Why isn’t anyone talking about fracking?

May 18, 2011 at 12:22 pm 3 comments

Fracking. For me, the word first conjured up images of late-night computer science study sessions and high-tech terminology.  I learned quickly that this is far from the meaning of Fracking. The term is actually an abbreviation for Hydraulic Fracturing, a method of natural gas extraction that uses deep well drilling and chemicals to pressure fracture rock in order to enable natural gas flow.

A very simple diagram of Fracking. Click on the above link for an interactive view.

The process is, of course, complicated, but here is a simplified version. First, water, sand and additives (chemicals) are pumped at an extremely high pressure down a wellbore. This is shot out from openings in the wellbore into the shale or other rock. The shale cracks to release the natural gas and it flows upwards. The sand and additives keep the fissures open.  The natural gas comes up to the surface in water and it must be separated.  The left over water is then sent to treatment facilities but only about 30-50% is fully recovered.

Map of Hyrdaulic Fracturing in the U.S.

image credit: biolargo.blogspot.com

For an interactive map of fracking in the US click here.

The concern around Fracking comes from the probable contamination of the water table, as well as the evaporation of the waste water before it is treated. The wells used for fracking are found at around 8,000 feet below the ground whereas the water table is found much closer to the surface, anywhere between 1,000 or 8 feet below the surface, depending on the area. As the chemicals rise to the surface, they pass through the water table.  The chemicals have the opportunity to escape into the ground water at this point.   Since a 2005 Energy Bill made hydraulic fracturing companies exempt from having to disclose the chemicals they used in the process, this fact can be disconcerting.  This is commonly known as the “Halliburton Loophole”.

Many companies label their additives by function and not by naming the actual compound.

image credit: http://raleighpublicrecord.org/fracking-2/2012/04/23/section-4-part-one-chemical-questions/

The other concern is while the waste water with natural gas is waiting to be separated, it is left in an open pool where it is free to be evaporated and enter the water cycle. The chemicals used during the process can be taken up with water vapor and then can be transported long distance before falling as rain. Only some of the water can be treated and recovered, which begs the question, where is the water left untreated going?

image credit: buildaroo.com

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency is starting up an extensive investigation of the safety issues around Fracking.  Together with the Science Advisory Board, they are looking into the impact it has on drinking water as well as various other resources.  The study is scheduled to start in 2012 and have results available by 2014. Read more about the EPA’s involvement here.  Legislation in Texas and even France has been popping up as well. The Post Carbon Institute has a lengthy, but comprehensive report that you can find here.

So back to our original question: Why isn’t anyone talking about fracking? The media buzz around Fracking is increasing lately as word spreads about it’s probable environmental concerns.  We might not have fracking in our backyards here in Wisconsin, but it’s important to pay attention to what goes on in other states, as it may be a precursor to developments here. We are hearing that natural gas will stabilize our economy and solve our foreign energy dilemma all in one, but it’s important to look at the issue from all sides and decide for yourself where you stand.


Entry filed under: community, consequences, conservation, consumption, environmental disaster, fracking, other, Toxins, waste, water.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. No Fracking! | Corralea Activity Centre Ltd.  |  August 9, 2011 at 8:50 am

    […] What is “fracking”? […]

  • 2. Jasmin Wall  |  August 31, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Bio-Fuel-Cell Dumps could be an alternative source of gases, which would save the companies more money, save our environment, prevent land-fill explosions & hence also save lives. It’s win-win, unlike the method described above. Yield is excellent.

  • 3. David Baker  |  December 3, 2012 at 9:13 am

    One of the big problems is trying to get help when there is a problem or who to call. I have been working in circles trying to get help with a mud blow out and there is no one to go to other than the gas comp-any itself. No watchdog to contact?


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