One year's damage

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chrish
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One year's damage

Post by chrish » July 1st, 2013, 9:07 pm

Just playing around with Google Earth's time slider to see how much fracking damage has occurred near me in south TX over the last few years.

Here's a satellite view from 4/20/2012. This is mostly cleared post oak savannah and sandy mesquite woodland. There are indigos down there, as well as cool stuff like Sheep Frogs, Texas Tortoises, Mexican Milksnakes, etc.

Image

Here's the same exact view from this march (less than a year later).

Image

All of those cleared spots are where drilling has taken place. Those drilling areas require 24 hour truck traffic and there doesn't appear to be much environmental regulation.

Sorry to get on this soapbox again, but it bums me out.

Chris

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Re: One year's damage

Post by jlzachary1 » July 2nd, 2013, 7:10 am

This is happening in my prime western hognose habitat here as well. I have 4 or 5 new wells that weren't there last year and what were sandy dirt roads are now graveled or worse oiled.

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Re: One year's damage

Post by Shane_TX » July 4th, 2013, 5:23 pm

New drilling/extraction technology and the effect is dramatic in some areas. Kinda looks like Grimes County or the Permian Basin. Quite a bit of exploration eastward (i.e. Eaglebine) but successes are limited, so far. As much as it sucks on the short-term scale, and not getting into the controversial below-ground issues, the drill pads are small enough and have enough reach that habitat fragmentation is minimal. Also good news on the front that major petrol companies are going above and beyond railroad commission regs; and they don't have to!

As ugly as it may be in some areas and considering the thornscrub as a whole, it's not a huge dent. And even if it were, there's no stopping it. I'm just glad that areas further south are nearly unchanged by this boom! The Eagle Ford is not the only area to consider anyway. Plenty of other local booms in LA, OK, ND and other plays in this country.

Can't we just get more nuclear power already, so that TX et al. can play NIMBY on the energy front :lol:

Shane

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Re: One year's damage

Post by bushmaster W30 » July 10th, 2013, 9:26 am

Shane_TX wrote:New drilling/extraction technology and the effect is dramatic in some areas. Kinda looks like Grimes County or the Permian Basin. Quite a bit of exploration eastward (i.e. Eaglebine) but successes are limited, so far. As much as it sucks on the short-term scale, and not getting into the controversial below-ground issues, the drill pads are small enough and have enough reach that habitat fragmentation is minimal. Also good news on the front that major petrol companies are going above and beyond railroad commission regs; and they don't have to!

As ugly as it may be in some areas and considering the thornscrub as a whole, it's not a huge dent. And even if it were, there's no stopping it. I'm just glad that areas
further south are nearly unchanged by this boom! The Eagle Ford is not the only area to consider anyway. Plenty of other local booms in LA, OK, ND and other plays in this country.

Can't we just get more nuclear power already, so that TX et al. can play NIMBY on the energy front :lol:

Shane
I agree . I've worked for a Hydraulic fracturing company for the last 5 years and I can assure you that there are a lot more safety and environmental regulations that Frac companies are required to comply with than most people realize. During a boom there may be a lot of equipment traffic but eventually things will slow back down and you may even have some new roads to cruise . Most of that traffic probably isn't frac companies either. Frac is just a small section of the production process. And its probably not going away anytime soon. I can't vouch for the whole industry but most oilfield workers are just regular guys trying to provide for their families and a lot of companies even offer incentive bonus' for good work and environmental safety records. I can assure you that as long as I'm running my crew we will strive to maintain a clean and safe record. And they all know if they see a snake. Leave it alone and call the supervisor.

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Re: One year's damage

Post by chrish » July 10th, 2013, 10:21 am

I have nothing against the individuals doing the work. They are just trying to make a living.

I just hate to see all this extra traffic. The number 18 wheelers on these roads have to be seen to be believed.
I recently recorded some frogs calling from a previously dead quiet road. In 23 minutes of recording, 11 trucks went by (10 of which were "18 wheelers"). I was on that road for several hours recording frogs and I am pretty confident that 23 minutes was typical. That comes down to nearly 30 trucks an hour.

Busy time of day maybe? Nope. Sunday morning at 2:00am!

Here's what it sounds like to be an anuran trying to attract mates there:

Scaphiopus couchii vs. truck traffic

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Re: One year's damage

Post by Jimi » July 10th, 2013, 3:29 pm

And they all know if they see a snake. Leave it alone and call the supervisor.
That's pretty cool. On the May chapter trip to Dinosaur we ran into an oilfield guy just outside his house near Jensen. He wasn't all that friendly about us being there but he knew immediately what we were talking about when we explained we were looking for brightly-colored snakes. He said he sees milksnakes (his name for them, we hadn't even said it yet) from time to time when his crew needs to move rocks. If he hadn't been so stern & chilly we would have chatted him up at length - we might have gotten some hot leads for new areas to go document their presence.

