Water Well Fracking: Enhancement or Chicanery?

The term Hydraulic Fracturing (i web based task management.e. “fracking”) generates strong emotions and allegations of bias. Fracking works for petroleum extraction projects and results in more efficient production. However, petroleum resources are not managed sustainably; they are purposefully pumped to exhaustion and fracking aids the accomplishment of that economically.

Long before fracking came to be a media buzzword because of its widespread use in the petroleum industry, versions of the technology were used to enhance the yield of groundwater supply wells. Fundamentally differing from petroleum exploration, groundwater resources are developed and managed with the intention of long-term sustainability.

Air and water under pressure accomplish water well fracking by propagating and enhancing connectivity of fracked wells to water-bearing fractures. Pressure-fracking has been used for years to increase the apparent yield of low-capacity domestic supply wells completed in tight bedrock formations. Most commonly this is done to overcome regulatory minimum yield requirements for domestic supply wells. A well with a blown yield less than one gallon per minute might be fracked and found then to possess a yield slightly in excess of the minimum threshold for approvability.

Water well fracking long has been a tool in the toolbox of residential well drillers working in challenging bedrock terrain. Residential water well fracking possibly increases the long-term sustainable yield of the well. However, it also is possible that fracking only enhances the prospect for passage of the domestic yield evaluation criterion of the local regulatory authorities. Builders and homeowners typically do not care which it is; for residential wells knowledge of the answer is not worth the cost of its determination.

Many hydrogeologists including the President of Advanced Land and Water, Inc. had been skeptical regarding the capability for water well fracking to enhance the true long-term sustainable yield of a bedrock supply, particularly when it comes to municipal and other wells with high economic consequences of underperformance. For such wells, fracking often was seen as a “tricky” technique to overcome a regulatory standard more than as a means to achieve true, long-term capacity improvement. Fracking simply was not trusted by many in the hydrogeological profession as a means for enhancing the true, long-term sustainable yield of higher-capacity (i.e., non-residential) water supply wells.

Despite these considerable doubts, in the throes of the regional and severe drought of 2002 a Maryland municipality undertook a fracking approach to improve the long-term sustainable yield of a recently drilled and tested supply well. The program involved a classical 72-hour constant-rate test, a specialized fracking program (involving more pressure and more control than typically used on a domestic supply) and then a repeat pumping test of 60 days duration.

To the immense satisfaction of the benefiting municipality and to the surprise of the involved hydrogeological community, this municipal supply well demonstrated nearly a 50% improvement in yield. After a decade of operation, water withdrawal reports continue to reflect long-term well performance in excess of the pre-fracking 72-hour pumping test.

In September 2014, ALWI will present a talk at the annual Maryland Department of the Environmen groundwater symposium on the background, data, findings, interpretations and recommendations associated with that municipal water well fracking project. Surprising as it seems, in some circumstances water well fracking indeed may be a viable tool in the hydrogeological toolbox for the enhancement of the long-term sustainable capacity of municipal and other high-capacity bedrock water supply wells in Maryland and similar bedrock locations.

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