Debate Forum Topic, 8/2/11

Debate Forum Topic, 8/2/11

No FRACKING way?

By David H. Landon

A drilling rig at work. Photo courtesy of the Network for Oil and Gas Accountability and Protection.

A drilling rig at work. Photo courtesy of the Network for Oil and Gas Accountability and Protection.

The Village of Yellow Springs recently passed a resolution calling for a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, is the process of initiating and propagating a fracture in a rock layer by employing the pressure of a fluid as the source of energy. The fracturing is accomplished from a well-bore drilled into reservoir rock formations, in order to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas. Although there are no known fracturing operations in Yellow Springs, the council has passed the resolution as an effort to address what they believe are serious consequences of unregulated fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing for stimulation of oil and natural gas wells was first used commercially in 1949, and because of its success in increasing production from oil wells, it was was quickly adopted and is now used worldwide. Annually, as much as 90 percent of the natural gas produced in the U.S. is shale gas extracted by means of hydraulic fracturing.

Environmental risks include:

1.) The escape of methane gas into the atmosphere. A recent study has indicated that the impact of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (both fugitive and combustion) associated with shale gas may be up to 20 percent greater than the GHG emissions associated with coal-fired generation.

2.) Contamination of ground water supplies by drilling fluids and methane gas.

3.) Difficulty in treatment of drilling fluid-contaminated wastewater. The potential costs associated with possible environmental clean-up processes, loss of land value and human and animal health concerns are under study and undetermined at this time.

A 2004 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study concluded that the process was safe and didn’t warrant further study because there was “no unequivocal evidence” of health risks, and the fluids were neither necessarily hazardous nor able to travel far underground. However, two studies released in 2009, one by the U.S. Department of Energy and the other released by the Ground Water Protection Council, address hydraulic fracturing safety concerns. Chemicals which can be used in the fracturing fluid, including kerosene, benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, are not directly used as treating chemical additives but can be a small component of the specific chemicals used in the job. A complete listing of the chemical formulation of additives used in hydraulic fracturing is not currently available to landowners, neighbors, local officials or health care providers. This practice is under scrutiny as well.

In June 2009 two identical bills named the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act) were introduced to both the House and Senate, designed to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act. This would allow the EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing that occurs in states which have not taken primacy in UIC regulation. The bill required the energy industry to reveal what chemicals are being used in the sand-water mixture. The 111th Congress adjourned (January 3) without taking action. The current Congress re-introduced the FRAC Act on March 24.

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