With the prices of gas and crude oil plummeting and a series of small earthquakes occurring in the city of Irving in January, which was felt by some residents in Tarrant County, hydraulic fracturing has re-emerged as a hot topic of discussion.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—the process of pumping a mixture of sand, water and chemicals at a high pressure deep underground to break apart subterranean rocks to extract natural gas—has been around for decades.
Fracking has been a notable topic in the cities of Grapevine, Colleyville and Southlake, particularly after it was discovered that the cities all sit on top of the Barnett Shale, a hydrocarbon-producing geological formation that stretches across at least 18 counties.
Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, said that although the Barnett Shale covers about 5,000 square miles, Tarrant County is a key location, which is why gas companies seek to drill in the area.
"If you look at where the Barnett Shale is located, Fort Worth is right in the middle of it," he said. "So cities like Grapevine are a prime spot for drilling."
In November 2010, Atlas Resource, formerly known as Titan Operating LLC, was granted a special-use permit by the city of Colleyville for the development of a gas well site with 14 wellbores or drill holes—holes that are drilled to aid in the exploration and recovery of natural resources—at 7504 Pleasant Run Road. Since Titan obtained the permit in 2010, the drilling company has drilled seven wells on the property and is in the process of developing the wells. This is achieved through a two-step process of first perforating—creating holes or pores in the well by drilling—then fracking the surrounding shale formation. Atlas is completing this process through several stages, which occur at six-month intervals on all the wells. It is anticipated fracking should be complete around March 2017.
In mid-December the sixth stage of perforation was completed, and the fracking is scheduled to occur in February. The drilling provision in the special-use permit expires in November, at which point no additional wells can be drilled on the site.
Even though the wells are being perforated and fracked, Mona Gandy, Colleyville communications and marketing manager, said no natural gas is being harvested yet.
"No one, not the city nor private individuals, has received royalties on the wells at Pleasant Run Road because at this point no gas has been harvested," she said.
Any royalties the city receives in the future from drilling will go into the city's Tomorrow Fund, which helps pays for capital improvement projects. All funds received to date from signing bonuses from the lease signed with Atlas and shut-in royalties to keep the lease in effect have gone into the Tomorrow Fund. In 2011, Atlas predicted that once production began the city could receive as much as $229,588 in ad valorem taxes over a 15-year-period for each well.
"The price of natural gas has fluctuated dramatically since the leases were signed," Gandy said. "So the money the city or any other lease holder receives will depend on when the company actually starts harvesting gas and what the market price is at the time that gas is sold."
Between December 2009 and April 2010, the city of Grapevine approved special-use permits for four different gas well locations throughout the city.
Although Ireland did not have exact dates for when the last time Grapevine sites were drilled, he did state that it was more than a year ago and did not expect another drilling to take place soon.
"When a well is drilled it should produce for decades," he said. "However, 10 to 15 years later the energy company may go back and refracture or rework the well. Not all wells will be refractured."
In February 2011, Southlake City Council approved the city's first gas well site in a 5-2 vote. A special-use permit was issued to XTO Energy allowing it to drill up to 18 gas wells at 651 and 655 E. Highland St. on the Milner Ranch near
Hwy. 114. Pilar Schank, deputy director of communications for Southlake, said from the time of the approval, XTO had six months to request the necessary permits related to the approval, but never did.
"The city received a letter dated May 16, 2011, which stated XTO Energy was not going to propose construction activity or commence drilling operations," she said. "They asked for the return of all XTO bonds, road agreements and any other exhibits."
XTO company officials stated at the time that continuing with the project did not make financial sense because of Southlake's denial of XTO's request to drill up to 21 wells on property near Brumlow Avenue and SH 26 and the city of Keller rejecting two other proposed XTO sites.
Schank said since 2011, Southlake City Council has not approved any special-use permits for gas well sites.
When the earthquakes occurred there was speculation in the Dallas and Fort Worth communities and among media outlets that the cause was from fracking. Ireland said that although Irving does sit on the Barnett Shale there isn't actually any drilling or hydraulic fracturing taking place in the city.
"There is one existing natural gas well about 2 miles from the quakes' center, but it was drilled in 2009 and was shut-in, or closed down, in 2012 and has been inactive since," he said. "The closest well being drilled is at least 20 miles away in
He noted that a more likely explanation for the January earthquakes could be due to a natural cause: the Balcones Fault Zone—a set of faults running from Southwest Texas through North Texas—which has produced small earthquakes for years.
Although the amount of drilling in the Barnett Shale has declined because the price of natural gas is much lower than the price of crude oil, Ireland said the Barnett Shale still has a long way to go before the formation is out of natural gas.
"When the price goes down on natural gas, you will find fewer wells being drilled, and it will reduce the number of drills going," he said.
Ireland said drilling in the Barnett Shale will continue for years to come.
"The Barnett Shale is still having a huge, positive impact on our economy," he said. "I don't foresee drilling on the Barnett to stop anytime soon. Most of the wells in the Grapevine area were drilled between 2008 and 2012, so it will be at least another 40 or 50 years before they are done."