Fracking Discussion Held at University of Nevada - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Fracking Discussion Held at University of Nevada

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Fracking is a common method used to pull oil out of the ground, but it's causing quite the debate here in Nevada.

Some anti-fracking groups say it's unsafe for drinking water and could cause earthquakes. 

On Wednesday, there was a big turnout at the University of Nevada for a discussion to talk about the possible environmental impacts. Two professors gave presentations on whether fracking could put Nevada at risk environmentally and seismologically.

"It's new territory, a new issue for Nevada" said Dr. Glenn Miller, a professor with the University of Nevada Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science. "So, I think we should all keep aware of what's going on."

Fracking is a technique where a specially-blended liquid is pumped into a well thousands of feet below the earth's surface, causing cracks in rock formations under extreme pressure. Those cracks then allow the oil and natural gas to flow up, increasing oil production.

Noble Energy is the first oil company to start fracking in Nevada. They started the process in Elko County about a month ago.

Dawn Harris with Frack Free Nevada has been against the practice because she says many chemicals are used and it could affect the environment.

"They drill through aquifers," she said. "There's been known problems with well water being contaminated. It has been known to contaminate air.

She's been trying to spread awareness about the issue, including at Wednesday's event.

"It's such a complex issue that we really need to be asking questions and joining together in the conversation to determine the best course of action for Nevada, for our safety, for the safety of our environment, and our water," she said.

Harris talked about how dry the Silver State has been.

"I don't think we can spare the millions of gallons of water that are needed to crack a single well a single time," she said.

Dr. Miller has been looking at the issue on a national level. 

"Certainly, nationwide, the biggest issue is how to deal with all the water that comes back up that's really heavily-contaminated," he said. "Another issue we've been looking at seriously is what does natural gas do when it leaks and comes up through drinking water and aquifers, and basically, destroys the drinking water quality."

We then asked Dr. Miller if there was a clear-cut risk with fracking in Nevada.

"Perhaps, not in Nevada," he said. "Because my understanding is there's not much natural gas that would come up these wells. It certainly is a big issue in Texas, Pennsylvania and other places where there's a lot of natural gas associated with fracking."

Dr. David von Seggern, University of Nevada Emeritus with the Nevada Seismological Laboratory, has been looking at the possible seismological impact. He used statistics from an earthquake in Oklahoma back in 2011. He says he hasn't seen a link to more quakes from the initial fracking process.

"That hasn't shown to be a problem, even though, we've had one million wells fracked in the United States," he said.

But, he says it was connected to the injection process.

"It's when they take the fluids back out, and they pump them down these injection wells. So, they're taking fluids from many, many, many fracked wells and put it all in one place under tremendous pressure, tremendous volume and that's where we get possible earthquakes from these injection wells."

He's concerned about what kind of pressure can cause an earthquake.

"The problem is, we don't have any thresholds that we can say to these injection well operators, 'This is the threshold you can't go over.' There's no constraints like that now."

But, he wanted to stress one thing for people getting involved in the discussion.

"I want people not to panic over fracking in Nevada. I think it's an industry that possibly is coming, maybe not. I emphasize, this is not a high oil and gas potential state. We do have a lot of other things to worry about like (environmental impacts of) mining... We'll certainly monitor what's happening, and we'll press for some meaningful regulations on fracking, but it's not an issue we need to panic about."

The Nevada Division of Minerals has held meetings about strengthening fracking regulations in the Silver State to comply with legislation passed last year. They include water sampling of any well within a mile of an oil well before and after a fracturing event. Harris says more still needs to be done to regulate fracking.

"I would like an unbiased third party to create the program and to look at the peer-reviewed scientific data that shows what's going on with fracking in other states," she said.

We got a hold of Noble Energy Wednesday evening to see what they had to say about the discussion at the University of Nevada. We have not heard back from them yet. Once we do, we'll let you know what they say.

Frack Free Nevada is holding another workshop at the University of Nevada later this month:
Fracking, Ethics & Social Justice - Wednesday, April 30th from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Knowledge Center rotunda.

To see the proposed regulations on fracking:


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