WHAT THE FRACK IS ALL THE FUSS OVER NATURAL GAS?
NOTE: because this subject is so long and complex I
will be discussing it in several parts. If you haven’t heard about the debates
over natural gas and the controversial method of harvesting it called Hydraulic
Fracturing (HF) or “fracking,” you will hear a lot about it very soon. A bill to open state parks to drilling is expected to come up for a vote in the Ohio House tomorrow, Wednesday, May 25.
I have been following this subject for several months and have been extensively collecting newspaper clippings and research during that time. I had planned to begin my series this week but did not anticipate the bill would come to a vote so soon. This merely highlights the urgency of this topic.
Since this is an ongoing political “hot potato,” I will add follow-ups and links as the
PART I The Pickens Plan
The commercials are warm and friendly with good-looking,
soft-spoken actors expounding on the virtues of clean, natural gas. They are
usually accompanied by a diagram showing how they go deep beneath the surface
to harvest this honey in the rock called gas.
It sounds like the answer to all our energy problems—no more
dependence on foreign oil, cars run cleaner and more efficiently, no more air
pollution from coal-burning power plants. According to the commercials, all we
have to do is flip a switch and the gas hidden deep underground runs up a
pipeline and into our cars and homes. We will have a cleaner and brighter
T. Boone Pickens, a noted oil billionaire, has been gathering an army to gain support to lobby Congress for his movement of no more dependence on foreign oil. I even signed
an on-line petition and joined Pickens Army several years ago. After years of
tireless promotions, the Pickens team finally achieved a part of their goal by
having a natural gas bill introduced in the U.S. House last month.
The bill, called the NAT GAS Act (H.R. 1380) is short for “New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions’ (NAT GAS) Act, was
introduced by two Democrats and two Republicans showing bi-partisan support.
According to Pickens:
– America consumes 20 million barrels of oil per day. We produce 7 million barrels
domestically and import the other 13 million barrels. Of the 13 million barrels
of imported oil, 5 million come from OPEC – “nations that hate us,” says
– The true cost of Middle Eastern oil is over $300 a barrel if you account for U.S.
military presence in the Middle East.
Pickens claims the U.S. has natural gas reserves equivalent to three times that of
Saudi Arabia’s known 260 billion-barrel oil reserve when you use a Barrel of
Oil Equivalent (BOE) comparison.
– Using BOE, natural gas, at its current price, would be about $1.50 per gallon cheaper than diesel fuel. (Note—this estimate was made several years ago and with today’s wild fluctuations in prices the costs could be even more significant today.)
According to Pickens’ numbers our imported OPEC oil is costing America $2 billion a day and would cost $6 billion a day if unsubsidized by the U.S. military presence in
the Middle East. Also, some percentage of the money we send to Saudi Arabia
makes its way to our enemies, such as the Taliban.
When the bill was introduced, Congressman John Larson (D-CT) and Chair of the Democratic House Caucus, said we have enough domestic natural gas to meet our needs “for the next 100 years.” He added, “If we start making cars and trucks that run on
natural gas, there’s the potential to create over a half a million American
All of these facts appear to be true, frightening, and convincing. We certainly need to
break away from OPEC and not be held hostage by high gas prices. We are an
energy hungry nation with an ever-increasing appetite. As Pickens says in his
plan, “We must break America’s addiction to foreign oil.”
Part II What the Frack is Hydraulic Fracturing (HF or Fracking)
I must say I can’t find anything I disagree with and would gladly campaign for this platform if it weren’t for one small over-looked fact. Exactly how do we harvest this
hidden treasure and at what cost?
I first became aware of the answer to that question when I watched the documentary Gasland about a year ago. It is a film by Josh Fox about the technology known as “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing (also known as HF). This is a relatively new technology, developed by Halliburton, which enables the vast reservoir of shale gas, which lies underneath a large portion of the eastern states reaching from Texas to Maine,
to be accessed. The fracking process allows us to unlock a “Saudia Arabia of
natural gas” that lies just beneath our feet.
