Archive for the ‘hydraulic fracturing’ Tag

Fracking Paranoia   2 comments

Hydraulic fracturing has been around for more than 60 years. Despite that length of time, fracking has received much negative attention due to misreporting and dramatic exaggerations. Much of the public’s concern over hydraulic fracturing has been over the possibility of contaminated drinking water, the chemicals used in fracking, the potential to create earthquakes, and waste-water management. Such concerns do not take into account the federal and state laws and regulations that address these very issues. So, let’s look at the myths and the facts.

Myth #1: Hydraulic fracturing threatens underground water sources and has led to the contamination of drinking water.

FACT: Hydraulic fracturing is subject to both federal and state regulations. There have been NO instances of fracking causing contamination of drinking water.

Groundwater aquifers sit thousands of feet above the level at which fracking takes place, and companies construct wells with steel-surface casings and cement barriers to prevent gas migration. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Groundwater Protection Council, and independent agencies have found no evidence of groundwater contamination. In May 2011, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that “I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water although there are investigations ongoing.” Three of those investigations are in Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania, and thus far the EPA has found no evidence of contamination.

Although previous EPA analysis of hydraulic fracturing found the process to be safe, the EPA has announced plans to publish a full study that demonstrates a lack of safety. The non-profit technology research and development organization Battell analyzed the EPA’s “Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources” and highlighted concerns, including cherry-picked data, lack of peer review, poor quality control, and a lack of transparency.  Wow, I’m so surprised that the EPA is involved in this. Aren’t you?

Myth #2: The chemicals used in the fracking process are foreign chemicals that industry hides from the public.

FACT: Fracking fluid, which is primarily sand and water, uses a small percentage of chemicasl that have common household applications and are regulated by the states and federal government.

The fluid used in hydraulic fracturing is 99.5 percent water and sand. The 0.5 percent of additives (typically between three and 12 different chemicals) depends on the composition of the shale formation that varies by region and by well. The combination of additives function to dissolve minerals, prevent bacteria growth and pipe corrosion, minimize friction, and keep the fractures open or propped up. All chemicals used in the fracking process have common applications from swimming-pool cleaners and laundry detergents to cosmetics, and even ice cream (that one is polypropolene glycol which is also used as an anti-freeze agent in home heating distribution pipes). None of these chemicals is hidden from the public, and federal law stipulates that a company must provide detailed chemical information sheets (MSDS) to emergency personnel in case of an accident. While states that have hydraulic fracturing laws have their own stipulations for chemical disclosure, the U.S. Department of Energy, in collaboration with the Groundwater Protection Council and industry, created the website  The site provides a full list of chemicals used in the fracking process and companies voluntarily disclose the chemical makeup for specific wells across the country. FracFocus allows users to search wells by operator, state, and county.

Myth #3: Waste-water from hydraulic fracturing is dangerous and unregulated.

FACT: Companies mostly recycle the “waste” from hydraulic fracturing, but they also dispose of waste-water using many different methods, all of which are compliant with existing federal and state laws.

Companies typically use around 4 million gallons of water to fracture a well. That’s about what a golf course in Texas uses in a week. I’m not saying the Texas golf courses aren’t wasting water. It’s just a comparison, since millions of gallons is hard to envision. Fracking companies use water from lakes, rivers, or municipal supplies. Much of that water remains in the ground; about 15-20% of the water returns to the surface by flowing back through the well head. The flowback water contains the chemicals used in the fracking process and can also collect other naturally harmful substances in the ground. This water is never used for drinking and the disposal is subject to federal and state regulations. States have different regulations for disposal, and companies employ a variety of methods including temporary storage of waste-water in steel tanks or contained pits. More companies are recycling or reusing the flowback water because it makes both economic and environmental sense. Other disposal methods include storing waste-water underground in injection wells that states regulate individually, and the EPA regulates under the Safe Water Drinking Act. The demand for waste-water disposal and recycling is creating opportunities for new companies with emerging technologies to treat waste-water.

There have been concerns that treating waste-water at sewage treatment plants that discharge into rivers supplying drinking water would contaminate drinking water with radioactive material. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection found levels of radioactivity well within federal and state standards. Norm Zellers, manager of the Sunbury Generation treatment facility in Synder County, Pennsylvania, emphasized that “[y]ou can have more radioactivity on a bunch of bananas in the store or on a granite countertop.” Waste-water management is another aspect of the fracking process that has been well regulated by existing federal and state laws, and the increased demand for waste-water treatment has driven the process to be cleaner and cheaper.

Myth #4: Fracking causes earthquakes.

FACT: The fracking process itself does not cause earthquakes. In rare instances, the use of underground injection wells has caused tremors. Induced seismic activity from underground energy activities is not a new phenomenon and has been closely monitored by the Department of Energy.

After a series of small earthquakes that range from 2.1 to 4.0 on the Richter scale in Ohio and Arkansas near oil and gas sites, many have raised concerns about future tremors resulting from hydraulic fracturing, but the fracking process itself did not cause these earthquakes. The use of injection wells, an efficient and cost-effective way to dispose of briny waste-water, produced the seismic activity. Instances of seismic activity are rare; out of 30,000 injection wells, there have only been eight events of induced seismic activity—none of which caused significant property damage or injury. Fairbanks Alaska experiences between 50-100 earthquakes a WEEK in that range. Most of us hardly notice a quake of less than Magnitude 4. Induced seismicity does not occur only from oil and gas extraction. A recent National Research Council study highlights the fact that geothermal activities (capturing and using heat stored in the earth’s core) have caused relatively small earthquakes (some felt, some not) at more frequent rates from far fewer projects. The study also warns that continuously injecting carbon dioxide at high pressures (carbon capture and sequestration from coal plants) could induce earthquakes of higher magnitudes.

