What the F is Fracking?

There has been a lot of buzz out there about “fracking” and fighting oil and gas companies about fracking but what is it?

Fracking is the collection of natural gas that is trapped in rock formations that would otherwise be impossible to “recover” or use. There are now at least 20 states that have companies currently fracking.

How does it work?

Massive amounts of water (millions of gallons), sand, and chemicals are injected into the rocks at a very high pressure which then free methane gas (usually found in the Marcellus Shale region of the US). This pressurized mix makes cracks in the rocks that allows the gas to escape. The recovered water is stored in open pits and then taken to a treatment plant.

Is this regulated?

No, in 2005 Haliburton (who makes over $1.5 billion a year in energy operations, substantially on fracking) urged Congress to prevent the EPA from from regulating the process because they argued the chemicals used in the water mixture was “propriety” and therefore should not be subject to disclosure and monitoring as part of the clean water protections. There are alot of theories out there on how something like this could pass through Congress but it is important to note that Vice President Dick Cheney was in office at the time and was the former CEO of Halliburton so it is believed he had some influence on the passage of the legislation.

On March 18, 2010 the EPA announced that it would lead a $1.9 million “comprehensive, peer-reviewed study” on the effects of fracking. The results are due out in late 2012.

What about state regulation?

Some states that have many fracking projects have some regulations but there are few regulators to monitor the massive amount of projects in their states so it is hard to say that regulations are being followed. For example, in West Virginia they have 17 inspectors and 55,222 wells to inspect. That would require 9 wells to be inspected every day of the year including weekends (fact from sourcewatch.org)

Credit: Wil Andruschak, Orca Graphics

What are the effects of fracking on people?

While we do not know exactly what chemicals are being used with the water in the fracking process  but VOC’s like  biocides, surfactants, disulphides, benzene, xylenes and naphthalene have been detected in the air near fracking sites. Many residents are able to light their drinking water (from personal wells and public water) on fire and there are increased complaints of headaches, diarrhea, nosebleeds, dizziness, muscle spasms, skin issues, and other problems. Some people have reported more severe health issues like cancer. There are several reports of animals drinking from wells near fracking sites and dying.

What are the effects of fracking on the environment?

The methane gas is released from fracking. Methane gas is 72 times more dangerous to the environment and global warming that carbon dioxide (according to the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report). The average molecule of methane gas lasts around 8-9 years before it becomes carbon dioxide and water.

Can fracking cause earthquakes?

It seems hard to believe that something man-made/powered could cause earth quakes however seismic research in England and US supports a strong belief that fracking can cause inor seismic activity. Will fracking cause massive earthquakes, no, however seismic activity has been reported in the area of fracking drilling.

A report in the England concluded that fracking was the likely cause of some small earth tremors that happened during shale gas drilling. In addition the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that “Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented in a few locations” in the United States, Japan, and Canada; “the cause was injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the use of reservoirs for water supplies.”[see report] The disposal and injection wells referenced are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act and UIC laws and are not wells where hydraulic fracturing is generally performed.

For more facts about fracking click here to read my post of some shocking facts


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