In 2011, fracking became part of the national lexicon. It cracked, if you will, the public consciousness. And while that is a really good thing, we must keep the conversation going.
What the frack is fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing – hydrofracking or fracking – is a means of deep-shale natural gas extraction. Vertical wells are drilled several thousand feet deep, passing through layers of rock and the water table, before turning horizontally and being drilled several thousand feet through shale formations. A perforating gun pierces the pipe and cement lining of the well, blasting into the shale. Pressurized water with additives – including sand, lubricants, and upwards of 600 chemicals (including known carcinogens and biocides) – is shot into the well to widen and hold open the cracks in the shale. Natural pressure forces the water back out of the pipe to the surface, along with the natural gas.
Fracking became a household term in 2011 due to a number of news stories questioning the fracking process and regulations governing it.
Fracking rumbled back into the news recently as scientists concluded that a recent series of earthquakes in Youngstown, Ohio is “most likely” linked to the fracking process. They’ve determined that the earthquakes are a result of injecting fracking wastewater back down in sandstone deposits deep in the earth; the fluids act as lubricants between rock faces, causing the earth to move. A rare occurrence in Youngstown, the city experienced 9 small earthquakes between March and November 2011 within an 8 kilometer radius of a fracking wastewater injection well. Earthquakes this past Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve – measuring 2.7 and 4.0 on the Richter Scale, respectively – occurred within 100 meters of each other, less than 1 kilometer from the injection well. (WTF? A coincidence? I’m thinking not.)
Also making the headlines was an EPA report released this past December potentially linking groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracking in Pavilion, Wyoming. For years, residents would turn on faucets to find dirty, foul smelling, contaminated water. In 2008, the EPA found low levels of hydrocarbon compounds, methane, and 2-butoxyethanol phosphate, in addition to extremely high levels of benzene in water drinking supplies. In 2010, the federal government warned Pavilion residents not to drink their well water, and to open windows and use fans when showering, washing dishes, or washing clothes in order to avoid the risk of an explosion. (WTF? No thank you.)
Just last week, New Yorkers rallied one final time to extend the state’s ban on fracking. Recognizing the potential water pollution problems, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation placed a de facto moratorium on fracking in 2008 until the issue could be studied further. Last September, the DEC released a draft of proposed regulations opening 85% of New York’s land up to drilling – a move upsetting many New Yorkers. Hundreds of residents rallied at public hearings and well over 20,000 comments were submitted during the public hearing/comment process. Even Zoë Saldana, Ethan Hawke, and Mark Ruffalo joined in to say “stop fracking with my New York water.”
They weren’t the only celebrities talking about the controversial subject. Last July, Stephen Colbert weighed in on the subject, poking fun at hydraulic fracking company Talisman Energy. In an attempt to save its image after the state of Pennsylvania issued the company 145 violations, they released a coloring book for kids. Nothing like a little propaganda for the youngsters, right? The book profiles the work of Talisman Terry, the friendly Fracosauraus – a dinosaur way less cool than Littlefoot and even scarier than Barney.
The point is that fracking isn’t hidden amongst Pennsylvania’s rolling hills or in the farming communities of Wyoming anymore. It’s hit the national media circuit and sparking conversations about the ways in which we derive our energy.
Why the frack should you care?
The conversation about the ways we conventionally derive energy is often hushed. It’s surprising how many people don’t know how the energy they use was created. Not in my recent (albeit, short) memory have we talked about the true environmental costs of deriving such energy.
Attribute it to our 24-hour news cycle, fears of environmental disaster, or general disgust with the status quo, but everyday citizens are increasingly interested in the potential impacts of fracking and natural gas extraction.
This is important because natural gas is slated to be our next big energy source. It has been dubbed a bridge fuel – an “energy source that will lower the environmental impact of our global energy demands while we transition away from filthy, carbon-spewing coal and oil to our clean energy future of solar panels, wind turbines, or whatever the technology turns out to be.” But the environmental impacts appear to be enormous, and the economic ramifications may very well kill a renewable energy future.
We should be talking about this. And people – namely regulators and industry leaders should be listening. Lingering questions about the fracking process and its consequences must be answered. Tougher regulations and higher industry standards must be established. With the media’s help we must keep the conversation going.
We don’t want to be looking back at 2012 and asking ourselves WTF?