Hydraulic Fracking Essay
This paper explores the hydraulic fracturing process, exactly what it is, what the fracturing process does to the earth and the surrounding environment in addition, to the consequences. Hydraulic fracturing is fracturing of rock by pressurization. This process by which oil and natural gas can be forced from the earth. The hydraulic fracturing process takes millions of gallons of clean water, sand, chemicals and pumps them underground at high pressure to break apart rock to release gas and or oil.
My research has led me to the discovery that there are as many proponents for fracking as that are those that oppose the process. One thing no-one can deny or easily hide is that once the damage is done and something has gone wrong, the evidence usually speaks volumes that this is not something we should be doing to our planet or its people. The diagram on page 3 outlines the process defined as fracking for an easier understanding of how invasive the process is to the environment. Hydraulic Fracking Research Paper and
Why the process of Fracking is bad for our environment Hydraulic fracturing experimentation started in 1947 and it had its first commercially successful applications by 1949, so it has been around for a long time. In twenty-thirteen, it is estimated that well over sixty five percent of all new oil and gas wells worldwide are using the process of hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, has allowed the United States to tap into domestic sources of natural gas and oil that were previously not economical to extract from such as shale beds.
This has created numerous economic benefits for communities and governments in a time of economic instability. Hydraulic fracturing Scientists are worried that the chemicals used in fracturing may pose a threat either underground or when waste fluids are handled they are sometimes spilled on the surface which can cause site contamination or find its way back to water clean water. The natural gas industry defends hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as safe and efficient. Thomas J.
Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a pro-industry non-profit organization, claims fracking has been “a widely deployed as safe extraction technique,” dating back to 1949. What Mr. Pyle fails to explain is that until recently energy companies had used low-pressure methods to extract natural gas from fields closer to the surface than the current high-pressure technology that extracts more gas, by digging to deeper levels and it also uses significantly more water, sand and chemicals.
There have been serious environmental impacts associated with the process which has raised public concern. At this point, a causal relationship has not been established but increasing attention opens the possibility that further government action could be imminent regarding the practice. According to Baumgartner and Jones’s Punctuated Equilibrium theory, policy processes are generally characterized by stability and incrementalism in the subsystem level of government, but occasionally if enough attention can be garnered toward an issue, then large scale change can occur.
Thus far, policy regarding hydraulic fracturing has been incremental and mainly consists of agency rules and state regulations. However, it can be argued that if a definite relationship can be established between fracking activities and public health risks, then the likelihood of a major punctuation occurrence would increase and allow for significant policy change on a national level regarding this issue. The issue is being brought to the forefront due to the changes in the fracking process, the original method forced fluid down a vertical shaft to create fissures in the bedrock to release more gas or oil
but this method limited extraction to directly under the well. Now, the current method forces fluid under extreme pressure down a vertical shaft with horizontal or directional sections that allows for extraction from a wider area within the formation. The pressure and fluid create fracture systems that allow the natural gas or oil to move more freely from rock pores to production wells that bring it to the surface.
The fluid used is mainly composed of water (ninety percent), propping agents (such as sand account for nine percent) and chemicals (point five percent). The specific make-up and combination of chemicals is often considered confidential or a “trade secret” by many companies. The Democratic Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce found that 750 different chemicals are used in fracking and range from harmless substances such as salt and citric acid to extremely toxic ones such as lead and benzene.
Assertions have been made that the chemicals used may be contaminating water sources and causing air pollution however, confirming the pollution is a result of fracking has been difficult. The line is very light gray it has been difficult to prove the relationship which has contributed to allow the industry to operate with minimal regulations until recently. According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), fracking has produced 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 7 billion barrels of oil and is projected to account for 70% of future natural gas development.
