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Hydraulic Fracturing

He was upset! He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t buying everything he was saying. He was so convinced that fracking was altogether bad for public health and I simply wasn’t convinced. Why? Because I didn’t have an opinion one way or another. I hadn’t yet done my own research. Of course, our little Facebook chat got me curious, which is why I started doing my own homework that very day. I looked at every side of the issue, and, in time, I came to form my own perspective on the matter. Needless to say, I am still learning and am willing to change my view if and when the right evidence is presented. With that said, I am convinced that if someone will take the time to study the facts about fracking, will research the composition of the various ingredients involved in the procedure, and will consider the legitimate solutions and innovations that are already in place to prevent harm to the public and the environment, they will find that it is not a danger as they have been told.

hydraulic-fracturing-diagram-678x678First, for the sake of clarity, let’s define our terms: “Fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – involves drilling an L-shaped well thousands of feet beneath the earth’s surface and blasting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into it to create fractures in shale rock formations to release the natural gas trapped inside” (Burrows 4). Now, as you can probably imagine, fracking has both friends and enemies; I’m sure you would agree that anything related to oil and the environment tends to bring out the “best” in people. On the one hand, those who support it, laud it as a key to energy independence, an improved job market, and an economic shot in the arm for America. On the other hand, anti-natural gas activists are concerned that fracking causes groundwater contamination and cancer. There are even some who blame fracking for causing earthquakes – an assumption that has been squarely refuted by Professor Richard Davies with the Durham Energy Institute of Durham University (“The Study”).

Unfortunately, since most people do not research this topic enough to know what is true and what isn’t, the fear factor from the environmental activists is very powerful in swaying the uninformed mind. Plus, when Hollywood superstars like Matt Damon make comments and produce movies that oppose fracking, it is hard for some people to resist the message (Klimas). However, the moment anyone decides to dig deeper, below the surface, they find that not only are there two sides to those environmental concerns but that those concerns are overblown and oftentimes false. For instance, Dr. Vikram Rao, executive director of the Research Triangle Energy Consortium and author of Shale Gas: The Promise and the Peril, says the concern over methane intrusions into drinking water is unfounded since baseline testing of the water prior to drilling has not been done to prove that the water wasn’t already tainted beforehand (Kokai) – this has been confirmed by the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, which has stated that “The lack of baseline studies in areas of shale gas development makes it difficult to evaluate the long term, cumulative effects and risks associated with hydraulic fracturing” (“New Study”). Also, in the case of Dimock, Pennsylvania, while many environmentalists have complained of water pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a letter to Dimock residents made it very clear that fracking is not the problem (Markay), a conclusion that has been echoed by the American Association for Advancement in Science (“Report”). Then, when you throw in the fact that Josh Fox, director of the Oscar-nominated, anti-fracking documentary entitled Gasland, admitted that he left out certain facts – saying they were “not relevant” – in order to bolster the premise of his film, it is clear that ideology has become more important than science (McAleer). As for the cancer causing concerns, Professor Simon Craddock Lee of medical anthropology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and David Risser, an epidemiologist with the Texas Cancer Registry, have said they have seen no cancer spikes in areas where fracking is being done (“Major”).

As for the concern regarding the chemicals that are injected into the shale rock formations, it is imperative for the general public to be educated in what those chemicals actually are. Once we understand all that goes into this solution, many of the common objections may be resolved. With that said, it must be clarified that the “overall… concentration of additives in most slickwater fracturing fluids is a relatively consistent 0.5% to 2% with water making up 98% to 99.2%” (“Chemical”). As for the chemical composition, the Department of Energy and the Groundwater Protection Council has reported on “the major material components used in the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas shales” (see table 1).

Table 1

“Typical Solutions Used in Hydraulic Fracturing” organized by Compound, Purpose, and Common Application

Compound

Purpose

Common Application

Acids

Helps dissolve minerals and initiate fissure in rock (pre-fracture)

Swimming pool cleaner

Glutaraldehyde

Eliminates bacteria in the water

Disinfectant; Sterilizer for medical and dental equipment

Sodium Chloride

Allows a delayed break down of the gel polymer chains

Table Salt

N, n-Dimethyl formamide

Prevents the corrosion of the pipe

Used in pharmaceuticals, acrylic fibers and plastics

Borate salts

Maintains fluid viscosity as temperature increases

Used in laundry detergents, hand

soaps and cosmetics

Polyacrylamide

Minimizes friction between fluid

and pipe

Water treatment, soil conditioner

Petroleum distillates

“Slicks” the water to minimize friction

Make-up remover, laxatives,

and candy

Guar gum

Thickens the water to suspend the sand

Thickener used in cosmetics,

baked goods, ice cream, tooth-paste, sauces, and salad dressing

Citric Acid

Prevents precipitation of metal oxides

Food additive; food and beverages; lemon juice

Potassium chloride

Creates a brine carrier fluid

Low sodium table salt substitute

Ammonium bisulfite

Removes oxygen from the water to

protect the pipe from corrosion

Cosmetics, food and beverage

processing, water treatment

Sodium or potassium carbonate

Maintains the effectiveness of

other components, such as crosslinkers

Washing soda, detergents, soap,

water softener, glass and ceramics

Proppant

Allows the fissures to remain open

so the gas can escape

Drinking water filtration,

play sand

Ethylene glycol

Prevents scale deposits in the pipe

Automotive antifreeze, household

cleansers, deicing, and caulk

Isopropanol

Used to increase the viscosity

of the fracture fluid

Glass cleaner, antiperspirant, and

hair color

Source: “A Fluid Situation: Typical Solution Used in Hydraulic Fracturing.” Energy In Depth. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2013. <http://www.energyindepth.org/frac-fluid.pdf&gt;.

