Yes, I mean hydraulic fracturing, one of the most contentious technologies in the press over the last several years.
This technology involves the use of highly pressurized fluid to fracture rock formations in the subsurface, with the primary intention of releasing substances from the surrounding strata. Substances can be anything from shale gas, to crude petroleum, to water and other fluids.
Hydraulic fracturing is used in the development of wells when there is insufficient reservoir pressure, permeability or hydraulic conductivity to allow flow through the formation. The depth at which hydraulic fracking is induced is anywhere between 5,000 – 20,000 feet below the surface of the earth.
One of the primary contentions with fracking is that there is reportedly a possibility or causal relationship for groundwater contamination.
However, something that is not well publicized is that within the subsurface there are numerous layers of impermeable rock that do not allow fluid to flow. If liquids were moving in these formations, shale gas or any other fluid that is pulled out would not be there. The whole point of fracturing the rock is to create voids and cracks that allow this fluid to flow through where it didn’t before.
At such immense depths, and in the right geological conditions, numerous highly impermeable layers lie thousands of feet below water tables and underground aquifers.
Have some people found poisonous chemicals in their tap water in regions near drilling? Certainly.
It is important to note that a lot of drilling occurs in areas rich with gas and oil, which naturally seeps through more permeable layers close to the ground surface. It is possible that some groundwater contamination occurs during fracking, but this is due to improper well completion.
The problem can occur when cement casing is laid into the well bore, down far enough to prevent interaction between the well and the surrounding subsurface’s water table. If this step is not completed properly, groundwater can become contaminated.
Maybe crews don’t do the job correct to save money or time. Does this happen all the time? Absolutely not. But, I agree that if it happens more than none of the time, it is not okay.
So wait, why should you like fracking?
I mean, I get it, no one likes big oil companies, with their inexhaustible budgets and lobbyists, who often see nothing more than the opportunity for dollars in their pockets. Without a doubt, I am all for greater investment in renewable and alternative energy sources.
I quit my job as an engineer in the natural gas industry and am currently in graduate school, pursuing an advanced degree in Hydrology—with the intention of entering into environmental engineering and remediation. My research focus is on contaminant transport in groundwater.
Unfortunately, there is a real need to supply fossil fuels and their byproducts to our globalized world. Society made the choice years ago to primarily depend upon this, and it is taking time to transition toward other solutions.
In the mean time however, the responsible use of hydraulic fracturing in developing wells means fewer wells drilled. The use of more effective technologies means that previously drilled wells can be redeveloped and recompleted, without having to drill more and more in new areas.
At this point I imagine a lot of you want to jump out of your seats and scream that I’m not getting the big picture of how detrimental this all is, how evil big oil is.
I personally know many engineers in the petroleum industry. To be honest, a lot of them only care about money. But, a large portion also believe that they are helping people by providing them with energy.
You should like responsible fracking not because it just provides jobs, but for several other reasons as well:
1) It means energy companies get more for less. This means less tearing up lands to set up wells, and fewer new pipelines being built.
2) It is bringing the public into a necessary conversation about energy and resources. No longer are we (as a nation) simply turning on light switches and fueling up cars without a second thought.
3) It encourages and strengthens the position of lobbyists and policies not developed or funded by oil companies through publicity.But, this engagement must be founded upon science, not just anecdote, anti-oil, anti-fossil fuel, anti-anything sentiments.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of loopholes in the system. Greater oversight and regulations are needed in all resource extraction and development, including fracking.
These may come in the form of where fracking is allowed—Are the geological conditions appropriate?
They may also come in the form of the quality of other drilling aspects, such as well completion— Has the well been safely completed to ensure no contamination in the area? Have there been any established observation wells nearby to detect even the slightest release of chemicals? Is data from these observation wells open to third party securitization?
I am really optimistic that the conversation that fracking has started between mainstream society, the government and oil companies is going to lead to the protection of more open lands, as well as greater oversight and investment in the safe and responsible practices of completing and developing wells. I hope that the public will begin to educate themselves on the technology and science involved, in order to augment exposure to case studies.
As is true with any study, understanding of the theory behind the practice creates a foundational structure of knowledge upon which a greater informed opinion can be developed.
My goal is not to convince you to love hydraulic fracturing. It is simply to show you that, as with most anything, there is more to the picture than what meets the eye. There is far more to the story than what is propagated by media.
As citizens of this increasingly over-populated planet, we must all work together to create scientific solutions that work for society, the environment and the economy.
Anthony Actis is starting the next chapter of his life as a graduate student in Hydrology. He recently spent five weeks driving 8600 miles from London, England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to raise money for The Lotus Children’s Centre in Ulaanbaatar, and to have himself a proper adventure. He is a scientist, an engineer, a philosopher, a yogi, an adventurer, sometimes a bit of a lush (although increasingly less often), and completely fascinated with his native homeland of Colorado. He finished his 200-hr yoga teacher training in Denver, but he wants to grow his personal practice and knowledge further before teaching. As a citizen of the world, he is enamored with francophile culture, asking difficult questions, people watching, airports, being uncomfortably polite and courteous, early morning asana, existentialism, pain au chocolate, fake mustaches, awkward facial expressions, and Oxford commas.
Editor: Olivia Gray
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