Fracking: Is it safe and clean enough? – this NYT opinion piece thinks so.

Posted: March 15, 2013 by tallbloke in Geology
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Apart from a couple of gripes and moans about co2 from gas, this NYT article is a lot better than most of theirs concerning fossil fuels. Here’s the kicker; Susan Brantley is distinguished professor of geosciences and director of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute – at Pennsylvania State University.

The Facts on Fracking
Susan Brantley and Anna Meyendorff

Some of the local effects of drilling and fracking have gotten a lot of press but caused few problems, while others are more serious. For example, of the tens of thousands of deep injection wells in use by the energy industry across the United States, only about eight locations have experienced injection-induced earthquakes, most too weak to feel and none causing significant damage.

The Pennsylvania experience with water contamination is also instructive. In Pennsylvania, shale gas is accessed at depths of thousands of feet while drinking water is extracted from depths of only hundreds of feet. Nowhere in the state have fracking compounds injected at depth been shown to contaminate drinking water.


In one study of 200 private water wells in the fracking regions of Pennsylvania, water quality was the same before and soon after drilling in all wells except one. The only surprise from that study was that many of the wells failed drinking water regulations before drilling started. But trucking and storage accidents have spilled fracking fluids and brines, leading to contamination of water and soils that had to be cleaned up. The fact that gas companies do not always disclose the composition of all fracking and drilling compounds makes it difficult to monitor for injected chemicals in streams and groundwater.

Pennsylvania has also seen instances of methane leaking into aquifers in regions where shale-gas drilling is ongoing. Some of this gas is “drift gas” that forms naturally in deposits left behind by the last glaciation. But sometimes methane leaks out of gas wells because, in 1 to 2 percent of the wells, casings are not structurally sound. The casings can be fixed to address these minor leaks, and the risk of such methane leaks could further decrease if casings were designed specifically for each geological location.

The disposal of shale gas brine was initially addressed in Pennsylvania by allowing the industry to use municipal water treatment plants that were not equipped to handle the unhealthy components. Since new regulations in 2011, however, Pennsylvania companies now recycle 90 percent of this briny water by using it to frack more shale.

In sum, the experience of fracking in Pennsylvania has led to industry practices that mitigate the effect of drilling and fracking on the local environment.

Full article here.

Comments
  1. ulrich steiner says:

    Obviously both ladies are on the payroll of Big Oil? :-]

    On a somewhat more serious note:

    Those shale gas deposits are found “thousands of feet” under ground, and are actually found everywhere on the whole world where people have ever looked for “natural gas, which was formed as dead organisms in the rock decomposed.”

    Now I am wondering: how did those dinosaurs, smothered in a algae sauce, managed to get thousands of feet under ground to let themselves become decomposed? I mean, everywhere? Where had the soil been stored, which was later put upon them, and rested on them for the next many million years?

    And now the Japanese have managed to harvest methane hydrate some 300m under the bottom of the ocean, with some 1000m of water above it. And it looks like methane hydrate can be found also everywhere you care to look for it.

    Now how did the dinosaurs manage to dive down a km and dig themselves into the ground a couple hundred meters to be properly decomposed?

    Now then, everywhere on earth – under land and under water (where you cared to look for methane) – can those dinosaur/algae/plant/biomass remnants be found, buried by many hundreds of meters of dirt.

    How did they manage to do that?

  2. Roger Andrews says:

    The punch line comes at the bottom: “But if fracked gas merely displaces efforts to develop cleaner, non-carbon, energy sources without decreasing reliance on coal, the doom and gloom of more rapid global climate change will be realized.”

    Well, we can’t have that. Without the gloom and doom of global climate change society continues with business as usual. So fracking is out.

    And apparently so is wind and solar:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2013/03/12/environmental-groups-strongly-endorse-none-of-the-above-energy-plans/

  3. Daniel Sweger says:

    Kudos for the article. We need to get this info out to more people. There has been a new documentary produced by the same people that did “Not Evil Just Wrong.” It is entitled “Fracknation” and I show it regularly to my Environmental Science classes.

  4. tallbloke says:

    Danial S: Got a link for the documentary?

  5. w.w.wygart says:

    The decimal place on those leaking well liners needs to move about two places to the left, if the industry wants to start shutting up its detractors, a 0.1% or 0.02% defect rate sounds much more like something I would willingly defend in an argument, 1-2% sounds a little too like Russian roulette to me.