Natural gas is considered by some to be a “bridge” fuel that will allow for the transition from petroleum to alternative fuels. Over its full cycle of production, distribution, and use, natural gas emits just over half as many greenhouse gas emissions as coal for equivalent energy output,” wrote the Worldwatch Institute. The promise of a significant domestic energy supply is extremely attractive as the nation strives to find a way toward energy independence. Fracking has also been touted as a job creator and economy stimulator.
American Petroliem Institute (API) estimates that the development of the Marcellus fairway (which covers Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia) could generate 300,000 new jobs, over $6 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue and nearly $25 billion in value added to the economy by 2020. In the northern part of South Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale, Exco Resources will acquire about 55,000 net acres in Zavala, Dimmit, La Salle and Frio counties. The properties contain 120 producing wells that had average net
daily production of 6,100 barrels of oil equivalent during May. Chesapeake Energy Corp. plans to sell assets in the Eagle Ford and Haynesville shales to Dallas-based Exco Resources for $1 billion. According to the American Chemistry Council, fracking has decreased the price of natural gas which has resulted in more industrial companies choosing to keep their business in America. Investments from these companies could hit $16 billion and create 17,000 direct jobs and 400,000 indirect jobs.
However, these economic benefits need to be balanced against potentially negative environmental impacts including water contamination and air pollution that could cause serious health concerns. Problems with Hydraulic Fracturing Fresh water is one of the most precious resources on earth and also a very scarce one. Fresh water makes up only 2. 5% of all the water on earth and of that, 1. 3% is surface water and 30. 1% is groundwater. The rest is in the form of ice and snow in either glaciers or ice caps, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Water is necessary for life on earth, it is extremely critical that it be protected from harmful pollution. Allegations have been made that fracking has led to the contamination of both surface and groundwater sources. Groundwater consists of all water located below the surface. Fracking activities have been linked to ground water contamination in a variety of ways. Most fracking happens at about 8,000 feet below the surface depending on the geological makeup of the area, while most underground water aquifers are located about 1,000 feet below the surface.
Fracking proponents argue that there is no way for the contaminants to migrate due to the significant space between the activity and the aquifer. However, the composition of the earth may be extremely porous, have natural fissures or fractures that would allow contaminants to migrate. Combine a porous formation with the extreme pressure used in the fracking process and the potential for migration increases. One particular worry is methane gas, which occurs naturally in the earth, and is released in concentrated amounts when the fracking process breaks apart the rock formations.
According to a study done by the National Academy of Sciences, methane gas concentrations in drinking water wells increased with the proximity to the nearest gas well at levels that had the potential to be an explosion hazard, in comparison to dissolved methane samples in wells next to nonextraction sites. In Dimock, Pennsylania, the study found that some residents’ water wells that were in close proximity to where fracking activities were known to be happening had their wells explode or their water could be lit on fire due to concentrated levels of methane gas.
In Texas, several cities and surrounding counties of Lubbuck, Weatherford, Beaumont and Ft Worth have complained of methane contamination in drinking water. Levels are confirmed up but the cause has not yet been determined. Another possible point of aquifer contamination is in the construction itself. Oftentimes, the shaft is drilled down through the aquifer on its way to the shale formations below. If the shaft is poorly constructed, there is potential for the fracking fluid to leak directly into the aquifer as it is going down or coming back up as flowback.
Contamination to ground water can also come from the fracking wastewater that is brought back to the surface. Once it has been used, it can be disposed of in an injection well. Currently, this waste is considered “oil/gas waste” and not “hazardous waste” so it is not subject to the stricter disposal guidelines associated with the hazardous distinction which leaves the potential for hazardous chemicals to reach groundwater sources if the injection well is poorly constructed. Besides ground water contamination, fracking activities have been blamed for surface water pollution as well.
Surface water consists of all fresh water on the surface of the earth usually in rivers, streams or lakes. Fracking creates millions of gallons of wastewater that is extracted back to the surface in the recovery of the oil and gas. Typically, the flowback is treated by waste water treatment plants and released back into surface waters but is only tested for tier 1 & 2 chemicals, not tier 3 which are volatile chemicals. If they cannot dispose of it in this manner, some companies will utilize large “containment ponds” which are lined and used to hold the wastewater while it evaporates.
