A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


Greywacke is a strange rock. Hard, poorly sorted, some sand-sized grains composed of a complex mineralogic composition within a clay matrix that remained mysterious in sorting out the depositional environment until "turbidites" were discovered. "Greywackes are mostly grey, brown, yellow or black, dull-colored sandy rocks which may occur in thick or thin beds along with shales and limestones." Greywackes can be oil and gas reservoirs or host gold deposits. There is so much greywacke in New Zealand that a wine is named for it.

Fracking fluids are used to hydraulically fracture rocks for the primarily for the purposes of recovering oil and gas, but also in some instances to recover geothermal heat, and drinking water. Greyfracke is the chaotic by-product fluid associated with  hydrofracking which looks like the hydrologic equivalent to greywacke - a complex, mysterious, melange. I coined the term greyfracke because conceptually this diagram depicts the additives to hydraulic fracturing fluids with the chaotic display of the geochemical makeup that constitutes only "1/2 to 2 percent of the fluid" with the rest of the "brew" composed of water.  A little bit goes a long way - sometimes too far away from the point of injection.

Yes, sometimes it takes water to make water, and the ultimate goal of using blasting or hydrofracking on water wells is to "turn dry holes into wet ones".  The State of Wyoming Water Development Commission undertook experiments here and here on fracking water wells using oil field technology in the early 1990s with great success - so much so, that the process becomes the second chance on many of their groundwater development projects, and eventually became SOP on some new wells tapping limestone aquifers. Sometimes a good thing can become too good of a good thing resulting in quite a mess. And that is what appears to may have happened to some private wells located near the City of Gillette, Wyoming wellfield.

According to this article in WyoFile, "At least four of the five new Gillette wells have been enhanced with acid fracking..." and "A week after both Cranston’s well and his less-productive backup went dry, the family drilled another pair. All four family wells were about 100 to 200 feet deep, much shallower than the new Gillette-Madison wells. But the new water didn’t seem right. The family called a testing company and discovered a very low pH of 3.9 — on the acidic side of the logarithmic scale and well below normal potable levels that range from 6 to 8.5.

Sounds like Greyfracke.

Conflicts over the impacts to groundwater as a by-product of hydrofracking oil and gas wells is the subject of "docudramas" such as the Gasland series, and FrackNation. I prepared the Circle of Conflict to depict how complex conflicts over hydrofracking can become, but the conflict has morphed into a "conflict over using water to make water" with the recent Wyoming situation.

As one reviews the WyoFile article, it is easy to see "hydrohysteria" emerging with the trifecta of conflict triggers - identity-based conflict focusing on the construction of the wells, investment-based conflict based on the WWDC and WDEQ investigating who was to blame, and the private wellowners interests on non-traditional urban-rural setbacks (urban water infrastructure impinging on the rural way of life), concerns over well surface seals, and pre-and post-frac sampling of nearby private wells.

Who says oil field technology and water don't mix?

Update: Check out the *new* solution to hydrofracking without all of the fuss of *greyfracke* - supercritical CO2!
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Drillers had been working atop Pine Ridge above the Cranston ranch, according to the News-Record. The original Madison project was drilled into the floor of the neighboring valley, but planners chose the higher site for the new phase to reduce the number of pumping stations and save almost $10 million. As a consequence, drillers were probing through several hundred feet for which they didn’t have the geologic information acquired for the original well field. In a sense, they were drilling blind.
~WyoFile article