Kentucky and fracking

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According to the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, there are an estimated 6,000 shale gas wells producing between 50 and 70 billion cubic feet of gas annually in Kentucky. Many of the wells are located in the Big Sandy gas field of Floyd, Knott, Letcher, Martin, and Pike Counties.[1]


According to state regulators, the shales in Kentucky have more clay than most U.S. shales, discouraging hydrofracking in the state because water makes clay formations swell, inhibiting the release of gas. Therefore most Kentucky gas wells are drilled using pressurized air circulated through the drill pipe and hydraulic fracture stimulation of natural gas wells using liquid nitrogen as the main ingredient.[2]

Kentucky drillers use high-volume fracking, but more common are methods injecting nitrogen gas underground.[3]

By 2012 the state had produced 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.[2]


Shale gas production began in Kentucky in 1892 with the drilling of wells along Beaver Creek in Floyd county.[4]

The Devonian Big Sandy shale gas play extends through Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, and ranges from 1,600 to 6,000 feet deep, with a thickness of 50 to 300 feet. Nitrogen fracturing has been the most commonly used well stimulation method there since 1978. [4]

The Devonian-Mississippian New Albany Shale lies in the southeast Illinois Basin, encompassing Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. The New Albany has been a site for gas production for more than 100 years, but activity has increased with the development of new technologies for drilling. Wells are 250 to 2000 feet deep.

Drilling wells

Map of unconventional wells in Kentucky, FracTracker.

Water contamination

In May and July 2013, a worker for natural gas company Eagle Well Service in Eastern Kentucky claimed he dumped fracking wastewater into the Big Sandy River, under the orders of his bosses. The Big Sandy snakes through eastern Kentucky, acting as the natural divide between the state and West Virginia. When the state went out to investigate the claims they said they smelled strong petroleum and chloride odors in the area, and saw a sheen in the water. Kentucky regulators say the case is under investigation.[5]

2007 spill

A 2013 joint study from the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released found that a fracking fluid spill in Kentucky in 2007 likely caused the widespread death of several types of fish.

Kentucky-based oil and gas exploration company Nami Resources Company spilled fracking fluid from four well sites into the Acorn Fork Creek in southeastern Kentucky in May and June 2007. Not long after, nearly all the aquatic life in the area died, including at least two fish from a threatened species. Chemicals released during the spill included hydrochloric acid.

After studying samples of the water and bodies of green sunfish and creek chub, government researchers concluded the spill acidified the stream and increased concentrations of heavy metals including aluminum and iron. Fish exposed to the water developed gill lesions and showed signs of liver and spleen damage.[6][7]


Meet the Singing Anti-Fracking Nuns

The Bluegrass Pipeline—put forward as a joint venture by Williams Companies Inc. and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, LP—would carry an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 barrels a day of natural gas liquids from western Pennsylvania to Texas, running through 18 Kentucky counties. NGLSs ("wet" natural gas) include ethane, butane, propane, methane, and various solid chemicals, which would likely be shipped to overseas markets. Unless maintained under high pressure, the substances are highly flammable and explosive. Construction is expected to be completed by late 2015.[8]

Citizen activism

Legislative issues and regulations

List of fracking regulations in the state, Center for Energy Economics and Policy.
All oil and gas regulations in the state, Kentucky Legislature.

Citizen groups

Industry groups


2015 Fracking May Lead Decline Visitation in Public Parks

According to a study by researchers from the University of Florida, North Carolina State University, and Florida State University in August 2015, hydraulic fracturing in, or near, public park lands could prompt tourists to stay away. The study of 225 park users in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee found more than a third say they would be unwilling to participate in recreational activities near hydraulic fracturing.Fifty eight percent of the study's participants claim they would support legislation prohibiting fracking near their favorite park.[9]



  1. "Is there fracking in Kentucky?" Kentucky Waterways Alliance, accessed July 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kristin Tracz, "Hydraulic fracturing rare in Ky., but Appalachian Forum poses questions about regulation and pollution of gas drilling," Appalachian Transition, Feb 24, 2012.
  3. "Map: The Fracking Boom, State by State" By Zahra Hirji and Lisa Song, Inside Climate News, Jan 20, 2015.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Is there fracking in Kentucky?" Kentucky Waterways Alliance, accessed July 2013.
  5. Kristen Kennedy, "WKYT Investigates: Polluting the Big Sandy," WKYT, July 8, 2013.
  6. James Gerken, "Study Finds Fracking Fluid From 2007 Kentucky Spill May Have Killed Threatened Fish Species," The Huffington Post, Aug 28, 2013.
  7. "Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids Likely Harmed Threatened Kentucky Fish Species" USGS, August 28, 2013.
  8. Andrew Morris, "Fracked Gas Pipelines Planned for Ohio and Kentucky," EcoWatch, June 3, 2013.
  9. "Fracking may lead to decline in visitation in public parks" Tim Kellison, UF News, August 27, 2015.

Related SourceWatch articles

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