The film, nominated for an Academy Award and produced by Robert Redford, takes us on a journey across the nation where Josh Fox travels to interview people who are
now living and dying from the effects of fracking. His journey begins in
Pennsylvania when he receives a letter from a gas company offering him a large
amount of money to purchase mineral rights for the land he inherited from his
parents. The money is enough to make him a very rich man; but, because his
parents were hippies and bought the rural land to be able to live with nature,
he decides to investigate what this is all about.
He soon enters a nightmare of bubbling streams, dying animals and livestock, sickened
families, exploding water faucets, and much more. Things even Hollywood
Need for Hydraulic Fracturing (HF) or Fracking
It has long been know that vast amounts of natural gas lie deep beneath much of the United States but it has been inaccessible with the traditional vertical drilling method.
However, a new process called horizontal drilling now enables the gas companies
to tap this energy.
The controversy arises when a process called Hydraulic Fracturing (known as HF of
fracking) is used to open the fissures deep underground. Once a well is
drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are injected under
high pressure into the well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open
the fissures that then release the natural gas. The gas comes up the well along
with the wastewater and must be separated at the surface. Only 30-50% of the
water is typically recovered from a well. The wastewater is highly toxic.
The average well is up to 8000 ft. deep and one to eight million gallons of water are used for each fracking process. A well may be fracked up to 18 times. For each frack, 80 to 300 tons of chemicals may be used and currently the natural gas industry does not have to disclose which chemicals are used. However, scientists have identified volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
Once the well is fracked the fluids used then come back up the well which is called flow
back. About 15 percent of the water shot down the well comes back up, tainted
with salt, minerals, and hazardous metals that can include barium, cadmium and
chromium. After the initial surge of “flow back” water, wells continue to produce brine that contains even higher concentrations of salt, metals and minerals. The wastewater–or brine–contains high amounts of salt but it is certainly not the type of brine you want to soak you next turkey in. This brine mixture is either trucked to wastewater treatment plants or injected into underground wells.
The wastewater then goes to evaporators and condensate tanks where the VOCs are
evaporated and steamed off. The wastewater is then trucked to water treatment
facilities. When the VOCs are evaporated and come into contact with diesel
exhaust from trucks and generators at the well site, ground level ozone is
produced which can travel up to 250 miles.
In Pennsylvania the wells have produced so much brine that state officials say it
fouled the Monongahela and Susquehanna Rivers. In April Pennsylvania urged
energy companies to stop taking brine to 15 sewage plants because compounds
called bromides posed a pollution risk to drinking water supplies.
According the documentary, Gasland, hydraulic fracturing has created many environmental horrors. It shows streams bubbling with gas and igniting when touched with a match. Drinking water coming from a kitchen faucet also ignites when a match is held next to it. The banks of streams are littered with various animal carcasses. Livestock and pets are dying, losing their fur, and unable to eat. Families report various health
problems, headaches, and strange smells. The water turns brown and fresh water
must be trucked in for humans and animals.
Ohio is proposing to open up state parks to drilling which has angered many
environmentalists. Some have even hijacked ODNR’s Facebook page to campaign
against the drilling claiming it will not only harm the streams and wildlife
but the noise and traffic from the operations will disrupt the peace and quiet
Another concern is the possible presence of pipelines across the state. In November
Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc. filed for a 240 mile pipeline from the Ohio
River in Monroe County to the Michigan line west of Toledo. According to the
application the pipeline would cost $550 million and create 2,500 construction
jobs and transport as much as 93,000 barrels of liquid natural gas a day. It
would also cross 334 streams and 11 high-quality wetlands and run near Toledo’s
Oak Openings preserve metro Park, home of 180 rare and endangered plants.
Trent Dougherty, attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, said the state often
does a poor job of enforcing rules that require companies to avoid or repair
environmental damage. The Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio
Environmental Protection Agency have sole authority to approve the pipeline
plan and route.
- Fracking Safety for Unconventional Oil & Gas Domestic Growth (civicchoices.wordpress.com)
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