where the water goes.We can't see a mile down to see that the rock is cracked. It is very hit or miss; very difficult to solve.

15. Why does anyone think that they have any control over their neighboring land? Are they willing to give up their electric, oil and gas use? That is their option. Someone has to sacrifice for the good of the rest of society.
In general, oil and gas production is safer and cleaner than it was 25 years ago. In Oklahoma land rights are bifurcated; there are surface rights owners and mineral rights owners.

16. So far, some people have gone to quite a few city, county, and state agency officials. The county commissioners tell them there is nothing we can do about the frack sites and deep injection wells. The county Corporation Commission representative says there is nothing he can do about these troubles. With this sort of stock answer being given to the citizens and with even some of the officials stating to us nothing will change until the legislature passes new laws and regulations, don't you think the Oklahoma legislature will have to act rather than trust that the Corporation Commission will actually change?
Not all Oklahoma legislators represent areas that are experiencing issues from oil and gas exploration, so obtaining statewide action can be challenging. 

17. Aside from keeping a log, what can we do to get the attention of the government? Who can we call?
Call your local legislators and call the OCC. Make multiple phone calls. Some improvement is occurring. Underfunding is a big problem for the agencies and commissions.

18. Going beyond the Interim Study, what would be the most effective plan of action to implement a moratorium on either horizontal drilling or deep injection well disposal or both?
A moratorium is probably not realistic. It is more realistic that some regulations about disposal wells will change.


June 12

1.Can landowner be compensated for reduction of property value due to oil activity on their property? Can landowner be compensated for “inconvenience” or “annoyance” due to oil activity on their property?
The answer to both questions is in the Oklahoma Surface Damage Act (52 Okla. Stat. §§ 318.2 – 318.9).  The Surface Damage Act provides that an oil and gas operator must provide advance notice of oil and gas production operations on property and negotiate for the payment of the predicted damages in advance of those operations.  If, however, the landowner and operator cannot agree, the Act provides for an appraisal procedure to manage the dispute.  “Inconvenience and annoyance” may be issues considered in the negotiation of the damages, provided they can be anticipated and somehow quantified during the negotiations.

2.I would like more information on the concerns of methane leaks ‒ how that is going to impact us.
The EPA has issued administrative regulations governing the gas emissions from hydraulically fractured wells in the form of New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs).  These rules – sometimes referred to as “green completion standards” will be phased into effect over time and are meant to control emissions of all gases (including methane) from hydraulically fractured wells (see 77 Fed. Reg. 49490, August 16, 2012).
Methane leaks into water wells are a different matter, and the jurisdiction over such matters is unclear, as it arguably crosses both the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (holding authority to regulate the integrity of oil and gas wells), the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (holding authority to regulate the integrity of aquifers and water wells) and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (holding authority to regulate public water supplies under delegated EPA authority through the Safe Drinking Water Act).

3.Do you have a say as a land owner if a company puts a tank battery on you?
If the mineral rights have been severed from the surface (meaning there are different owners for the minerals and surface of the property), the surface owner must allow the mineral owner to make “reasonable use” of the surface to develop the mineral resources.  Thus, unless the tank battery was negligently constructed or operated (causing “unreasonable” use of the surface), the surface owner cannot prohibit its construction and operation.

4. If one company has a well and another wants to do seismic measuring, who has the rights?
Under Oklahoma case law, any mineral interest owner has the right to authorize the exploration for oil and gas on the property.  Thus, a mineral owner could authorize seismic testing on a property even if there is an existing well.  However, the owner of the existing well would have a legal claim if the testing caused damage to the existing well.

5. What about regulations on the number of pipes being laid?
Depending on the kind of pipelines at issue, authority over pipeline location, construction, and operation can be held by either the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and/or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). However, there are no specific regulations on the density of pipelines or number of pipes per se.

6. What about spacing between tank batteries?
There are no specific OCC regulations on the spacing of tank batteries so long as no safety regulations are violated and all applicable Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations are followed.

