Most of us have heard about the process of hydraulic fracturing, and all the environmental questions involved with the process from, “does it cause earthquakes,” to, “the water coming out of my sink is on fire,” to “is it contaminating the water or air.”
It is also rather annoying to see that even with the United States Geological Service stating that beyond a doubt that it causes earthquakes, oil men, and their spokesmen can’t find it in themselves to ever acknowledge such a thing. They seem to want to say, “oh, that’s just the dang hippies again.”
I drive a car, and I personally value the contributions of oil companies, but this doesn’t mean I think every action they take is intelligent. When those actions are harmful; they should be addressed.
The purpose of this article is to give you the resources to examine this issue, and decide for yourself…
Fracking in Texas, 2009
As early as 2009, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal saying the residents of a small town in Texas thought the fracking process was causing issues such as minor earthquakes and tremors; but there wasn’t scientific proof.
Now there’s been time to gather evidence, one way or the other.
The Oklahoma Geological Service identified as many as 50 “microquakes,” and 43 of them large enough to pinpoint their location. These quakes could be shown to begin roughly around the same time as the process of hydraulic fracturing (thank you Kai Olson-Sawyer), and the majority of them occurred within 3.5 miles of the Eola Field Well in Garvin County Oklahoma.
In a Bloomberg article, information presented by the Seismological Society of America and the United States Geological Survey shows “the number of earthquakes in the central portion of the United States has doubled from 2000 to 2009, quadrupled in 2010, and sextupled in 2011” In other words, the number of quakes went from 21 a year (2000) to 134 in a year(2011).
Might this suggest there is a Problem?
Consider Boyle’s law, which states volume equals temperature over pressure. This means, in a closed system, If you are injecting a substance, it’s volume may be the same, but the pressure increases, and that pressure has to go somewhere. If you heat it, the pressure gets even greater. That is what we want with fracking to get pressure and heat to break up or fracture material and get it back to the surface. Unfortunately, that pressure doesn’t always go exactly where we want it to. Likewise, the fluids don’t necessarily go on the path we might have projected for them.
Not just quakes but contamination of water
The quakes aren’t even the sole concern with hydraulic fracturing, because during this process, the oil companies inject a proppant, and fracturing fluid at high pressures with the intent of opening up the space to extract petroleum, natural gas, or other substances.
The proppant usually isn’t so bad. It can be sand, ceramics, or other such particulates. More dangerous are the fracturing fluids, that can contain other chemicals, which are not nice to get into your aquifer.
Slickwater fracturing fluids usually aren’t so bad, being 99% water, but the preferred methods use gel, that may contain friction reducers, acids, biocides, emulsifiers such as benzene, as well as polymers and surfactants in quantities as high as 7%. Sometimes they will make use of Radioactive tracer isotopes to determine the injection profile and location of fractures created by hydraulic fracturing. These chemicals can be less pleasant to have in your water supply.
Destroying Your Own Backyard
This is why I also included an article that isn’t about fracking, but mining limestone. You would think the old adage, “don’t poop in your own nest” would carry over to the folks in the mining industry. They would be smart enough to realize if you are mining underground, that you are near your water supply and you might contaminate it.
We often know the owners of these companies don’t live near where they are causing environmental destruction. It doesn’t occur to us that although they don’t have an intimate vested interest, they would operate carelessly or thoughtlessly towards others and our local environment. If Benzene or an emulsifier used in the mining process was indeed contaminating the aquifer, they wouldn’t know, and perhaps they may not care.
In the Bloomberg article, the worry at that time was over a bacteria known as Cryptosporidium parvum, a pathogen, and rather nasty because it resists disinfection. Florida was liberal about allowing Limestone mining anywhere those companies might choose to apply for a permit. The problem was that they discovered after injecting dye into the man-made lakes, that it came out in the aquifer supplying the city, in under 2 hours.
The point is the common sense adage of “don’t pee upstream from where you are going to be drinking.”
People have said the example of Florida limestone, because limestone is so porous, is not a valid example. The same issue involving fracking has occurred in Wyoming, without porous limestone.
No Care, No Responsibility
There is an unsurprising similarity between this incidence and the one involving Miami’s Biscayne Bay Aquifer, and that is the company involved refuses to take responsibility for their actions. In this case, Encana’s spokesman Doug Hock, blames it on nature, or the EPA themselves contaminating the sample. The EPA’s updated results will be out in October.
This isn’t just about Fracking. It’s about using the brain “God” gave you.”
The reason for the second example, is to illustrate a point. When you are digging underground, there is ALWAYS going to be the chance of contamination. Corporate executives always need to be thoughtful about this kind of thing. It means they need to be aware, be careful, and use non-toxic materials when working in, or near our water supply.
This is where they could insert, “Darn hippies,” but it has nothing to do with hippies or people on the fringe. Being a person who is thoughtful, and thinking long-term is just common sense. Over time, scientists, engineers, CEOs, and CFO’s have proven they can be brilliant concerning the bottom line; but I am hoping we can push them to be all they can be. I have no issue with people making profit, and probably most people don’t. What we do need is our “thinkers” to remember, quite simply: if you do something, be sure the consequences of your action don’t just stop where you might want them to.
We need our thinkers to remember this if they are considering something that will potentially expose the aquifer to outside biological contamination. Likewise, if they are using energy in a confined area, that energy still has to go somewhere. In this case, what they are doing has shown to cause a dramatic upswing in earthquakes in an area, or many areas. It has the potential to create much bigger problems and it is a good time to reevaluate the methods.
Elizabeth Shogren. “EPA Connects ‘Fracking’ To Water Contamination.” Npr.com. December 8, 2011. Retrieved June 3, 2012 from: NPR
Ben Casselman, “Tremblors Rattle Texas Town: Residents Suspect a Drilling Boom is Triggering Small Quakes, but Scientists Lack Proof,” Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2009. Retrieved June 2, 2012: haynesvilleplay.com (PDF)
Mark Drajem, ” Fracking Tied to Unusual Rise in Earthquakes in U.S.” Bloomberg.com. Apr 12, 2012. Retrieved June 2, 2012 from: Bloomberg
Ben Geman. “Top Obama energy aide: ‘Fracking’ rules coming by year’s end.” The Hill.com. 06/25/12. Retrieved June, 2, 2012 from: The Hill
Hydraulic Fracturing. Wiki. Retrieved June 2, 2012: Wikipedia, Hydraulic Fracturing
Nolon, John R. and Polidoro, Victoria, Hydrofracking – “Disturbances Both Geological and Political: Who Decides?.” Zoning & Planning Law Report, Vol. 44, (2012) (3), p. 1, SSRN: SSRN (PDF)
Kai Olson-Sawyer, “Fracking Operations Can Cause Earthquakes? “Almost Certainly,” Says U.S. Geological Survey,” Ecocentric Blog. (11 April 2012) Retrieved June 2, 2012: ecocentricblog.org
Austin Holland, “Examination of Possibly Induced Seismicity from Hydraulic Fracturing in the Eola Field, Garvin County, Oklahoma.” Oklahoma Geological Survey’s Open-File report (2011). Retrieved June 2, 2012: Oklahoma Geological Survey (PDF)
A.B. Wade “Water Supply at Greater Risk than Expected” U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior News Release. August 27, 2008 retrieved June 2, 2012: USGS (PDF)
Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. “The Potential Health Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing Wastewater and Drill Cuttings” Written Testimony for the New York State Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation. Canandaigua, New York, December 12, 2011. Retrieved June 2, 2012: spectraenergywatch.com (PDF)