Seismic activity as a result of underground activity is also not a new phenomenon. The U.S. Department of Energy has been observing and monitoring induced seismic activity from energy-related activities since the 1930s. While companies that induce seismic activity should be liable for any damage they cause, calls for bans of hydraulic fracturing or the use of underground injection wells are unfounded.

So, despite the paranoia in some sectors of the population concerning hydraulic fracturing, there is really no more risk associated with the process than there is with any other resource-extraction process.



Fracking Jobs   Leave a comment

Natural gas is already a critical part of America’s energy portfolio and consequently a critical part of the country’s economic growth. It provides over 25% of electricity generation, but it also provides feedstock for fertilizers, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, waste treatment, and food processing. It is the largest energy source for home heating and fuels industrial boilers.  The abundance of shale gas brings the possibility of low, stable prices. North America has approximately 4.2 quadrillion (4,244 trillion) cubic feet of recoverable natural gas that would supply 175 years worth of natural gas at current consumption rates. Further, the National Petroleum Council estimates that fracking will allow 60-80% of all traditionally-drilled wells during the next 10 years to remain viable.

The abundance of natural gas makes the United States an attractive place to do business for energy-intensive industries. Royal Dutch Shell recently announced plans to build a petrochemical plant in western Pennsylvania, cited the proximity to natural gas production as the reason for the location. The $2 billion plant will create 10,000 construction jobs and thousands of permanent jobs for Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Shuttered steel towns like Youngstown, Ohio (where pipe and tube producer, V&M Star, is building a factory to manufacture seamless piples for hydraulic fracturing), are seeing a re-emergence of manufacturing employment opportunities. That one factory will employ 350 people.

I have a special interest in North Dakota because my mom is from there and I still have distant relatives living there. The average worker in the oil and gas sector in the Bakkan oil and gas fields earns more than $90,000 a year — a sum so large that it’s pushed up incomes in non-oil sectors. The overwhelming majority of these oil jobs require a high school degree or less. The oil and gas workforce in North Dakota has increased from 5,000 in 2005 to more than 30,000 today.  North Dakota recently approved a budget that increased 12% over the previous two-year cycle.

So what’s the problem? Is there really one?

Why Fear Fracking?   Leave a comment

While Americans continue to be disappointed by dismal jobs reports and a high unemployment rate, one of the few bright spots in the U.S. economy has been energy production, particularly the shale oil and shale gas revolution. It is estimated consumers saved about $100 billion from the reduction of natural gas prices due to shale gas production in 2010 alone. The technological one-two punch of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has created a remarkable energy boom resulting in hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S. The possibility of continuously low natural gas prices is turning the United States into a prime destination for chemical companies and other businesses that rely on abundant amounts of natural gas. While the energy development has been substantially positive, the process of hydraulic fracturing has come under scrutiny over concerns about contamination of drinking water, the use of chemicals, wastewater management, and the potential for causing earthquakes.

Let me preface this discussion with an acknowledgement. I am not a petroleum engineer. What I present here is from literature. However, I did ask a petroleum engineer if I was basically correct. Go figure that an Alaskan would know a petroleum engineer or a dozen.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking”, is a process whereby producers inject a fluid consisting of water, sand, and chemical additives deep into the ground in order to free resources, including oil, natural gas, geothermal energy, and even water trapped in deep rock formations. With respect to shale gas (natural gas lodged in shale rock formations), producers drill wells that are on average 7,500 feet below the surface. Drinking water aquifers are typically are less than 3000 feet below the surface. After a company completes the well drilling, it then “fracks” the rock formation at high pressures that extend for several hundred feet away from the gas well. This process takes between three and five days, at which point the well will produce natural gas for 20 years to 50 years, or longer. After the drilling, the company also restores the land with soil and new vegetation, leaving only the wellhead and collection tanks. Some of the fracking fluid rises to the surface through steel-cased well bores and is temporarily stored in lined pits or steel tanks. Companies then recycle and reuse the wastewater or store it in an injection well deep underground.

Used in over one million wells in the United States for more than 60 years, fracking has been successfully used to retrieve more than 7 billion barrels of oil and over 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Just one trillion cubic feet of natural gas is enough to heat 15 million homes for one year. The development of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has increased access to proven reserves for oil and natural gas in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming.

Although geologists and energy companies have long been aware of the shale oil and shale gas reserves, the technological advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are helping some regions of the country extract those resources and buck the economic downturn. In North Dakota, 4,600 wells produced 7.5 million barrels of crude oil in December 2009. In January 2012, North Dakota had 6,600 wells pumping out 16.9 million barrels of oil. In Pennsylvania, natural gas production more than quadrupled between 2009 and 2011. The oil and gas boom has created work for geologists, engineers, rig workers, truck drivers, and pipe welders. That also means a higher demand for restaurants, repair shops, hardware stores, hotels, and laundromats in those areas. Energy production could be a catalyst of economic revitalization across the country, and the fracking process will be essential for the development of America’s future oil and gas production.

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