Can natural gas be the answer to moving away from dirty and expensive oil and still be environmentally friendly and safe? Is this what they mean by green energy? What is hydraulic fracturing? Is it hype and hyperbole? I’ll let YOU decide.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking, a.k.a. fraking or fracking is a process of extracting natural gas in gas shale deposits, and at some point drilling horizontally instead of vertically while using sand, chemicals and copious amounts of water.
Water does not sound like a problem, but what about the chemicals involved in the process? Are they safe and what are they used for? There are all kinds of chemicals used like fracking fluid, lubricants, drilling muds and others that are part of the many stages in the process with several pieces of equipment such as injection wells, condensate tanks and brine tanks.
One report states there are 260 chemicals, but finds nothing deemed damaging, while another report finds the count to be 596 chemicals of which many are damaging. Xylene and carbon disulfide (neurotoxicants), and naphthalene (a blood poison), are part of the cocktail. The picture here identifies bags of chemicals at a U.S. site in Wise County in the Fort Worth Basin including barite and another chemical with the words “caustic”. Does that sound safe to you?
So how does the cocktail of water and chemicals affect us, or does it? The hydrofracking process causes a seismic-like activity, breaking up the rock and opening up many veins in the earth, thus releasing the gas. The sand keeps those veins open and the chemicals that are used in the process leech into the ground. In some of the earlier stages of the process, individuals can see almost immediate changes in their well water ranging from murky to brown in color due to contamination, and other problems that have occurred later such as fires of the erected gas rigs or other equipment.
Evacuations have taken place too and explosions of water well. Norma Fiortino’s well exploded causing much damage and since then, the methane gas vent still exists on her property, just feet away from her house. To put the contaminated water into perspective, people in these effected areas can light their water on fire. WABC-TV in New York, New York did a report where it shows the destruction from Fiortino’s well explosion and another homeowner's whose water is flammable, which he demonstrates in front of the camera (take a look here.
In addition to the above problems, humans have developed a host of health problems and even their pets are losing weight or hair or are dying. The water is not the only thing unclean, for the air is polluted as well with compressor stations emitting known human carcinogens, such as benzene, which we’ve heard about so much already with respects to the BP Gulf oil spill. The pollution from this complex process of fracking leaves a blanket of dark cloud material over homes that last for hours each day. And yet in America, the natural gas companies are exempt from the bills enacted into law by President Nixon in 1972, but not by his doing, but by the past administration. These laws include: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund Act and many others. If the air is not being polluted, then what do you see coming from that picture below? Is that energy green?
Some may think 'that really doesn’t affect me here where I live. But doesn’t it? If farmers who raise cattle have their animals slaughtered to become hamburgers or steaks, then what do you think you will be eating? Some may say 'but I don’t have well water, so my water can’t become contaminated.' Is that true? If you receive public utilities from your city, county or other local government and your water is supplied by reservoirs and lakes, then yes, your water too can become contaminated.
Some believe that it is few and far between and doesn’t happen much. But does it? In the United States, 34 of the states are using this hydrofracking process, as well as Canada’s Lambton and Kent counties, which are part of Ontario, and the area of Port Elgin. There are additional potential sites in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and New Brunswick with the last being very promising. There has been much talk about the Marcellus shale in America, but that is not the only gas shale formation there, for there is also the Barnett shale, the Utica shale making its way to Canada via New York state, the Middle Ordovician Collingwood shale along with overlapping Utica in Michigan state that also makes its way to Canada, the Antrim shale, and many others.
Skaane in Southern Sweden has been drilled late last year using the hydrofracking process and currently, gas companies are analyzing the data, which may take a year. North western Germany’s Lower Saxony Basin is just one place in Germany where gas shale formations are being drilled, along with England’s Weald Basin 20 km from Guilford and the Bowland shale, which is a few miles from Blackpool in Lancashire. Denmark, France and South Africa are also slated to be drilled and are in negotiations now with gas companies. Does this sound like an isolated area to you? Take a look at the map above that showcases just those shale gas plays in the United States that are rampant. Does this make you uncomfortable? It should.
The Deepwater Horizon spill otherwise known as the Gulf spill has already occurred, but you can try and do something about the natural gas fracking coming to an area near you, before it too becomes more of a catastrophe than it already is. If you live in the United States, write to your Congressmen, for there are twin bills before the House and Senate right now. If you live in another country, try and be pro-active and make your voice heard. You can learn more about hydrofracking by watching the documentary originally known as “Water Under Attack”, but that is now called “Gasland” by writer, director and co-producer Josh Fox (The Royal Cinema in Toronto just finished a six-day showing ending Wednesday the 28; in the United States, the documentary aired on the HBO channels from late June through July 29). If you have not already seen it, you may still order it “on demand” through cable TV or FIOS through Sept 6th. Additional information can be found at the Gasland website. You can also glean some info from a 23 minute interview, along with clips from the movie at the PBS NOW website.