Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Horizontal hydraulic fracturing pits big oil companies against small drilling outfits in Okla.

Oklahoma's laws encourage the practice of drilling new oil wells in old oilfields, but that has "left a trail of older wells damaged by 'frack hits,' flummoxed state regulators and started a civil war within the state's singularly powerful oil industry, Mike Soraghan reports for Energy & Environment News. Some say it could also lead to groundwater contamination.

Small drilling companies, which Soraghan says are "as revered as the family farmer" in Oklahoma, complain that big oil companies are drilling long horizontal wells through their fields, which they say siphons off their oil and damages their older, vertical wells.

An illustration of how fracking fluid from a horizontal well can hit a vertical well.
(Illustration by Environmental Protection Agency)
"They know they're going to ruin your well and they don't care," said Mike Cantrell, who helped lead an exodus of small drillers from the state's largest oil industry trade group earlier this year and formed a new group called the Oklahoma Energy Producers Alliance. OEPA "commissioned a study estimating more than 400 wells have been damaged by such 'frack hits' in just one county. An E&E News review found at least 10 state and federal lawsuits alleging that horizontal fracturing damaged vertical wells," Soraghan reports.

Zack Taylor, who has a small family-run oil company in Seminole and is also a state representative, told Soraghan: "The whole argument boils down to private property rights. . . You can't step on someone's property right to promote development."

Large oil drillers say there are protections in place for small drillers. Horizontal wells are supposed to stay at least 600 feet away from vertical wells (though the Oklahoma Corporation Commission can waive that). Vertical drillers can also buy into a new horizontal well, and if that's not possible, can cut a deal with the horizontal driller. Alternatively, an OCC judge can assign fair market value to the vertical driller's interest. And if all else fails, the vertical driller can file suit. And pay lawyers.

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