As a result, using more obscure forms of drilling for oil is thought to extend the “cheap oil” convention we have always enjoyed. Thus fracking or hydraulic fracturing--a technique of bombarding shale rock deep underground with water mixed with sand and chemicals to release the gas that it holds--becomes an economically viable technique. Fracking allows oil and gas companies to capture otherwise unavailable natural gas for the market.
Methane is the principal component of natural gas. It is not measured in water contaminant studies but poses potential safety and health hazards. Rob Jackson of Duke University recently published in the National Academy of Sciences that well water located within 1 kilometer of a shale gas well in northern Pennsylvania is at high risk of methane contamination. Homes tested for methane within the 1 km of a gas well showed a six times methane concentration than water wells further away. Jackson's researchers found methane in the drinking water was of local fossil origin and not naturally occurring. Ethane, propane and methane were shown to leak into nearby drinking water and groundwater, possibly from faulty casings made to protect ground or well water. Since groundwater studies were not done before fracking, it is difficult to prove fracking caused methane leaks. This begs the action of local regulatory agencies to halt further fracking or, as a minimum, require third party companies to collect water quality data before fracking operations are allowed to begin.
Risk to water quality from methane migration is only one possible source of contamination in the fracking process. The sand, water and chemicals (as yet unidentified by the industry) may directly open natural or secondary ground fractures to water tables and groundwater supplies. Until fracking is proven safe to the public they are wise to call for moratoriums on fracking in their local jurisdictions. The state of New York disallowed fracking after the first Gasland documentary was released.
Besides the concerns of drinking water contamination, Academy Award-nominated director Josh Fox has revealed a whole new concern over the practice of fracking. The release of his Gasland sequel, Gasland II, uncovers the practice of injecting millions of gallons of water into the shale rock target which can induce dangerous earthquakes. The home of non-reality based entertainment, Los Angeles is at the center of the latest shale play. In the center of the Newport–Inglewood fault line, a Legacy thousand-acre oil field is being drilled and fracked presently. With millions of gallons of water and fluid being injected into the facilities, an enormous amount of wastewater is created. That wastewater has to go somewhere and can cause great stress on existing fault lines. The journal Science recently published an article that indicated fracking can induce earthquakes even in regions not prone to tremors. Although the industry has been successful in painting natural gas as safe and clean, numerous studies and observations are revealing this substitute is hardly safe or clean.
In an interview on Democracy Now, Josh Fox testifies that the oil and gas industry had been attacking the film, families in the film, and scientists in the film. “It's extraordinarily disheartening to see that this is their strategy. It's deny, deny, deny, spread money around . . . convince Americans it's a great idea to drill one or two million new gas wells.” Not surprisingly, it's follow the money to find who's behind these claims. The industry has taken to hiring former military psychological operations “PSYOPS” specialists to counter opponents of drilling in Pennsylvania. The reality, Fox says, is the “moving from coal to fracked gas doesn't give you any climate benefit at all. So the plan should be about how we're moving off of fossil fuels and onto alternative energy.”
In a time when our President has shown a desire to take on the problem, the resistance by the fossil fuel industry usurps a coordinated effort to transition into a new era of energy use. Energy analyst Arthur Berman suggests for a brighter future we need to change our behavior. There is no silver energy bullet--only many silver BB's. I would suggest we begin by paying $8.01 a gallon and see how creative we can be about conserving in the last few years of easy oil from the oil century.