Fracking, all it’s cracked up to be
I often hear folks say that we are sacrificing the environment in our area for land leases, royalty checks and jobs. While I agree that we must be responsible and cautious, I’m not at all convinced that fracking is the evil environmental apocalypse that some seem to think it is.
First, a little lesson in what fracking is: Hydraulic fracturing is the injection of a combination of water, sand and chemicals into the shale rock formations or plays located deep beneath the earth’s surface to extract deposits of natural gas or oil. In Ohio, the drilling is being done into the Utica and Marcellus layers of shale.
Some of the environmental concerns are that groundwater will be contaminated by the chemicals used in the fracturing as well as by the gas itself, and that potable water is being wasted with fracking. Concerns have also been raised that fracturing and activities of related industries can cause seismic activities. The emissions created and the footprint of the drilling are also issues with some people.
The water concern is understandable except that when you look at the actual process of fracking, you understand that each well has layers of steel and concrete casing cemented into place to protect the groundwater from everything going down and coming out of the well.
The gas deposits themselves are located thousands of feet below the water table with a layer of rock in between. Chemicals used in the fracking water would have to flow up against gravity and through solid rock to contaminate ground water. It should also be noted that the composition of the frack fluid is 99.5 percent water and sand with about 0.5 percent chemicals.
One widely used chemical is something called guar gum, which is actually found in ice cream. Environmentalists will often say that gas and oil companies don’t disclose what chemicals are used in fracking. The fact is the chemicals vary by well because each situation is different. There is a website called FracFocus which lists chemicals used and can even be searched to find out what wells in your area are using.
Movies like ”Gasland” have had scenes of people lighting their tap water on fire supposedly as a result of fracking. The fact is that fracking has been done for about 60 years, and there has never been a proven case of this happening as a result of fracking. In fact, tap water could be lit long before fracking ever occurred due to naturally occurring methane pockets in the ground.
The water used in fracking is generally not potable and is about 0.1 percent of the water being used in an area. About 30 percent of the water used is recycled and used in new wells. Additionally, new methods are being explored using propane gel and compressed air, which could eliminate the need for water.
In the 60 years fracking has been done, with over 1 million wells drilled, not one earthquake has been linked to the process. According to William Leith, seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, ”Fracking itself probably does not put enough energy into the ground to trigger an earthquake. They’re not a safety hazard. That’s really not something that we should be concerned about.”
There is a possible link to Class II water injection wells which are used to dispose of used frack water as well as other wastewater. Since the seismic events related to the Northstar injection well in Youngstown occurred in late 2011, ODNR consulted with a seismologist who believes that the earthquake and tremors probably are related to the well.
With regard to emissions, the EPA has recently revised its estimates of emissions created by natural gas drilling. The current estimates are a 20 percent decrease in annual emissions from original estimates even as gas drilling has grown 40 percent since 1990. Additionally, no country has lowered their total emissions faster than our country has in the last six years – this while gas drilling has been increasing.
While drilling is occurring, the site of a well can have a large footprint of construction and activity. This is short-lived, 70-100 days from the beginning of the site preparation until the well is in place and pumping. The actual footprint for a working well is very small – about the size of a two-car garage.
Natural gas and hydraulic fracturing are certainly not perfect or without risk, but no energy source is. As a matter of fact, most things in this world are risky. For example, there is an average of over 30,000 deaths per year by automobile accidents in the United States. We risk death every time we drive, and yet we continue to use automobiles.
With fracking, we need to do the same thing.
I don’t think that this is a choice between environmental disaster and not fracking. Our choice is between responsibly utilizing a natural resource which will help us become less dependent on foreign oil (and provide our own area an economic boon) and letting fear hold our country hostage to continuing dependence on foreign oil while our area continues to languish.
Yoder is a West Farmington resident. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org