As you can tell, many of the chemicals listed in Table 1 are also found in consumer products. Moreover, according to FracFocus.org, “The make‐up of fracturing fluid varies from one geologic basin or formation to another… (but) The difference between additive formulations may be as small as a change in concentration of a specific compound” (“Chemical”). So, it seems this chemical compound isn’t nearly as dangerous as many have been led to believe.

With that said, another reason hydraulic fracturing is proving to be safe is because drillers are being held accountable, both governmentally and within their industry. The American Petroleum Institute (API), which is a trade association that represents and provides ever-improving regulations for 400 companies in the oil and gas industry, works closely with federal and state governments to ensure adherence to the highest production standards (“Safe”). In addition, “there are existing federal regulations that address oil and gas drilling and environmental protection. These rules cover all aspects of the process, including well permitting, well materials and construction, air emissions, wildlife protection, safe disposition of used hydraulic fracturing fluids, water testing, chemical recordkeeping and reporting” (“Safe”). Also, in relation to the state of North Carolina, Senate Bill 76, which is currently being contested, “requires them (drillers) to post three types of bonds before drilling in the state – one ensuring they have sufficient funds to complete a project and not abandon it midway, one providing cleanup funds to the state in case of an accident, and one compensating the landowner in case drilling damages their property” (Burrows 4).

In conclusion, when we take the time to look at the evidence regarding fracking, when we have the willingness to study the processes and chemicals involved, and when we see all that is being done to prevent harm to the public and the environment, we can rest assured that, contrary to Chicken Little’s rantings, the sky isn’t really falling at all. Instead, when we realize that “The United States is estimated to have enough natural gas to meet 100 percent of current domestic demand for at least 90 years” (“Fast”), and that our great state of North Carolina has an estimated 42 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, we can relax and look forward to a bright and hopeful future (Burrows 4).

Written by Joel M. Killion

Works Cited

Burrows, Sara. “Fracking Bill Would Allow Permits by 2015.” Carolina Journal [Raleigh, North Carolina] Apr. 2013, vol. 22 no. 4 ed., sec. North Carolina: 4. Print.

“Chemical Use in Hydraulic Fracturing.” FracFocus: Chemical Disclosure Registry. Groundwater Protection Council & Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2013. <http://fracfocus.org/water-protection/drilling-usage&gt;.

“Fast Facts.” American Petroleum Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <http://www.api.org/aboutoilgas/upload/API_FAST_FACTS_FullPage_101510.pdf&gt;.

Klimas, Liz. “Fact Check: Truths and Myths in Matt Damon’s Anti-Fracking Film ‘Promised Land’.” TheBlaze.com. N.p., 9 Jan. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/01/09/fact-check-truths-and-myths-in-matt-damons-anti-fracking-film-promised-land&gt;.

—. “Major Fracking Concerns Lack Scientific Backing: ‘Basically Not Using Science’.” The Blaze.com. N.p., 23 July 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2012/07/23/major-fracking-concerns-lack-scientific-backing-basically-not-using-science&gt;.

—. “Report: Shale Fracking Not to Blame for Groundwater Pollution.” The Blaze.com. N.p., 17 Feb. 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2012/02/17/report-shale-fracking-not-to-blame-for-groundwater-pollution&gt;.

—. “The Study about Fracking and Earthquakes That Environmentalists Probably Won’t Like.” The Blaze.com. N.p., 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/04/10/the-study-about-fracking-and-earthquakes-that-environmentalists-probably-wont-like&gt;.

Kokai, Mitch. “Friday Interview: the Promise and Peril of Shale Gas (Research Triangle Energy Consortium Director Studies Fracking’s Pros, Cons).” Carolina Journal Online. John Locke Foundation, 18 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2013. <http://www.carolinajournal.com/exclusives/display_exclusive.html?id=9813&gt;.

Markay, Lachlan. “EPA: Drinking Water in Dimock, PA Uncontaminated by Fracking.” The Foundry. The Heritage Foundation, 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2013. <http://blog.heritage.org/2011/12/05/epa-drinking-water-in-dimock-pa-uncontaminated-by-fracking&gt;.

McAleer, Phelim. “The Truth about Fracking and Its Environmentalist Enemies.” The Blaze.com. N.p., 4 Apr. 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/fracking-the-solution-for-americas-energy-woes-that-environmentalists-dont-want-you-to-know-about&gt;.

“New Study Shows No Evidence of Groundwater Contamination from Hydraulic Fracturing.” Energy Institute. The University Of Texas at Austin, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <http://energy.utexas.edu/images/ei_shale_gas_reg_pressrelease1202.pdf&gt;.

“Safe & Regulated.” North Carolina Energy Forum. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2013. <http://www.ncenergyforum.com/topics/safe–regulated&gt;.

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Discussion

One thought on “Hydraulic Fracturing

  1. A psychologist once told me, “A persons’ own reality in their mind, is their fact. No amount of information, pro or con, will sway them in their thinking.” I feel this is the problem with the environmentalists. Why do you think they scream, and shake their fists and march all the time, and cause a scene where ever they show up? They have no facts so they use fear and chaos to bully other people. Sad to say, you will never change them. Us “normal, open-minded, information-seeking people know hydraulic fracturing can and is being done safely throughout the US.
    Think of this, though, you know when you get in your car, an accident is possible, but do you stop driving? NO.
    Life is full of taking risks, but we forge on and try to live our lives as best we can. That’s all anyone can expect!

    Posted by Janice Miller | May 2, 2013, 11:11 PM

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