Is Fracking Poisoning America’s Freshwater Supply?
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it’s more commonly referred to, is used to stimulate the production of oil and gas from unconventional oil and gas deposits – shales, coalbeds, and tight sands. These types of deposits need to be stimulated because they have a lower permeability than conventional reservoirs and require the additional stimulation for production.
Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling a well then injecting it with a slurry of water, chemical additives and proppants. Wells are drilled and lined with a steel pipe that’s cemented into place. A perforating gun is used to shoot small holes through the steel and cement into the shale. The highly pressurized fluid and proppant mixture injected into the well escapes and create cracks and fractures in the surrounding shale layers and that stimulates the flow of natural gas or oil. The proppants (grains of sand, ceramic beads, or sintered bauxite) prevent the fractures from closing when the injection is stopped and the pressure of the fluid is removed.
Proponents of hydraulic fracturing argue that fracking:
Opponents of hydraulic fracturing have some serious concerns regarding:
Over the last several years there’s been a dramatic rise in the use of hydraulic fracturing. As use of this technology has increased worries are growing about fracking’s effect on our fresh water supply, it’s easy to see why:
Here are a few excerpts from ‘Myths Versus Realities…Getting the facts about Fracking’ published by The Council of Canadians.
As of 2010, it was estimated that 60 percent of all new oil and gas wells worldwide were being hydraulically fractured. As of 2012, 2.5 million hydraulic fracturing jobs have been performed on oil and gas wells worldwide, more than one million of them in the United States – Wikipedia.
The fracturing fluids job is to create the fractures, hold them open, place the proppants, and then lose viscosity to flow back up the wellbore. It has to do all that without damaging the reservoir. Typical fluid types are:
Fracturing fluid additives include: proppants, acids, gelling agents to thicken the fracturing fluid, gel breakers which allow fracturing fluid and gas to flow easily back to surface, bactericides, biocides, clay stabilizers, corrosion inhibitors, crosslinkers which help maintain viscosity of fracturing fluid, friction reducers, iron controls, scale inhibitors, and surfactants. The fracturing fluid will vary in composition depending on the type of fracturing used, the conditions of the specific well being fractured, and the water characteristics.
A typical fracture treatment uses up to 12 additive chemicals to the fracturing fluid. The most often used chemical additives would include one or more of the following:
British Columbia’s Vancouver Sun newspaper reported a well in Peace River North, British Columbia, Canada used more than 30 ingredients. These ingredients included hydrochloric acid, xylene (a central nervous system depressant), naphtha, polyethylene glycol and kerosene.
Each well uses between two and eight million gallons of locally-sourced freshwater which will be permanently contaminated by toxic chemicals contained in the fracking fluid, in ground contaminants and the mixing of the two to create new toxic substances.
Hydraulic fracturing flowback not only contains chemicals added during well stimulation, but the fluid that flows out of the well as the gas is produced will contain a variety of toxic and carcinogenic substances, many of which were not present in the fracturing additives. This is because chemicals and minerals are present in the shale zone formation water and they may be released during the hydraulic fracturing process. This release results in additional contaminates formed in the wastewater, ie bronopol is a biocide with low human toxicity that can release nitrite, which in alkaline medium reacts with secondary amines to produce the potent nitrosamine carcinogens.
The recovered waste fluid – water contaminated with chemicals and anything that water has come in contact with, meaning heavy metals and minerals – is often left in open air pits to evaporate, releasing harmful volatile organic compounds (VOC) into the atmosphere, creating contaminated air, acid rain, and ground level ozone.
Some of the recovered waste water is injected deep underground in oil and gas waste wells or even in saline aquifers, there are serious concerns about the ability of these caverns and aquifers to handle the increased pressure and in the U.S., evidence is showing that deep-well injecting is linked to the occurrence of earthquakes.
According to the industry’s own numbers just 60-70% of the fracturing fluid is recovered, the remaining 30 to 40% of the toxic fluid stays in the ground and is not biodegradable.
No one is entirely sure what happens to the water that is not recovered from the fracking process but since the water returned to the surface contains radium and bromides we can be sure the lost water does as well.
