- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

RENO, Nev. (AP) - More than 2 miles beneath the surface of Nevada’s high desert, they’re cracking open rocks in search of oily wealth.

Fracking, it’s called, or hydraulic fracturing. And in Nevada, it’s new.

In a state world-famous as a gold producer, Houstonbased Noble Energy Inc. is looking deep underground to make big bucks from previously untappable oil deposits, spending up to $130 million to identify the possible rewards.

The venture is still in its early stages, with company representatives saying they have yet to assess the true potential, but word is out it could be significant.

So is concern by critics.

After Noble Energy for the first time in Nevada history employed the practice of hydraulic fracturing at an exploration well east of Elko in March, environmentalists, tribal members and other critics cite concern over threats to precious water supplies, impacts to a sensitive landscape and the potential that earthquakes could be triggered in one of the country’s most seismically active states.

Some insist state officials currently crafting new regulations to guide activities are overly influenced by the very industry they’re tasked with regulating.

Even the oil company’s representatives acknowledge they’re breaking new ground.

“What’s unique about Nevada is it really is a frontier area,” said Kevin Vorhaben, Rockies business unit manager for Noble Energy. “It’s a chance to get in and really do the right thing for oil and gas development. We’re excited to be in Nevada.”

Fracking, commonly used to tap oil and natural gas deposits elsewhere in the country, allows access to hydrocarbon resources otherwise unreachable by conventional drilling operations. The process involves injecting a pressurized solution of water, sand and chemicals into deep shale formations, fracturing the rock and allowing oil or gas to seep into the well and rise to the surface for extraction.

It allows for horizontal drilling deep underground, accessing more deposits than possible with a vertical well. Noble’s exploratory fracking will be limited to vertical wells but horizontal drilling could occur later.

Noble’s activities target a checkerboard of private and public land in northeastern Nevada generally located between Elko and Wells north and south of Interstate 80. Sixty-seven percent of the 580-plus square-mile area is privately owned, with the remaining public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM is currently processing environmental assessments for Noble to drill up to 20 wells at Mary’s River, 4 miles northwest of Wells and up to another 20 just west of Jiggs. Fracking would be used to complete all wells drilled.

The two exploratory wells already drilled, with fracking already conducted at one, are located on private land about 17 miles east of Elko.

“It went great. The job went exactly as planned,” Vorhaben said of Nevada’s first fracking operation, conducted in Elko County last month.

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