Tuesday, July 30, 2013


The first thing to understand about fracking is that it is the latest cause of the silly people in Hollywood most of whom know nothing about fracking.  Hollywood gave an Oscar to “Gasland” a movie starring Matt Damon that purports to show how fracking destroys our drinking water while rewarding the oil companies.  Another documentary “Fracknation” offered a rebuttal and less emotional response to “Gasland” but was generally ignored.  The Director of “Gasland” Josh Fox refused to discuss “Fracknation” or the fact that environmental officials concluded that the pollution shown in “Gasland” had nothing to do with fracking.  Nevertheless the hue and cry against fracking continues but it doesn’t seem to rest on facts as much as a belief that it destructive to the surface environment. 
Fracking is a short term used for “hydraulic fracturing”.  This is a process where water mixed with sand and various chemicals are injected into a gas or oil producing geological formation under high pressure to fracture the rock to release the gas / oil trapped there.  This process has rejuvenated old oil wells and is helping to release America from its dependence on foreign oil.  However, most of the fracking is used to release natural gas, a resource the US has in abundance so it really has little impact of oil imports.  On close inspection it seems the opponents of fracking are mostly focused on the environmental issues not caused by fracking but caused by ancillary issues. 
The fracking process does bring additional industrial activity into communities.  In some cases this requires clearing land, building roads, preparing new well sites, casing the well, etc.  The process itself requires water and materials to be trucked into the site and the toxic waste to be trucked away.  These are the things the opponents to fracking focus on but it should be noted that these well sites are not in the middle of urban areas, they are not located on some pristine beachfront or a local neighborhood, but generally are located in remote locations.  Many times the well sites are pre-existing and are being rejuvenated through fracking.  The position of the environmentalists that fracking is turning our communities into “sacrifice zones” is overstated and even misleading, especially the claims that fracking is polluting our drinking water.   The irony is that the anti-fracking lobby doesn’t seem to have any real scientific basis but rests entirely on anecdotal data.  The oil and gas producing strata lie thousands of feet below the water table and fracking has no impact.
Actually the Department of Energy released a federal study on fracking in 2013.  This report states they found no evidence that chemicals from the drilling process moved up to contaminate drinking water aquifers  This test lasted a year and the researchers found that the chemical laced fluids used in fracking stayed thousands of feet below the shallower areas  that supply drinking water.. This study lasted a year and the study is ongoing, but these preliminary results are the first independent look at whether the toxic chemicals used in fracking pose a threat to people during normal drilling operations.  The DOE does not view these early results as a final answer but they do bear out claims made by the companies using this process.
This test used drilling fluids tagged with unique markers were injected into the strata more than 8000 feet below the surface.  A common depth for oil and gas wells.  These tagged fluids were not detected in the monitoring zone which was at 5000 feet below the surface and well below the aquifer used for drinking water.  The researchers also tracked the maximum extent of the fractures made from the process and these were at least 6000 feet below the surface.  This means the potentially hazardous fluids stayed a mile or more away from drinking water supply which usually are no deeper than 500 feet.
The debate over fracking has received a great deal of attention from state and federal authorities mostly driven by environmentalists who have focused on the chemicals used in the process.  But the experts have concluded that if there is any danger from fracking it is more likely to be from poor well construction or other human failures.  Nevertheless there are other issues which still must be explored such as; chemical spills, waste water disposal, or escaping gas.  Still the independent researchers at Duke University concluded that most of the problems associated with fracking have been related to well construction not the chemicals used in the process.
It is important to note that these results are preliminary and the tests were conducted in one area in Pennsylvania but geological structures vary widely across the country.  More tests must be conducted but these early results tend to show that the process itself does not pollute the drinking water.

1 comment:

Mark Read Pickens said...

A friend of mine once made a distinction between "ecologist" and "environmentalist," an ecologist being a scientist who studies the environment, and an environmentalist being an anti-scientific airhead.

At the time, I thought the characterization a bit harsh, but over time it's making more and more sense to me.

I do have to quarrel with the term "dependence on foreign oil," however, because that's a silly way to look at it.

We're not talking about charity, where the giver can, on a whim, stop giving. We're talking about exchange. We don't need their oil any more than they need our money.

Mark Read Pickens