Thomas I wonder if you'd ever find the time to give folks here a brief explanation/description of the full life cycle - exploration/development/production/shut-down - of an oil or gas field. Or maybe (because it seems old fields get re-worked when technology gets better at pulling stuff out) a description of what's going on at a few select locations around the country, and why?

For example - Chris' description of all that heavy truck traffic seems a little weird to me, I've never seen that (crew-cab "crummies", flatbeds, water tankers, fuel trucks etc sure - but fulll-on tractor-trailer semis? weird). Could that just be a place where truckers have gotten a new short-cut, or a way to avoid some scales or Border Patrol checkpoints??? Or could it be legitimate oilfield development traffic, but which ought to settle down after XYZ happens? (In my observations traffic can settle WAY down, once production starts, if the target mineral(s) and the waste brine are piped out, but if no pipelines are installed you can see trucks on the roads all night every night - but still nothing like every 2 minutes.)

I'm just curious, and others here might be too. Thanks, if you care to give it a whirl.

Cheers,
Jimi

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Re: One year's damage

Post by bushmaster W30 » July 10th, 2013, 4:11 pm

Jimi I'd be glad to sit down and type something up. As soon as I get some time. Should have some in the next few days.

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Re: One year's damage

Post by chris_mcmartin » July 11th, 2013, 5:39 am

bushmaster W30 wrote:Jimi I'd be glad to sit down and type something up. As soon as I get some time. Should have some in the next few days.
Bushmaster, depending on the perspective of your writeup this may be something worth "immortalizing" in the SWCHR Bulletin. It would be interesting to incorporate a herper's assessment of the operation from someone "in the biz."


Jimi, I was in south TX a month ago and was also amazed at the high volume of traffic in the Eagle Ford Shale area. I think it would be interesting to compare observations now, with observations prior to the oil boom. However, some herpers I know stay away from the area because of the traffic, so the bias against current observations would be difficult to account for (are there really fewer herps, or is it just that fewer herpers are seeing them?). Based solely on increased traffic volume, I'd have to hypothesize populations in the vicinity of existing and new roads will at least temporarily severely decrease; I hope they can rebound if/when traffic returns to normal levels.

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Re: One year's damage

Post by Jimi » July 11th, 2013, 7:17 am

Thanks Thomas! It'll make for interesting reading I'm sure.
Based solely on increased traffic volume, I'd have to hypothesize populations in the vicinity of existing and new roads will at least temporarily severely decrease; I hope they can rebound if/when traffic returns to normal levels.
Chris I share your fears and hopes. One thing that's alarming is the sheer ubiquity of this development, and the fact that it's all happening at roughly the same time. If you fly across the country on a clear day the difference between now and just 5 years ago is absolutely shocking - looking at all the 5-acre pads that have been scraped, and the roads between them all. And I distinguish between this development in domesticated landscapes like Pennsylvania and Ohio, versus much wilder landscapes like Montana and Utah - formerly wide-open country is rapidly becoming something of an industrialized sprawl-scape (just fly over it at night to see what I mean). But as others have pointed out, this activity isn't going to just go away, and (IMO) it shouldn't anyway.

The only real option is to document impacts and require avoidance/reduction/compensatory mitigation to reduce the impacts to something wildlife (and human communities) can recover from. That's why I like pipelines more than trucks, for example - they reduce trips and their sustained disturbance & roadkill. Ditto fracking & directional drilling - less roads, less pads, less traffic, less rehab. (Yes, there are issues with e.g., water supply - but brine can also be used for fracking, I believe, and frack fluid can be recycled.) And in some places, a few places, we ought to fight like hell to keep this business out of.

There's just no getting around the fact that there are impacts - a profound cost is being imposed on and paid by all of us. But reasonable, well-designed and well-adopted BMPs and regs can reduce the impacts & costs to something much, much more bearable. And regulators can (if empowered & willing to do so) can also require operators post adequate surety bonds to clean up the mess afterward. Maybe this time around we won't have a whole bunch of abandoned messes left for the taxpayer to clean up. Maybe...

cheers,
Jimi

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Re: One year's damage

Post by chrish » July 11th, 2013, 8:01 am

Jimi wrote:Or could it be legitimate oilfield development traffic, but which ought to settle down after XYZ happens? (In my observations traffic can settle WAY down, once production starts, if the target mineral(s) and the waste brine are piped out, but if no pipelines are installed you can see trucks on the roads all night every night - but still nothing like every 2 minutes.)
I'm not sure why there was so much traffic on this road, but it isn't a shortcut for non-oilfield traffic. It is likely that these oil trucks were using it as a shortcut between the oilfields west of Catarina and the interstate. It is a road I used to roadhunt over the years. In the past, you could lay on that road and take a nap on most nights with little fear. If you saw a vehicle after the sun went down it was Border Patrol most of the time.

