Hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking”—has jumped into the American lexicon in the past decade, largely due to the advent of directional drilling technology targeting shallow shale gas plays in the Lower 48, and the drinking and groundwater contamination threats they pose. The Bush Administration compounded the problem when Dick Cheney—fresh off his stint running Haliburton, the world’s largest fracking fluid manufacturer—convened secret meetings in the White House with oil and gas executives to exempt fracking fluids from disclosure under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Inletkeeper has been involved with fracking long before it became a household word. In 2002, the state issued coalbed methane leases for over 20,000 acres on the Homer bench, and over 300,000 acres in the Mat Su Valley. Directional drilling would allow producers to target shallow coal seams, and to use fracking fluids to blast apart the coal to release methane gas—all the while using massive volumes of water and generating equal volumes of toxic waste. Inletkeeper quickly organized broad-based opposition from property owners who were upset to learn oil and gas companies could occupy their land to produce coal gas (we even developed a 10-oint “Property Owners Bill of Rights” to highlight the threats). The prospect of coalbed methane—and the fracking used to produce it—sparked an enormous backlash, leading the oil and gas companies to relinquish all their leases, and forcing the state to rescind its coalbed methane program.
Since then, fracking has gained nationwide attention, as communities wrestle with the enormous social, health and environmental costs of large-scale shale gas development. In Alaska, fracking has been occurring on the North Slope for over a decade, and various forms of well and reservoir perforations and stimulations have been around in Cook Inlet and on the North Slope since production began. But as technology changes, the prospects for more fracking in Alaska are increasing. In response, the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission—the agency responsible for down-hole aspects of oil and gas operations—proposed new rules on fracking in 2013. The rules started out strong, but after three revisions, industry opposition eventually eroded some of the better protections. Inletkeeper joined a coalition of groups and submitted comments in April and August 2013, and sent out action alerts and provided information to the public. While the new rules are better than most states (e.g., they require pre-fracking water testing, and the disclosure of fracking fluid constituents online), they still give the state discretion to require post-fracking water testing to see if contamination has occurred.
Now, BlueCrest Energy has proposed a fracking program at its Cosmopolitan Unit north of Anchor Point. The fracking target is about a mile and half deep, and over two miles offshore, so there’s little risk to drinking or surface waters. And BlueCrest plans to dispose of its fracking fluid wastewater in a regulated Class II disposal well on the Upper Peninsula. The BlueCrest fracking project has attracted considerable attention, but from Inletkeeper’s perspective, the greatest problems posed by more oil development don’t involve fracking in deep, offshore formations. Rather, the fact there’s zero production tax on Cook Inlet oil, on top of massive tax credits, means we’re almost giving away our publicly-owned resource. Furthermore, Inletkeeper sees climate change as the greatest threat to our people and planet, and we believe all oil and gas development has to stop so we can transition to a post-carbon economy around renewable energy.
To address the concerns raised by BlueCrest’s project, Inletkeeper will host a panel discussion on May 17 at 6:30 PM at the Islands & Ocean Visitor’s Center in Homer, where you can ask questions and get answers from a panel of experts. We hope to see you there.