7. What kind of connection is there between hydraulic fracturing producing more oil & gas, and gas prices at the pump?
Petroleum markets are complex; increased demand in US and abroad puts upward pressure on prices; limited refinery capacity has an impact; distribution restrictions (pipelines, storage & rail) can push prices up.Prices would likely be higher were it not for increased supplies.

8. Are there mechanisms, outside of government, to publicly fund research? i.e. crowdsourcing?
Research costs can be high and funding is very competitive. Industry is one alternative source of funding, and funding does happen through the use of research contracts with organizations and associations. Researchers at public universities still need financial support from the universities. “Crowdsourced” research through mechanisms such as Kickstarter might also be used for public funding of research.

9. Can you provide information about other states/communities’ laws regulating oil/gas industry (and/or hydro fracking) ‒ specific legislation we can use to model legislation for Oklahoma?
A collection of these regulations can be found in the National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center’s publication “Natural Gas Extraction: Issues and Policy Options” available at http://www.nardep.info/Natural_Gas.html
If/when a legislature appears so inclined, legislative regulation can be a relatively easy thing to do.

10. If the known, demonstrated, inferred reserves have doubled or even tripled, how much if any of it, did we know about but couldn’t access until recently?
That’s the thing.  We don’t know until new technology comes along to make exploration/discovery and recovery possible.  Most fields that had been capped in the late 20th century, became the “low-hanging fruit” when horizontal drilling became feasible in many shale plays.  That has occurred in the past 10-15 years in earnest.  This is primarily what increased production in OK from 1500 billion cubic feet/year to 5000 billion cubic feet last year.

11. Why don’t solar & wind get the same tax breaks?
The tax structures for incentives for renewable power generation (such as solar and wind-powered generation) are very different from those for petroleum production. A full examination of the differences would require a quite-lengthy discussion.

12. How do I know that some company isn’t under my house from a mile away?
Drilling plans for horizontal well segments (laterals) must be filed as part of the well permit application with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

13. What if damage ends up being more than paid amount?
In some circumstances landowners can file suit for damages beyond those contemplated by the original surface use agreement; for example, if there is a spill of petroleum or other environmental damages, Oklahoma case law states that the landowner may file a suit to recover those damages even if a surface use agreement was in place.  However, landowners should be extremely careful as some surface use agreements contain language whereby a landowner waives all rights to additional compensation.

14. What law states surface owners have the right to gas from a well?  I read the company is supposed to run a line to the owner’s house. The owner would pay the same rate that gas sells for at the same rate it is sold at the closest municipality.
There is no specific state law that provides a right to gas from a well.  In some cases, mineral leases or surface damage agreements provided surface owners with a right to “in kind” gas from the well.  However, in many cases today this practice is discouraged as untreated gas can contain impurities that can cause dangerous conditions in household natural gas systems.

15. Is there any research on the effects of oil and gas operations on wildlife and the changes to the area impacted?
Dr. Dwayne Elmore, OSU Dept. of Natural Resource & Ecology Management said there are a couple of ongoing projects that are examining the effects of energy development (oil/gas and wind) on both greater and lesser prairie-chickens. Results should be available in about a year. They are mostly examining the structures (wells, towers, power poles, roads, etc.) once they are established rather than the brief drilling period.  They do have some data on development of a large power line, and may have data on wind turbine construction at some point.


June 5

1.  One speaker seems to be saying that hydraulic fracturing’s product is natural gas. I understood from last week that the products were both oil & natural gas. Which is correct?
Hydraulic fracturing typically produces oil, natural gas, produced water & waste.  Amount of each varies by well & geology. Due to time constraints the speaker did not go into more detail.

2.    Who can we report damage to?
This depends on the damage. In Oklahoma, generally speaking, damage to roads & bridges, & leaking water pipes could be reported to the county commissioners. Observations of inappropriate spreading of mud or waste water, & apparent leaks at well pads, & water or air issues could be reported to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

3.    What is coming from the leaky pipes along the road?
This likely is water that is being moved to drilling sites.

4.  I have well water. Where can I get more information about water quality?
Check with your county educators at the County Extension office. They can help you know how to get your soil and water tested.