Most of the trucks I saw were tanker type trucks. I don't know if they were hauling oil or water or what, but they were certainly hauling a$$! :lol: The 11 trucks in 23 minutes may have been a fluke, but I can safely say that I was on that particular road for around 4 hours recording amphibians and that particular 23 minutes didn't seem to stand out as a busier time, and it was between 1:40 and 2:00am on a Sunday morning.

Just out of curiousity, I just went to google maps and looked at the spot I happened to be recording. Here's a screen capture although this is from the daytime obviously when the satellites are taking photos. No fake, just what it shows on google maps. It is river crossing under this quiet farm-to-market road. I was literally recording where you see the water going under the road, except I recorded from over by the fence.

Image

There are 5 trucks just in this field of view! So I thought, this is probably just a fluke moment in time and misrepresents the truck traffic on this formerly quiet road. So I scrolled the length of this quiet 20 mile Farm-to-market road and counted 50 tanker trucks. I didn't count the dozen or more small vehicles (pickups etc.) Justifiably skeptical? Go to 28.336804,-99.614067 and scroll east to I-35 all twenty miles.

Now based on my simple math, had I been standing along the road recording frogs during the time this satellite photo was taken, half of those 50 trucks would pass by me (the other half would have already passed before I started counting). Assume they are traveling 60 miles per hour (an underestimate - the speed limit is 75) and you are in the middle of that stretch of road recording frogs. 25 trucks will pass you (12.5 in each direction). The farthest trucks are 10 miles away from you so they all have passed you in 10 minutes. That's 2.5 trucks per minute. That is 5 trucks every two minutes as opposed to the "quiet" time after midnight on Sunday when I only measured 1 truck every two minutes.

I don't have any real scientific data other than my 29 years of herping and other observations in this area, but my feeling is that there has been a noticeable decrease in the number and diversity of animals seen along these SoTex roads just in the last few years. Some of this may be attributable to drought, and there has been a steady increase in traffic on the interstates due the NAFTA. But there has been a noticeable and significant increase in vehicular traffic and noise associated with this oil boom.

Again, I am not criticizing any individuals or industry here. I am just saddened by what is happening.

I honestly can't wait for it to end to let South Texas go back to what it was just 5 to 10 years ago. I doubt it ever will.
Why I find this so troubling is that the South Texas brush country has long been a refuge for Mexican species that are being extirpated south of the border by the habitat destruction that has happened there. This was their refuge and now the oil boom is threatening that. And no one seems to be taking notice because money is pouring into these formerly impoverished areas of the state.

Jimi, you cross-posted with me and make some great points. But while there is certainly concern about the pollution, seismic implications, habitat loss and other consequences of this activity, there really isn't much talk about the ancillary damage that is being done through the massive increase in vehicular traffic and the serious consequences of all this noise and light pollution in these areas.

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Re: One year's damage

Post by Shane_TX » July 11th, 2013, 7:11 pm

This is a good thread with mostly aligned viewpoints. Luckily it's short so far and Chrish provided decent perspective with the imagery.

Minus the cool species possibilities, this is the reality:
This is mostly cleared post oak savannah and sandy mesquite woodland.
And that's a fact! I'm not so good on history but assume that this started back in the Lonesome Dove days and still continues. I'm lying, I'm not un-historized. Europeans and cows in a native land, I swear.

Cheers

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Re: One year's damage

Post by chris_mcmartin » July 12th, 2013, 9:10 am

Y'all may find this book interesting--a little mammal-centric, but a good overview of just how different TX has become in the last hundred years or so:

Texas Natural History: A Century of Change

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Re: One year's damage

Post by Tom Lott » July 12th, 2013, 11:59 am

Since I live on the northern edge of the Eagle Ford fracking boom area Chrish is talking about I can corroborate his observations concerning the levels of heavy trucking activity. Each of the new white dots on Chrish's "after" photo above is a drilling pad several acres in extent. The topsoil in most of these areas consists of very soft sand or loam, which will not support much in the way of heavy vehicular traffic. Consequently, the drilling companies have had to import crushed limestone gravel from the Texas Hill Country 80-100 miles away. This immense amount of material is brought in by an almost constant stream of 18-wheeler gravel trucks and it appears that as long as new wells are being drilled the stream will continue unabated.

