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The fracking situation

03.01.2011  |  Tricia Crossey

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Hydraulic fracturing has been a big topic in recent news.  Just to name a few instances:   The New York Times, “Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers,” with John Hanger’s blog reply; to Energy in Demand’s website segment in reply to Josh Fox’s appearance on CNN.

There has been an increase in public concern over hydraulic fracturing, the chemicals used and the possibility of contaminating drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a new study to 1) investigate the fracking process and 2) determine whether drilling techniques pose a risk to drinking and underground water. The EPA hydraulic fracking study plan is an intense investigation, and the draft will be reviewed March 7-8, 2011 allowing for public comments. The study begins promptly after any recommendations from the board. A preliminary report is scheduled for the end of 2012, with a complete report to be released in 2014.

The study was first initiated in September 2010 when the EPA contacted nine fracking companies, issuing voluntary information requests. By early December, all companies complied. The main focus is reviewing the complete lifespan of water in the fracking process. The lifecycle begins from water acquisition, chemical mixing, actual fracking to the post-fracturing stage. The study also includes flowback management, the produced water (water that comes up naturally during production) and finally treatment and disposal.

There will be three types of studies: retrospective and prospective case studies, and generalized scenario evaluations. Retrospective case studies will include reported instances of drinking water where fracking has already occurred. Prospective case studies involve sites where fracking will occur after the research is initiated. The case studies will allow sampling and characterization of the site before, during, and after water extraction, drilling, hydraulic fracturing fluid injection, flowback, and gas production (EPA study).

Generalized scenario evaluations are hypothetical scenarios relating to fracking activities, identifying scenarios under which hydraulic fracturing may adversely impact drinking water resources based on available data (EPA study).

So, what is fracking?  It’s a technique that retrieves oil and natural gas from hard rock formations.  Large amounts of pressurized water, sand and very small amounts of chemicals are forced down the wellbore. Tiny fissures are created in the hard rock where the oil and gas flow back to the surface. The fracking technique occurs well below aquifers and is separated from groundwater and drinking water supplies by hundreds or thousands of feet of solid rock. The practice has been around for over 60 years and has been used on over one million wells. On average, 95.51% of fracking fluid is water and sand with only .49% chemical additives. The benefits of fracking are many, including: new wells that provide energy for all US citizens; local, state, federal, lease and royalty payments to landowners; job creation along with improving energy security.

Of course, health and safety are and should remain a high priority, especially for the fracking process with regards to potentially contaminating drinking water. It’s still unclear if this process does contaminant water, and with continued public concern over the potential contamination of water, the EPA study was initiated. Let’s leave it up to the experts and not Mark Ruffalo, actor and activist, to make the decision. Natural gas is an important hydrocarbon to the US. Hopefully, fracking will continue, which will lessen our dependence on foreign oil – especially now with all the turmoil going on in the Middle East and Africa. Shale gas has become a big player in the US natural gas market. The US is importing less liquefied natural gas (LNG) due to the shale boom. If fact, the US now is exporting LNG, thanks to the fracking process. If the EPA finds major issues with fracking, I believe that hydraulic fracturing companies can and will find a way to overcome any potential EPA findings; and our motto is, “drill, baby drill.”   



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