Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has been in the news a lot recently and opinion seems massively divided. The lefties, hippies, greenies and envirowarriors are all anti, and conservative, business decision makers are pro. I decided to delve a little further to get more of an idea of how disruptive this procedure really is and if the hype is justified.
For those that don’t know, fracking is a way of extracting more natural gas and oil out of sources underground. Basically this is done by drilling and firing solution into the rocks and teasing out a substantially bigger amount of gas from pits that would previously have been considered empty.
Fracking has been banned in Vermont, France and Bulgaria despite having been used in the oil and gas sector since the 1940s. Since the 40’s more than a million wells have been fracked in the US. But the process has been modified over time, which is the main reason for concern. Nowadays drilling is not just vertical, it is horizontal, running parallel to the ground away from the well shafts. Also, the fluid fired into the rocks is no longer just water or brine, but includes acids, detergents and poisons.
Water contamination is one of the biggest worries about this process. Protesters worry that the chemicals and brine used will seep into the water supply. There were reports a few years ago of methane coming from taps near a fracking site, but others say that the owner had drilled his own water supply into a pocket of natural gas. One group also reported finding benzene, tert-butyl and alcohol in water sources near the well.
Other scientists, including some from the University of Texas, countered the research saying that the wells weren’t tested before the fracking, and also that the chemicals were due to spillage and accidents at the site, rather than due to the actual process itself. Blasting chemicals into the ground where our water comes from sounds worrying, to the untrained brain it seems like madness. Geologists, however, are unconcerned, and I trust them over my own brain where rocks are concerned. The fracking takes place on the other side of thousands of feet of solid rock from water sources. So the actual process itself would be safe in that regard.
Added to the fear of water contamination, there’s the issue of water wastage. The process is an incredibly heavy water user, smashing through up to 7 million gallons per well and 30% of that is lost for ever in the shale. The planet could certainly do without losing anymore water. But the other side of the argument is that the water usage for all 2000+ wells in Pennsylvania equals the drinking water usage of just one large city. So on that scale it’s literally a drop in the ocean.
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