Fracking Explained (briefly)

Fracking is a form of natural gas extraction which involves blasting chemicals, sand and water into bedrock several thousand feet below the surface. Drills are turned horizontally to discharge smaller explosions to fracture the shale and release the methane trapped inside the rock for up to a mile from the wellsite. Anywhere from 4-9 million gallons of water per well is used to force the gas up, at extremely high pressure, along with a secret mix of chemicals used in the extraction process, and other naturally occurring contaminants such as Radium 226. Once water is used for fracking, it can never be safely returned to the water supply.

Disposing of radioactive produced frack water, drill cuttings and mud remains a major industry dilemma, though gas drillers claim to “recycle” their toxic flowback. Fracking are Exempt from the Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act and The Safe Drinking Water Act thanks to an exemption slipped into the 2005 Clean Energy Act by the Bush Administration, now know as The Halliburton Loophole.

Triple cement well-bore seals penetrate ground water supplies, often disturbing naturally occurring methane and causing it to migrate, hence the flaming faucets. Unfortunately, cement isn’t magic and the single biggest threat from fracking will be realized in 60-100 years when all the well-bore seal deteriorate. They will need to be replugged by the thousands to keep toxins out of public water supplies.

Spills, leaky valves, explosions, off-gassing, noxious air emissions, truck traffic, massive deforestation, pipelines and silica dust are all part of the industrialization of shale gas production. The term “fracking” generally refers to all phases this form of “extreme fossil fuel extraction” but, specifically, “fracking” refers to horizontal hydraulic slickwater fracturing, which was first developed by Range Resources in 2003. It is a vast technological advance compared to the kind of fracking which has been used to extract oil and gas since the early 1940s.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) is often mistaken for a “cleaner burning fuel” since it releases fewer carbons when burned, however, when one takes into account the entire production cycle of “fracked” shale gas, it’s clearly a carbon-intensive and highly polluting form of energy. What’s more, exporting liquified natural gas (LNG) produces exponentially more carbon than processing CNG for domestic use.

Fracking is currently not allowed within a large portion of the Delaware River Watershed in Pennsylvania, even though the state has permitted over 9,000 frack wells in other watersheds across the state. A temporary moratorium on drilling in the Delaware is in place, but the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) could vote at any time to lift the ban by adopting a set of “drilling regulations.”

Roughly 15.6 million people rely on the Delaware for drinking water, and the movement to protect the historic “Little Giant” is gaining momentum across Eastern Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.

Fracking is banned in France, Germany, Spain, parts of Canada and other countries, as well as in the states of Vermont and New York. Local bans have been enacted in states such as Pennsylvania (Montgomery and Bucks counties), California, Colorado, and New Mexico.

One Response to “Fracking Explained (briefly)”

  1. paulrodenlearning Says:

    Fracking is too dangerous as outlined in these posts on this website. Fracking is too expensive to ever be conducted safely let alone have the fracking water stored forever out of the biosphere like radioactive nuclear waste, since it can’t be cleaned up. And finally, it is totally unnecessary for our energy needs. Read the plan by Jacobson and Delucchi in the November 2009 Scientfic American article which lays out the path to renewable energy by 2030 with existing technology for the whole planet. They have updated their plan in the March 2011 issue of Energy Policy in two articles, excluding the use of biomass fuels, i.e. biodiesel, alcohol, biodigested methane etc. Germany’s plan is to obtain 80% of their energy from renewable sources of energy by 2016 and phasing out their nuclear power by 2022. Jacobson and Delluchi’s plan is to convert to renewable energy without fossil or nuclear power by 2030. If the Germans can do it why can’t we? Jacobson and Delucchi state that the only thing stopping the world from choosing the “safe energy path”, is the lack of political will. How come all of the political parties in Germany, from left to right, green to conservative are united in this renewable energy path? How did they stand up to the energy and utility lobbying and campaign contributions and the US politicians did not?

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