The use of the large number of oxidants, particularly hydrogen peroxide, in the presence of bromide can produce compounds that are potentially carcinogenic.
Radium is a radioactive metal that can cause diseases like leukemia.
Benzene, toluene, xylenes, ethyl benzene, and a variety of other aromatic compounds are routinely used. Of these, benzene carries the greatest toxicity, due to its well-known carcinogenicity. These five compounds will tend to remain in water, and only be weakly absorbed.
From the Review of the DRAFT ‘Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program Toxicity and Exposure to Substances in Fracturing Fluids and in the Wastewater Associated with the Hydrocarbon-Bearing Shale’ by Glenn Miller, Ph.D., Consulting Environmental Toxicologist to the Natural Resources Defense Council we get the following…
In 2005 U.S. President Bush, VP Dick Cheney and Congress used a 2004 study (it said fracking posed no danger to drinking water, this study was conducted in an area where coal beds were being fractured, and not shale beds) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to justify legislation of the “Halliburton loophole,” which exempts hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
What they exempted are ticking time bombs…
Is the shale revolution all it’s fracked up to be?
As companies pump out the fracking fluids bubbles and ‘burps’ of dissolved gas are released. These early gases are usually vented into the atmosphere for up to a month or more until the well hits full production, then it’s hooked up to a pipeline.
Natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal per unit of energy when burned but a report by Cornell University concluded that methane leakage was 3.6% to 7.9% of gas produced.
Natural gas is mostly methane (CH4), and methane is over 25 times (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says methane is 86 times more damaging than CO2 over a 20-year period) more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100 year period.
In August of 2013, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) led study measured a stunning 6% to 12% methane leakage over one of the U.S.’s largest gas fields, the Uintah Basin, which produces about 1% of U.S. natural gas. Releases of those magnitudes could offset the environmental edge that natural gas is said to enjoy over other fossil fuels.
The new ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ study introduces the idea of technology warming potentials (TWPs) to reveal time-dependent tradeoffs inherent in a choice between alternative technologies.
In this new approach the potent warming effect of methane emissions undercuts the value of fuel switching. The switch from coal to gas, assuming a total methane leakage of 2.4%, would only reduce TWPs by about 25% over the first three decades – just half the oft touted 50% drop in CO2 emissions from the switch. The study found that if the total leakage exceeds 3.2%, gas becomes worse for the climate than coal.
The decline rate of shale gas wells is very steep. A year after coming on-stream production can drop to 20-40 percent of the original level. If the best prospects were developed first, and they were, subsequent drilling will take place on increasingly less favorable prospects. Try to imagine how much drilling is taking place just to keep even with the existing production rate, how about increasing production?
Here’s James Howard Kunstler, author of “The Long Emergency” and his take on the situation;
Fracking is Definitely Contaminating Our Fresh Water
There’s no doubt hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have tapped huge resources previously thought unrecoverable. By the end of the year, the US will be producing more oil and gas than any other country in the world. And it’s almost all thanks to fracking.
But at what cost?
Hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells is contaminating our fresh water supply. Wells are counted by the hundreds of thousands in the U.S. and Canada, millions have been fracked worldwide and we’re drilling hundreds more per day. Each and everyone a potential ticking time bomb of human cancers and mutation. In the end, when the shale boom goes bust, and it’ll be much sooner than most think, we’ll have to live with what’s been done to our environment. In a few short years will we be able to rationalize, to justify the short term benefits from poisoning our most precious resource, our fresh water?
Hydraulic fracturing should be on all our radar screens. Is it on yours?
If not, maybe it should be.
Richard is the owner of Aheadoftheherd.com and invests in the junior resource/bio-tech sectors. His articles have been published on over 400 websites, including: WallStreetJournal, USAToday, NationalPost, Lewrockwell, MontrealGazette, VancouverSun, CBSnews, HuffingtonPost, Londonthenews, Wealthwire, CalgaryHerald, Forbes, Dallasnews, SGTreport, Vantagewire, Indiatimes, Ninemsn, Ibtimes, Businessweek, HongKongHerald, Moneytalks and the Association of Mining Analysts.
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