There were two front page articles in the San Antonio paper today (unfortunately behind a pay wall) highlighting pollution (atmospheric and groundwater), other environmental damage, and infrastructure damage attributed directly or indirectly to the Eagle Ford oil/gas boom. Echoing Bushmaster's comments, however, I have heard from SOME drilling company employees that their individual businesses have environmental standards that exceed those of the state (not difficult to do) and that SOME ranchers on whose property they are drilling impose their own strict regulations on fracking activity. In general though, neither the petrochemical industry (as a whole) nor the State of Texas has an enviable history for considering environmental concerns when there is money to be made.

I can also support Chrish's observation that the incidence of herps seen on the area's roadways has decreased drastically and, further, that this could just as well be due to the extended drought (which actually hasn't been too bad this year) as to the amount of oil field traffic. Personally, I no longer cruise roads in this area due mainly to the traffic (and partially due to the state's ridiculous road cruising regs), but I suspect that the once-legendary 100-snake nights (90% of which would be C. atrox or T. marcianus!) this region was famous for are long gone and I really fear for at least the local populations of the Tamaulipan specialties like Texas Indigos and Texas Tortoises.

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Re: One year's damage

Post by bushmaster W30 » July 16th, 2013, 1:15 pm

I havn't forgotten about this thread and I'm working on a write up.

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Re: One year's damage

Post by bushmaster W30 » July 16th, 2013, 7:40 pm

To Start I’d like to introduce myself and give a little background on my experience as an oilfield worker and Fieldherper. My name is Thomas Belford and I’ve had an interest in reptiles and amphibians since the age of 8 years old. It began one day when I watched my grandfather catch a speckled kingsnake. Over 20 years later I still enjoy finding Herps and have pursued them in every state and country I’ve visited. At the age of 21 I joined the US Army and was able to visit/herp many states as well as a few countries. After four years I left the military and moved back to my home state of Arkansas. I was amazed at how much things had changed. The Natural gas boom had begun the previous year in the Fayetteville Shale play in Arkansas. There was tons of traffic as production (waste) water was removed from the well sites and disposed of as well as equipment for the various stages of a wells life were moved from site to site. I took a month off before I started looking for a new job. It wasn’t long before my uncle approached me to come work at the Fracturing company he worked at. I started working there at the lowest level an equipment operator however the leadership skills I developed as an NCO in the US Army allowed me to quickly advance above my peers. I progressed through the equipment, became a trainer to instruct others in their operation, and after two years became a service supervisor a title I’ve held for the last three years. I coordinate the mobilization of about 25 pieces of equipment and 30 personnel to and from well sites. I ensure that all equipment is rigged to the wellhead in compliance with company and OSHA standards and coordinate the pumping down hole of all frac fluids.

I’ll do my best to explain to the best of my knowledge the various stages of a wells life from exploration to production.

Step 1 (Exploration)

The process of searching for geological formations that contain hydrocarbons isn’t my expertise. The way I understand it test wells are drilled and samples of the drillings are taken and tested. If it is determined that the formation is suitable to hold hydrocarbons then seismic test are done to determine the size of the formation. Once the formation is mapped gamma logs are taken to determine how much hydrocarbons are within a formation. This process has minimal traffic and should be low impact. Mostly you’ll see pickup and a little equipment traffic.

Step 2 (Drilling)

The drilling process begins once its determined that a formation holds sufficient hydrocarbons to justify a production well. A drilling rig is placed at the predetermined location and drilling begins. Drilling is done in segments with drill pipe being added as the bit bores deeper. During drilling, drill mud is formulated by a mud engineer and pumped down the drill pipe to lubricate the bit and prevent seizing of the drill string. During this process excess drill mud as well as rock and waste from the well bore are brought back to the surface where it’s separated. The drill mud is reused and the waste and rock goes to the drill pit. Casing is added at this time as well. Casing is pretty much just a larger size pipe than drill pipe that prevents the well bore from collapsing. Cement is usually pumped behind the casing as well to strengthen the casing. This process has significantly more traffic especially in areas that require water to be trucked in such as Texas and Oklahoma. The majority of the traffic at this time will be trucks bringing water tankers to locations as well as taking wastewater to be disposed of.

