Geologist Responds To Fracking Presentation; Urges Understanding Facts, Not Hype

Joe Large, center, discusses the Madison Group of formations with Dr. Duncan Patten, left. Sun Times photo by Darryl L. Flowers

Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 1:21 PM CST
Madison Aquifer

Dr. Patten suggests that the Bakken (sappington) and 3 Forks Formations are sitting directly beneath the Madison Aquifer and fracturing the formation could contaminate the Madison Aquifer.

The Madison Aquifer exists in the top half of a 600 Ft. thick section of Rock known as the Mission Canyon Formation.  This formation is part of the “Madison Group” which also includes ~600’ of formation known as the Lodgepole Formation below the Mission Canyon Formation.  So all fracturing activity would be going on 1000’ below the aquifer, not “just below it.”

There are oil bearing members of the Mission Canyon Formation.  In certain places, the water from the aquifer  mingles with hydrocarbons naturally.

When the springs from the Madison Aquifer come to the surface they are often doing so through oil bearing formations like the Sunburst and Morris formation which are drilled for oil and gas in nearby Teton and Pondera Counties; however, the water also goes through hundreds and hundreds of feet of other sandstones, limestones and coal beds that filter the water producing the clean spring water that is used as a domestic supply.

Facking causes seismic activity

Dr. Patten says that fracking is related to seismic activity and loosely ties this in with tectonic movement and fissures in the ground.

Fracking DOES cause seismic activity, as does explosions for seismic readings.  Seismic activity is nothing more that the movement of energy through the ground in the form of compressional waves and should not be confused with fault movement or creation.

Underground mining, cars driving down the road, people running through a park, buildings being blown up,  all generate seismic activity.  Not even underground nuclear explosions have the power to create new faults in the ground.  It takes a level of compressional force that human beings are not capable of creating yet.

According to professor Mark Zoback of Stanford University, seismic magnitudes causes by hydraulic fracking have been measured at -4.5 to -1 which is equivalent to “a gallon of milk falling off a kitchen counter.”

Contents of fracking fluid

Professor Patten states, “We don’t know what is in fracking fluid.”

Completely untrue.  On any site where hydraulic fracturing is taking place there are by law MSDS sheets that state every single chemical on site and what its properties and dangers are.

What is not publically stated is the blend of these contents in the fluid; the contents however, are not some super secret.

Lack of knowledge on the topic

Aside from a 15 minute introduction to hydraulic fracturing that could have been found by typing fracking into youtube,  he seemed to have little knowledge on the topic he was speaking of.

Showed multiple photos of activity on a fracking job and stated he had no idea what was going on.

Pointed at a “frack tank” with his laser and said he did not know what it was for but he imagined it was for holding some sort of fluid.

Made comments like, “I do not know exactly what is going on here but it looks pretty loud and disruptive.”

When asked if in the almost 8 years of high levels of hydraulic fracturing that has been going on in western North Dakota there has been even one case of the contamination, pollution or environmental impacts he talks about, he replied that he did not know, that he has not studied that area.

Fear Tactics

When possible he would use “half truths” or misrepresentations of the truth.

He evoked the high profile EPA study done in Dimock, Pennsylvania admitting that the study found no evidence of fluid contamination but that the study did find “Methane in many of the water wells near the drilling sites.”   What he failed to mention was that the study also mentions that there is a history of methane in the well water of that area for the entire history of wells being drilled there, predating hydraulic fracturing by almost 200 years.

He repeatedly made the statement, “Is there any proof of this?  No not yet, but who knows?  Do you want to take the chance?”

Professor Patten shows a picture of a tractor trailer laying on its side in a road and makes statements suggesting that this would be a form of pollution associated only with oilfield activity.  Nothing in the picture distinguished what the contents of the truck were or what its purpose before the accident was i.e. bringing gas to a gas station, water to a cistern somewhere, milk from a dairy.  He left it up to the observer to attached whatever significance they felt appropriate.

He made gross misrepresentations of the Madison Aquifer, its location relative to the Bakken and Three forks formations as well as to hydrocarbon deposits that exist in the same formation.

He brought up a picture of the “Welcome to Sidney, Montana” sign with notes underneath suggesting that with the coming of the oil field came also strip joints, prostitution and drugs.  Professor Patten need only go 10 blocks south of the Paris Gibson Square or 20 miles west of the town he teaches in to find strip joints, but he will find none in Sidney if he honestly cared about the accuracy of his statements enough to look.


People should always be concerned with happenings within their communities.  Especially with new activity or industries to an area.

There will be hurdles to overcome if oilfield activity picks up along the front;  issues with housing, transportation, road conditions, possible fresh water and environmental impacts.

None of these issues are new or a surprise.  They have existed and been overcome in thousands of small towns in dozens of states around the country and even the world.  State and local governments will work with the companies to insure that the process is as safe and low impact as possible.  Community members should be involved with the process as well and being involved first and foremost means becoming educated about the industry and the process.  Learn to recognize fear mongering and propaganda from both sides.  Come to a question with an open mind and listen to both sides of an issue, ask lots of questions and then make up your own mind.

Joe Large, President of RPM Geologic since August of 2010, has a Bachelor’s of Science in Geosciences from Virginia Tech.

He has been working in the Williston Basin since February of 2005 for companies that include Marathon Oil, Hess, Bill Barrett, Anschutz Exploration, Samson Oil and Gas, Samson Resources, Oasis Petroleum, Whiting Petroleum, and Panther Energy.

The opinions expressed by Mr. Large are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Sun Times


Author: montanaoilreport

After my first job at a newspaper -- delivering papers for the Jackson (TN) Sun, ink was in my veins. Since the 1970's I've worked in every area of the Printing and Publishing industry, with most of that time spent in the pressroom. In 2008 I moved to Montana and purchased the Sun Times of Fairfield ( In 2011 I realized that most media outlets were either ignoring, or attacking, the growing oil and gas industry in Montana, so I started the Montana Oil Report as the source of information on this important industry.

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