Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is the process of extracting natural gas from the shale rock layers that are found over a mile down into our earth. With recent advancements in technology, drillers now have the ability to drill horizontally and not just vertically allowing them to reach areas not previously accessible.
Once these areas are reached, drillers inject a highly pressurized fracking fluid into the area creating a channel for which extraction can begin. Over the course of up to a month a combination of water, sand, and chemicals are injected into the site at high pressures. This opens and enlarges fractures within the shale formation creating a fracture network. Finally, the water is pulled out and the oil and gas is allowed to flow in through these cracks and out of the well.
Purpose of Natural Gas
By definition natural gas is a “flammable gas, consisting largely of methane and other hydrocarbons, occurring naturally underground (often in association with petroleum) and used as fuel.”
Here in the U.S. majority of this gas is burned as fuel. We use it to heat homes and businesses, make our vehicles go, cook our dinners, and turn on our lights.
Thanks to fracking, the United States has reclaimed oil and gas production. It’s said that fracking will bring us complete “energy independence.”
Where does the clean water come from?
According to ExploreShale.org, “about 65% of the water used for Marcellus Shale drilling comes from rivers, creeks, and lakes in Pennsylvania. The other 35% is purchased from municipalities…”
Where does the waste water go?
Anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the water mixture used at each site returns to the surface alongside the gas, this is called” flowback”. The rest stays underground. This means on the higher end there is up to 1,700,000 gallons of flowback, leaving behind approximately 3,900,000 gallons of fracking fluid.
The process of disposal has been a controversial subject. Here you can find disposal regulations by state and a simple Google search will lead you to hundreds of reports of spills and contaminations.
According to EnergyFromShale “Spent or used fracturing fluids are normally recovered at the initial stage of well production and recycled in a closed system for future use or disposed of under regulation, either by surface discharge where authorized under the Clean Water Act or by injection into Class II wells as authorized under the Safe Drinking Water Act. “
However, according to the Energy Policy Act the injection of fluids or propping agents used in hydraulic fracturing are excluded. Read for yourself here Energy Policy Act. (Page 102 Section 322)
Fracking fluid is made of up about 90 percent water, 9.5 percent sand and 0.5 percent chemical additives.
Depending on the drill site approximately 5 million gallons of water is needed and there can be as much as 27,000 gallons of chemicals per concoction. After the process is complete almost 8,400 gallons of chemicals will be included in the flowback. Over 19,000 gallons of chemicals will remain deep in the ground.
You can find a list of chemicals used by fracturing companies in Pennsylvania here. Chemical List
Frac Focus is a chemical disclosure registry which holds more information on the chemicals used as well. Frac Focus Chemical List
Many anti-fracking groups claim lists such as those are incomplete, and because it isn’t required to disclose this information, many companies claiming their individual “brews” are trade secrets, we really are going on trust alone if we chose to accept that information as whole.
Is it safe?
Producing natural gas in our own back yard has benefits over letting another country take the reins. We should have more control over everything from safety to costs as well as a better understanding of the process. However, if wells are not built perfectly chemicals, bad water, and gas will leak out. Safe water can become contaminated and the risk of methane leakage is a very real and very scary one. A mixture of methane and air is highly explosive.
The process of fracking seems to be exempt or excluded from most major federal laws protecting environmental health. This doesn’t sit too well with a very large group of concerned citizens, and begs questions to be asked. How can we know it’s safe if there are no regulations?
The FRAC act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness to Chemical Act) is a House bill intended to repeal exemptions pertaining to hydraulic fracturing. It was introduced and read to the Committee on Environment and Public Works in 2013. You can monitor any actions here, at Congress.Gov.
Oil companies would love to convince us all that fracking is perfectly harmless, but with reports and studies proving that fracking can induce earthquakes and evidence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) linked to infertility, birth defects, and cancer found in the water supply, one mustn’t take this topic lightly.
We are faced with many options. Now is the time to decide if we want to continue to rely on coal, or do we make the complete switch to renewable resources. Do we really believe that hydraulic fracturing is only doing us good? If not what safer and cleaner choices do we have?
I suggest you start with informing yourself.
Learn more about natural gas Geology-Natural Gas
Learn more about methane Encyclopedia Britannica- Methane
Learn more about renewable energy EPA-Renewable Energy
Learn more about Class II wells EPA- Class II wells
Learn more about the Safe Drinking Water Act EPA-SDWA
Learn more about earthquakes and fracking Time.com
Learn more about the study of EDCs Endocrine Society