Recently in Texas fracking operations have been blamed on recent increase in air pollution, perhaps these containment ponds are the issue. The liners are typically plastic and sometimes crack or get damaged which allows the contaminated fluids to leach into ground or surface water. Another potential danger comes from plugged wells. During the fracking process, large amounts of pressure is used and if the cement plug used to close the well is not sealed properly, there is a risk of it exploding and spewing the fracking chemicals into nearby surface water.
In some areas, naturally occurring radioactive elements, such as radium, have been found in concentrated levels in local waterways due to fracking activities. In addition to water contamination, there have been serious allegations of air pollution caused by fracking activities. Natural gas fracking extraction emits greenhouse gases, smog-inducing compounds and potential carcinogens causing health and environmental concerns. Increased levels of methanol, formaldehyde, carbon disulfide, and benzene have been found near fracking sites.
These pollutants are known to cause asthma attacks, cancer, and even premature death. Some airborne pollutants from fracked gas wells, like volatile organic compounds, can react with sunlight to create smog. Loopholes The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from the restrictions and standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). It created the “Halliburton Loophole” which prohibited the EPA from regulating the injection of fracking fluids under the SDWA except in cases where diesel is used.
Since the exact chemicals used in fracking are often considered proprietary by the industry so it is difficult to ascertain when or if diesel is used in a fracking operation. Some companies have chosen to disclose the chemicals they use on www. fracfocus. org. While this is an encouraging first step, it is entirely voluntary at this time on private land. The Department of the Interior has mandated that companies drilling on public and Indian lands will be required to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.
The new rules also set standards for proper construction of wells and wastewater disposal. These rules could serve as a model for state regulators. Some states such as Wyoming, Michigan, and Texas, have been proactive and required full public disclosure of fracking fluid chemical constituents. The other federal law that governs water is the Clean Water Act which authorizes the National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System to provide permits to companies who dispose flowback into surface waters.
Currently, flowback that is released back into surface water is not tested for volatile organic compounds which can cause cancer or birth defects in humans. The Clean Air Act allows the EPA to regulate industry emissions into the air to protect its quality and the stratospheric ozone layer. According to an April article in USA Today, the EPA released first-ever air pollution rules for “fracking” wells, requiring that drillers burn or capture the gas and its smog-producing compounds that are released when wells are first tapped. The rules went into effect in June of 2012 but have a two year transition period.
During that time, drillers may burn off the gas and chemicals but will need to move towards capturing them (called “green completions”). EPA estimates that this will cut 95% of the smog-related chemicals that are released by fracking wells. Given the lack of a definitive link between fracking activities and public health risks, fracking was allowed to develop with minimal regulations for decades because it was not on the public radar. It has only been in the last few years that the practice has come under scrutiny due to the increased usage of fracking and the undeniable potentially harmful impacts of the practice.
Therefore, until it can be proven that the danger to human health posed by the environmental impacts of the practice can be shown beyond a doubt, fracking is going to continue. However, there needs to be more regulation of the industry and monitoring of the impacts of the practice to ensure that it is done in a safe manner. . If this happens, the likelihood for policy favoring more vigorous regulation of hydraulic fracturing is greatly increased. However, if there continues to be ambiguity and questions raised by proponents of fracking the changes will likely be small and incremental on the subsystem level.
The response by the industry and its political allies to the scientific studies of the health and environmental effects of fracking “has approached the issue in a manner similar to the tobacco industry that for many years rejected the link between smoking and cancer,” say Drs. Bamberger and Oswald. Not only do they call for “full disclosure and testing of air, water, soil, animals, and humans,” but point out that with lax oversight, “the gas drilling boom . . . will remain an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale. ” References
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