One of the major concerns with regards to hydraulic fracturing is the potential for fracking fluids – specifically, the chemicals in them – to contaminate drinking water. The YouTube video titled “My Water’s on Fire Tonight” outlined this concern:
But there’s more in the water than just H2O
Toxic chemicals help to make the fluid flow
With names like benzene and formaldehyde
You better keep ‘em far away from the water supply
The drillers say the fissures are a mile below
The groundwater pumped into American homes
But don’t tell it to the residents of Sublette Wy-O
That water’s fracked…. We’re talking Benzene…
It is believed that there have been thousands of cases of groundwater contamination in the United States due to this fracking process. But, there is some debate on the validity of these claims. On May 13, Jamie L. Vernon, PhD wrote a post about the pro- and anti-fracking debate for Discover Magazine’s blog, The Intersection where he brought to light doubts surrounding claims of groundwater contamination. In his opinion:
…this is a hilarious production designed to draw attention to the fracking debate. To be clear, my biggest concerns are not centered on the hydraulic fracturing fluid per se. I feel the recent PNAS paper highlighted the much more worrisome problem of methane gas leakage. In fact, the PNAS paper stated that there was no evidence of contamination of drinking water with deep saline brine or fracking fluids.
To be clear, this PNAS paper does not say that water contamination is not a potential problem with the fracking process. Instead, it indicates that recent claims of groundwater contamination in the United States might have been overstated.
Regardless of the validity of the water contamination claims, this concerns has captured American’s attention. Some of this success could be rooted in the success of the “Gasland” documentary by Josh Fox. This movie focuses on the use of hydraulic fracturing to unlock natural gas stored in shale (rock) underground, and the potential negative environmental impacts of using this technology. But, it’s main anti-fracking argument centers on the potential for fracking to contaminate drinking water supplies, painting a highly negative picture for viewers.
Unsurprisingly, this documentary has received negative press and backlash from organizations including the organization called America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), a pro-natural gas association that promotes the use of natural gas in the United States. In response to the Gasland documentary, ANGA supported the released of a short video – titled “The Truth About Gasland” – that puts a call out for “open, factual and fair dialogue” surrounding the development of the nation’s natural gas resources. In this video, the creators state that “the film “Gasland,” whatever the intentions of the filmmaker, has contributed to a dialogue based more on fear than facts. While it is a dramatic movie, ‘Gasland’ is a deeply flawed documentary that gets several important facts wrong. Learn more at http://ANGA.us/truthaboutgasland”
There’s an energy revolution brewing right under our feet.
The Wall Street Journal, 5/10/2010
The root of that revolution – shale gas. Lying under our feet, this unconventional resource was big news in 2010 – with the Haynesville, Barnett, and Marcellus shales getting the bulk of the nation’s attention.
But another shale play, located south of San Antonio, Texas, is thought to hold one of the nation’s largest oil and gas fields and is predicted to outshine the Barnett and Haynesville Shale formations in 2011. The Eagle Ford shale deposit represents a 400 mile long, 50 mile wide seam of gas-rich shale. As Mark Papa, Chairman and CEO of EOG Resources in Houston recently put it:
I expect the Eagle Ford will probably be the hottest single area in all the lower 48 states in 2011.
Despite difficult drilling conditions due to dense rock layers between the surface and the shale gas deposits, several global oil and gas companies (including Shell, OP, China’s CNOOC, and Norway’s Statoil) have already made agreements allowing them to explore the region’s potential.
Shale gas is not without controversy – as shown in last year’s Gasland and Haynesville, which documented the environmental and other risks of tapping these gas deposits. But, it appears that we will be using these resources in the U.S., at least, in the near-term.
Gas-rich shale deposits are reached by drilling to thousands of feet below the earth’s surface, first using vertical and then horizontal drilling techniques. THe shale gas itself is collected using a process called hydraulic fracturing where water, sand and chemicals are pumped into shale until the solid material is fractured, releasing gases that we can use to heat our homes, fill our fuel tanks (after a conversion kit), and generate electricity.
In this process, environmental concerns can appear, especially regarding local water quality and the potential contamination of drinking water tables. However, the world’s oil and gas companies maintain that this process can be completed safely – and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears to agree. Controversy surrounding the safety of shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing will likely continue in 2011 – but, shale gas isn’t likely to disappear as a big new player in the energy sphere.