Fracking activity in Kansas fueling controversy with opponents saying it could threaten the water quality of Ogallala Aquifer and supporters arguing that it has been used for years without any evidence that it pollutes water

TOPEKA, Kansas , September 6, 2011 () – A method of prying more oil from rock layers, called hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — is fueling controversy in Kansas, with opponents saying it could threaten the water quality of the Ogallala Aquifer and supporters arguing that it has been used for years without any evidence that it pollutes water.

The method involves drilling deeply into the rock and then injecting water filled with chemicals to open seams in the rock. It has been used for up to 60 years but is attracting new attention because of increased use in northwest Kansas, where analysts expect to find shale associated with oil deposits.

More fracking activity also is reported in the south-central portion of the state, particularly in the Oklahoma border counties of Harper and Barber, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/ouF3m7).

The Sierra Club of Kansas contends the process uses unhealthy chemicals, requires heavy consumption of water and could contaminate water supplies. Critics are particularly concerned about possible damage to the Ogallala Aquifer, the underground reservoir that provides water for much of western Kansas.

The process, which started in Kansas in 1947, involves drilling deep vertically and horizontally before injecting with tremendous pressure water with a chemical brew to open seams in the rock to free oil and gas. The mixture can include compressed gases, including nitrogen, as well as acid. Sand or ceramic material is then moved into fluid-driven channels.

In Kansas, it involves drilling about 4,000 feet below the surface and nearly that distance horizontally to reach reserves. The approach requires multiple layers of pipe and cement to encase well bores, which shield groundwater at shallow depths. The Ogallala runs 500 to 1,000 feet deep in Kansas.

An interim joint committee of the Kansas Legislature will hear testimony about fracking Friday.

"We can't possibly threaten our water supplies," said Joe Spease, chair of the Sierra Club's fracking committee and a wind energy advocate. "We're going to appeal to common-sense farmers, ranchers and hunters."

The Sierra Club wants state and federal regulations on fracking that would require operational transparency at job sites, minimize the potential of groundwater contamination and hold violators accountable for mistakes. The club is particularly concerned with the introduction of radioactive minerals in the slurry of fluid to help measure fractures around well bores, Spease said.

Energy producers, led by the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association, defend the process.

"The vast majority of wells are fracked sometime in their life," said Ed Cross, executive director of KIOGA. "There has not been one documented case of fresh water contamination by hydraulic fracturing.

"Whenever you frack you're not going to get anything in that fresh water. You've got significant distance between it."

He blamed the 2010 anti-fracking documentary film, "Gasland," for twisting public perception of the technique. The film included footage from Dimock, Pa., of a family lighting their tap water on fire and blaming it on nearby fracking.

In response to the film, national oil and gas advocates created websites that argued that fluid used in fracking is 99 percent water, that flammable methane can naturally mix with water beneath the surface and the government regulates companies that use fracking.

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