Step 3 (Completion)

Once drilling is complete and casing and cement is in place the well must then be prepared to produce. This is known as completions. During this portion of the wells life is when the controversial “Fracing” takes place. Before a formation can be fracked the casing must be perforated first. This allows the frac fluid to actually be pumped into the formation instead of just pressuring up on the casing. During perforation a “String” of explosives are lowered on a cable to the predetermined depth inside the casing until it is at the formation to be fractured. The explosives are detonated which cuts round holes into the casing and sends fractures far out into the rock formations underground. Some wells have sufficient pressure to produce on their own, however some wells need help to begin with or have lost pressure over time and must be pumped into. The type of frac fluid used depends on the formation. For the most part you need a base fluid, which is water. Sand is mixed with the water and a lubricating agent to create slurry. Various other chemicals are added to breakdown the gelling or lubricating agents as well as neutralize any bacteria in the water that may cause the well to produce “sour gases”. Scaling agent is usually pumped as well to prevent corrosion within the casing and Clay stabilizers are used to prevent clays from building up in the perfs and clogging up things. Hydrochloric Acid is used as well. It is usually pumped down the well bore to clean out the perforations prior to pumping the slurry I mentioned before. Once the precise mixture of sand and chemicals are combined they are pumped down the well bore at the appropriate rate and pressure, which is calculated by the engineer who developed the pump design for that formation. If there are multiple pay zones within a formation then after one zone is fracked another “string “ of explosive “guns” are lowered to the next zone. Attached to the end of the “Gun’ is what’s known as a bridge plug. The plug basically seals off the lower zone and allows for the perforation of the next zone and ensures the frac fluid goes into the current and not the previous zone. Once a well is fracked then the plugs have to be drilled back out and the fluids pumped down are flowed back into a holding tank. Water that cannot be separated from the other chemicals must be disposed of as waste. Nonproducing, older wells are often used to dispose of such waste. This is when the highest volume of traffic will be seen. Especially in areas where water has to be transported to and from the well sites. You will also see large aluminum sand hauling trucks traveling the roads at this time.

Step 4 (Production)

During production all of the work is complete and its time to start pulling hydrocarbons from the ground. If a well is producing on its own then it will be reduced to the appropriate piping and gauges/regulators will be installed. It usually passes through a separator to remove any water or contaminates. These separator tanks will have to be emptied from time to time causing additional traffic. Otherwise the hydrocarbons whether oil or gas then continue to move onto a pumping station or pipeline.
If a well cannot produce on its own then a pump jack or other artificial lift system is used. If a pipeline is unavailable then once the hydrocarbons pass through the separator tanks then they go into a storage tank. This storage tank must then be emptied periodically and taken to a pumping station or directly to a refinery. Again more trucks and more traffic.




I hope that this helps some people understand a little of the process involved. I know I didn’t go into a lot of detail on some of the process but the truth is there is a lot of work that goes into it and I admit I haven’t learned everything in the last 5 years. If anyone has questions about any of it I’ll do my best to answer as I can.

Thomas J. Belford

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Re: One year's damage

Post by Jimi » July 17th, 2013, 1:10 pm

Thanks Thomas, this helps me understand a lot of what I've seen in various places - Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, California, Texas, Louisiana...jeez feels like everywhere nowadays.

In a book by John McPhee there was a geologist quoted who described the processes leading to the formation of methane as basically ubiquitous and banal. Like it's almost impossible to not get gas formed. While he described those leading to the formation, and especially the long-term "survival", of petroleum as more like miraculous.

Hence the gas plays everywhere, once the technology to actually get at it came along. I think we're seeing an economic game-changer.

Anyway, thanks again. I like to understand (even if just a little bit of) what I see.

cheers,
Jimi

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Re: One year's damage

Post by Shane_TX » July 18th, 2013, 8:49 pm

That's a good ops write-up! Most people don't realize what it takes to make things run. And of course the bane and culprit and horror and bliss is energy.

It's good to have and all people want it. In the bliss, some mentally decide to grant pardons to those who actually do the work and supposedly bash only the upper echelons because they are supposedly destroying the world and make a lot of money. Never really understanding that the only reason the demand exists is because they demand it.

Economics discussion, anyone? Non-infrastructure comments about how individual people manage to travel the globe without a sail are especially welcome. Damn.......I guess the only people who can comment are those that have never left that sweet hometown :lol:

I just wonder who's going to win when the fossil stock becomes unavailable to all........not humans in their current form for sure.

Shane

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Re: One year's damage

Post by chris_mcmartin » July 19th, 2013, 5:14 am

Shane_TX wrote:I just wonder who's going to win when the fossil stock becomes unavailable to all........
The same companies that currently control the oil supply. After all, they bill themselves as energy companies now, not oil companies. Why else do they buy up emerging technologies rather than let them compete with petroleum-based energy?

Because of this, solar and wind (and probably others) will rapidly become ubiquitous and (somewhat) more affordable to the general public only when the oil supplies dwindle sufficiently.

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