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Hydraulic Fracturing Risks

Hydraulic Fracturing Risks

Since originally posted on December 3rd, 2011, Scientific American recently uncovered environmental damage along with economic prosperity in North Dakota’s fracking operation.

I just attended a talk by Marc McCord, who has a blog, FracDallas, criticizing the “fracking” process for mining oil and gas.  Hydraulic fracturing is now used to draw oil and natural gas from deep in the earth.  The driller injects millions of gallons of fresh water, spiked with sand and a brew of chemicals into a column he’s drilled.  The mother column goes thousands of feet down, with many horizontal columns splintering from it deep within the earth.  The frac water is forced down under pressures intense enough to break apart the rock layers where the natural gas rests so it will flow through the driller’s column up to the surface and into the driller’s distribution pipes.

The rock layers would naturally collapse back to their accustomed resting places once the enormous pressure from the injected fracturing fluid was removed.  To prevent that, the fracking water contains sand and chemicals which help make the cracks and keep them open.  Fracked natural gas and liquid hydrocarbons flow through pores in the sand and go up to the land’s surface for collection.  There have been hundreds of such “frac” wells drilled in the Barnett shale formation in the Dallas-Forth Worth metropolitan area and many thousands elsewhere in the United States.

According to McCord, over 944 toxic, carcinogenic and hazardous chemicals are used in the “fracking” water brews.  The oil industry has told the public that fracking is safe, that none of the frac chemicals are released into the neighborhood’s air or water, and that fracking will not do lasting harm to the environment.

The industry narrative is convincingly challenged by some of the millions of Americans who have signed leases allowing drilling on their land for oil and natural gas.  The lead article in the Friday, December 2, 2011 New York Times headlined, “Learning Too Late of Perils in Gas Well Leases,” detail many land owners’ and bystanders’ unfortunate experiences. That story is available at Common sense also tells us that bad things will happen to land, air and groundwater when drillers use billions of gallons of poison-burdened water, both when seeking gas and when disposing of the polluted waste water by again forcing it down deep into the earth.

Fracking wells each use millions of gallons of fresh water, at a time when there are serious droughts in Texas and elsewhere.  McCord points out that the sand that is used in fracking has to be cleaned with water before it can be injected into wells, and that sand cleaning uses even more water than the frack drilling itself. In sum, hydraulic fracturing consumes scarce resources and pollutes in what we have been sold as a necessary effort to get “energy independence.”

There is no free lunch, and the premise of this blog is that reducing our collective consumption of hydrocarbons and other scarce natural resources is inevitable, and reducing consumption is desirable sooner rather than later.  The picture of continuous growth that industry and politicians have sold to the public is deeply flawed, and fracking is an illustration of the destructive measures we have accepted. Our almost-unchallenged public policy is to maintain America’s high level of energy consumption on this finite planet.  I say that Earth that does not have a rule book saying that continuous growth of Gross National Product must or can be sustained, and I advocate that  more of us accept that very soon.

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Comments (2)

  1. jeannene Sunday - 11 / 12 / 2011
    Kenedy, Texas, is in the middle of the Eagle Ford Shale....a lot of drilling is going on in our area....the economic development with employment, land that has been leased, oil and gas wells that have made many farmers very wealthy over night....all city lots and land have also been leased. It has been a blessing for our Karnes county. However, the price that will be paid many years later, who knows. We do worry about our water systems, etc. However, jobs are many here. Housing is not available.... the fracking process is going on strong in our area

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