Fracking may be coming to the Chihuahua border, Mexican officials say
By Diana Washington Valdez / El Paso Times
POSTED: 08/17/2014 07:31:13 PM MDT
Mexico energy officials said Chihuahua and three other northern border states are ripe for fracking, a controversial and widespread method that is used to extract shale gas and oil from the ground.
Pemex (Petroleos Mexicanos), the state-owned oil company, previously identified Tamaulipas, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, in addition to Chihuahua, as the states where fracking could be used to obtain new energy sources. The other Mexican states officials identified are Puebla, Oaxaca and Veracruz.
Mexican officials said Pemex has drilled nearly 30 exploratory wells along the border with Texas, near Ojinaga and Presidio. In Texas, fracking is taking place in the Eagle Ford oil field that straddles the border with Mexico.
According to the Texas Railroad Commission, the oil and shale gas field is about 50 miles wide and 400 miles long and has an average thickness of 250 feet. Eagle Ford is a rich energy source that is responsible for creating new jobs in Texas.
Fracking refers to hydraulic fracturing, or the use of water pressure to create fractures in rock that allows the oil and natural gas to escape and flow out of a well, according to www.energyfromshale.org, an industry-sponsored site.
Critics say the process requires huge amounts of water and may be linked to spikes in small earthquakes.
Aaron Velasco, a professor with UTEP’s Department of Geological Sciences and an expert on earthquakes and volcanoes, said not enough is known about the effects of fracking to be able to link this method to earthquakes that are big enough to cause serious damage or injury.
“Earthquakes can be caused naturally or by activities that induce seismic activity,” Velasco said. “For example, you can have an earthquake when building a dam and have a large body of water sitting on top of the ground. You can have mild seismic activity from extracting substances from the ground or pumping fluids into the ground.
“Whenever you inject fluids into the ground, this can weaken faults and you see seismic activity,” he said. “But, we have not had a major earthquake resulting from building a new dam or fracking. It is just too soon to tell whether fracking will ever lead to a major earthquake.”
Velasco has finished a field study of seismic activity in Chihuahua state with counterparts at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez (UACJ), including geosciences professor Oscar Dena Ornelas.
Ornelas said previously exploratory studies indicate that there is a band between Juárez and Ojinaga that probably contains a great deal of shale gas. He said environmental studies should be conducted to determine how fracking may affect the regional ecology.
A study by Cornell University researchers published in July in the Science journal says, “Sharp increase in central Oklahoma seismicity since 2008 induced by massive wastewater injection,” alleges that spikes in earthquake activity in Oklahoma may be linked to wastewater injection wells. The wells are used to dispose of the water and chemical solution that was injected into the ground to extract oil and gas.
The study said similar links involving mild earthquakes are suspected in Texas, Arkansas and Ohio.
Foes of fracking came together in Mexico with the Mexican Alliance Against Fracking (www.nofrackingmexico.org), an organization that compiled more than 10,000 signatures against fracking. The petition failed to persuade Mexican federal legislators last month from forbidding this method of obtaining oil and gas under Mexico’s energy reforms. The group noted that Germany and France have banned fracking.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (www.eia.gov/), the Mexican government approved constitutional reforms last year that ended the 75-year monopoly of the Pemex state-owned oil company.
The reforms will allow foreign companies to invest in oil and gas production and development at a profit, and petroleum giants such as Exxon, Shell and Chevron are lining up to offer their services and expertise.
Mexico’s inability to modernize its Pemex facilities led to the reforms that opened its energy sector to foreign investors. Although Mexico is one of the top 10 oil producing countries in the world, its declining production was requiring it to import greater quantities of oil and natural gas, the EIA reported.
Last year, the EIA reported that the United States, China, Argentina, Algeria, Canada and Mexico account for nearly two-thirds of the known recoverable shale gas in the world.
No timeline exists yet for when fracking could begin in earnest in Chihuahua and the other Mexican border states.
Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6140′ @eptimesdiana.