Issue 9: Is Shale Gas the Solution to Our Energy Woes?
With heated debate and controversy on both sides – You decide.
By: Danielle Knobel Professor Lynette Morkey Environmental Geology 106
The Start of Hydraulic Fracturing
Hydraulic fracturing, or as most know it hydrofracking or fracking is a process first developed by the Stanolind Oil and Gas Corporation in the 1940’s as a way to free oil and natural gas confined in rocks. Techniques were refined and eventually success was made, in 1948 Standolind licensed the technology to Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company who was the first company to commercially use the technique in 1949. Limitations of technology at the time prevented a vast majority of natural gas to be extracted and the available reserve was waning until Mitchell Energy in 1997 came out with a break through, a hydraulic fracturing technique known as slickwater fracturing. This new technique allowed for the mining of natural gas in shale deposits before deemed unreachable to be possible and compounded by the rising cost of natural gas
commercially viable when it had not been before. But what is hydraulic fracturing? To gain access to the shale gas below a well must be dug. Wells can reach depths of 6100 meters from the surface before they start to drill horizontally through the newly accessed shale; horizontal drilling can stretch up to 3050 meters.
Then, a slurry of water, sand and chemicals, often called fracking fluid, is pumped into the well at high pressures to cause fractures, cracks and fissures in the rock, The sand keeps the pores open and the gas now can flow freely out into the well to be captured, processed and used for domestic needs. To fracture the shale in a well it can require 2.4-7.8 billion gallons of water per time fractured and during the course of a well’s lifetime it may be fractured up to eighteen times. On top of all that water add sand and chemicals. It is unknown all of the chemicals that go into the fracking fluids but several of those that have been disclosed have been known to cause health issues to humans when even in concentrations as low as six parts per billion. Also of what water and additives are forced down into the well only between 30-50% of that is recovered from the well. From there the wastewater is put into flow back pits (two can be seen in the picture on the title page). Here the waste water can go through several processes. In some places sprinkler systems spray wastewater into the air in attempt to evaporate it which one would assume would evaporate chemicals into the air as well as water. Fracking fluid not evaporated is removed via 225-350 tanker trucks filled to be processed and cleaned before being released into waterways or more recently some 70-75% has been recycled and reused in the fracturing processes.
Laws and Regulations
To date there are no all-encompassing Federal laws to regulate hydraulic fracturing and regulation is of oil and gas companies is at the state and municipal level and responsibility upon the company itself. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted oil and gas companies from having to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and the Superfund Act (CERCLA) the final of which allowed for oil and gas companies not to have to list all chemicals used in the fracturing process. The proposed Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act that was proposed in 2009 and again in 2011 if brought up again and pass as it currently stands would move to repeal the exemption on the Safe Drinking Water Act and require companies to disclose what chemicals they are using and at which sites. Some cities or counties to date have placed bans or moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and the state of Vermont has placed a complete ban of fracturing within its...