Hydro-Fracking for Gas - a Safe Alternative?
The Western States Gas and Oil Production
Gas Is Extracted From Wyoming Shale
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
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.
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.”