5.    Where are the county educators?
Each county has a County Extension office. Payne County’s Extension office is located in the Payne County Administration Building at 315 W 6th Avenue, Suite 103. You can find other county offices at this website: http://countyext2.okstate.edu/


May 29
1.    What happens to sodium salt leached out of spreading? Salty creeks?
“The guidelines set in place by the OCC are meant to protect adjacent areas from runoff (via setbacks) and leaching to shallow groundwater.  However, the salts will leach downward, somewhat as a "front", but it also disperses itself throughout, thus, the salt will never arrive to a groundwater aquifer all at once (all at once = piston flow).  Regardless, the amount of salt applied is small compared to the area in which it is applied.  The best way to explain this is through an example, particularly, an impossible worst case scenario.  Take the El Reno Basin.  Assume that 30% of the entire basin (3.6 million acres) received water base mud, all at one time (which is impossible), that the mud was applied at the highest allowable rate (6000 lbs of salt/acre), and that there is piston flow (which only occurs for glass beads, not soil) so that all the salt applied at once also arrives/leaches to the aquifer at the exact same time (impossible).  Even then, the salt concentration would only increase 150 mg/L.  The EPA has secondary water quality standards (non-enforced) for taste and odor.  Among that, total salts are listed at 500 mg/L (http://water.epa.gov.drink/contaminants/index.cfm).“  ‒ Dr. Chad Penn, June 4, 2014

2. Do you have more information about the disposal of water used for drilling?
Flow-back water (i.e. used hydraulic fracturing fluids) can be reclaimed, but this is very expensive and it is not done very often in Oklahoma. Some people in the oil industry are exploring options and seem to be moving in that direction. Chad Penn, OSU scientist said, "I believe that flow-back can also be land applied, but it is not a routine method in Oklahoma, so it requires a special permitting procedure and more rigorous testing. This needs to be studied more to know for sure, and if land application of flow-back is found to be safe, then land application could be a viable method if it could be permitted efficiently. The same is true for produced waters, although in Oklahoma this fluid is land applied more frequently than flow-back. The number one disposal method for both types of fluids is deep well injection, which is what some geologists claim are causing the earthquakes. Produced water from some formations can be extremely saline, much more than water-based drilling mud. Thus, if land application is going to become the dominant form of disposal for both flow-back and produced water, then it needs to be more closely regulated with improved rules, and more advanced technology utilized for precision/safe application. Research is necessary to determine both safety and feasibility."

3. How many disposal wells are there and where are they?
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has this information. We will try to find the link and post it here.

4. Will casings be destroyed during earthquakes?
We don't know of any research on this topic at this time.

5. Does any of the water used come from the Cimarron River?
Generally speaking, the state owns and manages surface water and permits for surface water use are managed by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.


Series Overview

1. What is the purpose for this series?

Science Café OSU presented “Hydraulic Fracturing: Implications for Land, Water, & Communities” on April 8, 2014 in the Peggy V. Helmerich Browsing Room of the OSU Library. The program had a record attendance of 155 and many questions from Stillwater area community members. OSU Librarian and Coordinator Karen Neurohr said, “OSU is a land-grant university with a mission to serve the community. In keeping with this mission, we decided to offer Science Café as a series of community programs at Stillwater Public Library. Our intent is to provide information, have civic discussions, and increase knowledge.”

Dr. Larry Sanders, one of the series speakers, noted, “We are an education program team attempting to provide science-based objective information. We are not an advocacy group nor are we promoting specific actions. We hope the attendees will acquire a science foundation to the information related to the issues, enabling them to recognize facts from myths. This will assist them in the actions they choose to take.”

Based on questions from the audience, representatives from various Oklahoma groups or agencies have been invited to participate in the Forum on June 19. They will provide updated information about their work and answer audience questions.

2. Who are the sponsors for the series?

  • Oklahoma State University Library
  • Stillwater Public Library
  • Oklahoma State University Office of Vice President for Research and Technology
  • OSU Chapter of Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society