Dangers of Fracking … Essay
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Geology on Fracking
For the past five years, there have been exponential increases in the public learning about, and then forming opinions on, on the drilling companies' use of fracking to increase the production of new and preexisting petroleum wells. Due to the secretive nature of the drilling companies when it comes to the makeup of their methods they use, as well as how little research there is currently published on the topic, there is still much that is not known about fracking. Public opinion has been expressed as both fear of the unknown, and possible harm. This outcry has led many politicians to vote for regulations and legislation at the state and local levels. The public has started to look more carefully at fracking, largely due to the increase in its use in wells all over the world. This increase in use has caused environmentalists to notice, and to start looking for research on whether or not the practice is safe. This fear of potential injury, loss, or death brought the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) forward with regulations that have to be enforced by the end of 2014.
Introduction to Fracking
Fracking is used in petroleum production wells to help increase the size and yield of the well, so that not only are the wells more efficient but they will increase profits to the parent company. These petroleum parent companies all use fracking in their wells but, surprisingly, there is no set way in which this is required to be done. All of the companies who engage in this particular behavior claim that their fracking proppant ratios are a trade secret, and so there are a lot of regional differences between the companies and what is found in their fracking proppants.
Fracking, at its base elements, is when a drilling company finally reaches the depth they were seeking and, instead of immediately starting to pump the petroleum product out of the well, they instead use a mix of several ingredients and pump them straight into the well. By doing this, the surrounding rocks of the well become fractured and more porous. This allows the petroleum product in the well to flow more easily, and more will flow from the well, resulting in more profit. For the companies, that is a good choice. For the people nearby, there may be serious risk.
The Fracking Controversy
The major controversy behind the use of fracking is not pumping water down and fracturing the rock. Instead, it is the different chemicals and other ingredients that make up the slurry that is causing concern among the public. The idea behind the fracking proppant is that a mixture of water and fine grade sand is pumped down into the well where the water forces a crack into the rock. The sand is then forced deep into the crack, making sure that the crack in the rock does not close back up after the water is removed. Due to increases in technology and the different chemical compounds that have become more readily available for commercial use, it is becoming easier to destroy rock in this matter. However, the chemicals and the used water that are left behind after the fracking process has been completed have a possibility of contaminating the surrounding ground, well water, and overall environment, resulting in health concerns.
Although the use of fracking in the oil field has been seen for decades, the exact time of first use is unknown. However, several petroleum production companies claim that this practice has been in use for a minimum of 60 years. These companies claim that if there were going to be adverse effects they would of already occurred. That leads to the main question that must be asked if fracking is to really be addressed and considered: is fracking truly safe, as the companies claim, or are their secret recipes causing irreparable harm to both the surrounding environment and human society? This interests me specifically, due to the fact that I am currently involved in getting a Petroleum Engineering certificate. I have had some teaching on the fracking process and its potential risks, but feel that knowledge is incomplete. It is necessary to learn more.
The Growth of Fracking
According to Helen Thompson in an article in the journal Nature, "the number of gas wells in Ohio that use fracking is set to mushroom from 77 to more than 2,300 in the next three years." This look into the future is not limited to one area, and is occurring all over America. The use of fracking to help petroleum production is on the rise everywhere. While drilling for oil is not a new phenomenon to the human race, the use of fracking to help this production along is a new idea for the public. Technology has increased with time, and has allowed oil companies to drill and produce in new and interesting ways. According to Bob Weinhold "oil and natural gas drilling are getting easier in some ways, as success rates for finding reserves have increased from 75% in 1990 to 90% in 2009." While that success is important, there are more risks involved.
This increase in success has led to a larger number of companies drilling, and through this competition the drive to find ways to outperform their competitors has led to the development and expansion of fracking. Bob Weinhold further states that the average well depth has increased from 4,841 in 1990 to 6,108 feet in 2009. This increase in depth means that companies have to invest more in each well, but without fracking they would be getting the same amount of profit. That means they would be playing a losing and unsuccessful game. Because of that, fracking is looked at as being the only viably way to keep the profit in drilling. As such, Christopher Bateman claims that "more than 90% of natural-gas wells today use fracking."
Fracking and Safety Concerns
Fracking, and more specifically fracking fluid, has lead the country into a huge debate regarding the safety of this practice. "Fracking fluids are primarily water and sand, but they also contain chemical additives that aid the horizontal fracturing of shale and the release of natural gas" states Helen Thompson. These extra chemicals are the driving force behind the debate on the safety of fracking, primarily due to the secretive nature of what is being used. The companies, of course, all claim that their recipes are trade secrets, and thus not to be told in public. They believe that protects them, and to some extent they are right in that assessment. However, the public is growing tired of using the excuse of "trade secrets" to protect something that could be potentially harmful, and that could even deadly, to them and to their environment.
This secrecy has made it nearly impossible to provide any kind of accurate reading regarding the effects that these chemicals might have up the surrounding environment and human society. Christopher Bateman has come forth with the startling fact that these chemicals are "volatile organic compounds." Furthermore, he states that research into what these chemicals actually are revealed what is believed to be only a third of the chemicals. There are others that have not yet been identified. Of the known chemicals associated with fracking, "at least half of the chemicals known to be present in fracking fluid are toxic, many of them are carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, and mutagens." Naturally, it is easy to see why these kinds of compounds would be dangerous for humans and their environment, and why they are a risk.
Helen Thompson has also quoted Deborah Swackhammer, an environmental chemist from the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, as saying "the big threats to public health are in wastewater pits and storage and also during transportation when you are trucking around contaminated water...you can have spills or leaks or flooding." This opinion is widely held by the public, as well. It has resulted in a large outcry, to which the politicians on the state and federal levels have responded. They have introduced and enacted several regulations, along with legislation on the monitoring, the transportation, and the proper disposal of the fracking fluid.
This, according to Helen Thompson "is the latest to try to regulate a rapidly growing industry while grappling with a serious knowledge gap." Until and unless that knowledge gap is satisfied, there are going to be continuing issues that revolve around whether fracking is safe and effective, or whether the use of it is doing significant harm to the environment. There could also be potential problems for humans, some of whom have already claimed to have been sickened by fracking that has taken place near their farms, homes, and communities. While not everyone sees fracking as problematic, there is certainly cause for concern in the minds of many individuals.
There has been a huge amount of secrecy and a significant upswing in the use of fracking on new and preexisting wells.… [END OF PREVIEW]
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