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Hydro-Fracking for Gas - a Safe Alternative?

Updated on August 30, 2011

The Western States Gas and Oil Production

Oil and Gas drilling on the Roan Plateau in Colorado.
Oil and Gas drilling on the Roan Plateau in Colorado. | Source

Gas Is Extracted From Wyoming Shale

Drilling rig in Wyoming. As with drilling for oil, the rig is taken down when drilling is done.
Drilling rig in Wyoming. As with drilling for oil, the rig is taken down when drilling is done. | Source

Many countries, including the U.S., are standing on enough energy to last several lifetimes. We now know how extract it and have begun to do just that. Are all of our energy problems solved? Like all things that sound too good to be true, this needs some scrutiny.

A piece of gas-bearing shale can be compared with a chunk of sidewalk. Freeing up the trapped gas requires drilling downward, then sideways, to “octopus” the well outward to where the gas is. Next comes the controversial part - millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are blasted into the horizontal well section to free up the gas. This process is called “Hydro-Fracking.”

Disposing of Millions of Gallons of Waste

Waste is held in a lagoon until trucked away. For scale, there is a car parked alongside, if you can find it.
Waste is held in a lagoon until trucked away. For scale, there is a car parked alongside, if you can find it. | Source

There Will be a Big Economic Boost

There’s no doubt that there’s money in gas. Montana and Wyoming have a budget surplus thanks to gas drilling. There are jobs to be had and also more freedom from imported energy. So, what’re we waiting for…start the party!!

...Or, Is There a Downside

There is a lot of data available on the direct costs associated with this process, but some things such as water usage and environmental costs are more of a mystery. Evidence shows that:

  • groundwater can be contaminated
  • truck traffic (hauling the water and waste) must be accommodated
  • pipelines may need to be built or upgraded.

Significant amounts of methane may escape from young wells and the disposing of millions of gallons of water - often bearing heavy metals or Radium contamination - has not always been done properly.

Why is this being allowed? In 2005, at the urging of Vice President Dick Cheney, Congress created the so-called "Halliburton loophole" to clean water protections in federal law to prevent the U.S. EPA from regulating this process. Some in congress are now attempting to overturn this exception.

Pickens seems less optomistic now that wind power has as bright a future as was previously thought.
Pickens seems less optomistic now that wind power has as bright a future as was previously thought. | Source

What would T. Boone Pickens Do?

T. Boone Pickens, once a proponent of using gas as a bridge to a wind powered future now says “You’re stuck with hydrocarbons — come on, get real…”1 The old time oilman is now a gas proponent and he believes the U.S. should extract it as soon and as fast as possible.2

Whether we like his hydrocarbon viewpoint or not, he’s probably more right than wrong, at least for the near future.

Lets Slow Down and Get It Right

Although it’s naïve to think that a bonanza such as this will NOT be exploited, the experience to date has been that we seem to lack either the knowledge or the will, to do this cleanly.

We’ll need to test all wastewater and treat it as needed. We need to seriously research groundwater contamination and not just deny that it can happen.There may be some locations where this just should not be done. And, the Federal Government, not individual states, needs to be in charge.

This needs to be done correctly so we don't “burn the furniture to heat the house.”

References:

1. http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/04/11-8
2. http://e360.yale.edu/feature/a_high-risk_energy_boom_sweeps_across_north_america/2324/

Comments

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  • Hugh Williamson profile imageAUTHOR

    Hugh Williamson 

    7 years ago from Northeast USA

    I read of two possible alternatives. A Canadian company uses a propane injection process that shows a lot of promise. Also, the Russians use a high-freq. water powered vibrating drill in other types of drilling and this will be tried now for gas.

    We should be testing all of these methods in the U.S. to find an alternative to the chemical/water/sand polluting method. Let's hope big oil/gas "money" doesn't get in the way.

  • novascotiamiss profile image

    Novascotiamiss 

    7 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

    Sadly, money will always win. When the mines go bust the tax payers will have to pay for the mess. And so it goes on and on. And what are we learning from this?

  • Hugh Williamson profile imageAUTHOR

    Hugh Williamson 

    7 years ago from Northeast USA

    There's a political battle going right now over tax breaks for big oil. They say oil supplies will be cut if they don't get these breaks plus freedom from those pesky environmental safeguards.

    As long as money buys influence in D.C. they'll have influence.

  • profile image

    diogenese 

    7 years ago

    A disgusting commentary on big business at its very worst. It's revolting to see the US raped like this. We are all paying right NOW for all man's pollution of the land and sea. The old sun, with its limitless power, must laugh as we ignore its resources and continue to grub in the soil like psychotic moles. R

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