    W^3

  6. Daniel Sweger says:

    “Fracknation” is a full-length documentary, and so far it is only available on DVD. The website is: http://fracknation.com/. There is an interesting presentation by Ann Mcelhinney, who is one of the directors, on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mu0RKxjtD1k. I believe this is a very important topic. Solving environmental problems and feeding humanity is dependent on a virtually unlimited supply of inexpensive energy. But that is another topic too long to deal with here.

  7. Fracknation is a feature documentary that tells the truth about fracking for natural gas. The project exposes the lies. Lies that have been denying energy to nations and income to rural communities.

    Ann & Phelim are great people. Maybe they’ll fling a DVD your way if you ask.

    Disclosure: I helped to produce the documentary by contributing a few pennies.

  8. […] Gas moveUpdate: Fracking: Is it safe and clean enough? – this NYT opinion piece thinks so. […]

  9. oldbrew says:

    ulrich steiner says:
    ‘Now how did the dinosaurs manage to dive down a km and dig themselves into the ground a couple hundred meters to be properly decomposed?’

    By the same token, how does methane production on Saturn’s moon Titan occur?

    ‘We have determined that Titan’s methane is not of biological origin’
    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=18410

    Btw methane leaks are commonplace from coal mines already.
    http://www.miningaustralia.com.au/news/coalmine-cracks-leaking-methane-gas-into-sydney-dr

    In fact coal bed methane extraction is a growing industry. Here’s a letter from an MP to his local paper about it (the same MP who was arrested this week after a brawl in a House of Commons bar).
    http://ericjoyce.co.uk/2013/01/coalbed-methane-extraction-and-fracking/

  10. Peter Miller says:

    In the UK, we have not yet realised that fracking may be the only way of getting ourselves out of the economic mess created by His Supreme Incompetence Gordon Brown. America is clearly leading the way to a new and abundant source of cheap and abundant energy.

    The teething problems with the process have now been solved, so you would think the entire European Union would welcome the opportunity to rid themselves of energy reliance on gas supplies from an unreliable Russia and/or those countries with plenty of camels.

    However, a cleverly orchestrated attack by green extremists, wind farm enthusiasts/investors and supported by Russia’s Gazprom have managed to defer energy salvation by fracking for many years. In some EU countries, it has even been banned. The supposed reasoning: i) groundwater pollution, as discussed here, and ii) occasional minute seismic events, which have somehow been deliberately morphed into dangerous earthquakes.

    Green activists needed a new cause. Supposedly dangerous man made Global Warming is increasingly being demonstrated to be false and all policies designed to offset this non-problem are clearly hideously expensive. Fracking provides such a cause and so the disinformation scares of the ecoloons will continue and the gullible will continue to fund them. Such is the insane world in which we live.

  11. Daniel Sweger says:

    @oldbrew:
    There is a very interesting report that was published on the Phys.org website (http://www.physorg.com/news167835116.html) entitled “Hydrocarbons in the deep Earth?”. From the abstract:
    Scientists have debated for years whether some of these hydrocarbons could also have been created deeper in the Earth and formed without organic matter. Now for the first time, scientists have found that ethane and heavier hydrocarbons can be synthesized under the pressure-temperature conditions of the upper mantle —the layer of Earth under the crust and on top of the core. The research was conducted by scientists at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory, with colleagues from Russia and Sweden, and is published in the July 26, advanced on-line issue of Nature Geoscience.

    Some fracking wells produce only methane/natural gas, while some produce “wet gas”, which is a combination of methane and sweet/light crude.

  12. ulrich steiner says:

    The phys.org article probably refers to this nature article:
    http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v2/n8/full/ngeo591.html (full article behind paywall)

    but there is another one at PNAS (with some of the same authors), which can be directly downloaded: (tough stuff, you’ve got to be really brave to read it…)
    http://www.pnas.org/content/99/17/10976.full.pdf+html

    To quote from its abstract: “The high-pressure genesis of petroleum hydrocarbons using ONLY the reagents solid iron oxide, FeO, and marble, CaCO3, 99.9% pure and wet with triple-destilled water” (emph. in orig.).

    In the nature article the authors demonstrate that besides methane, also ethane, propane and butane could be found when upper-mantle conditions were applied, i.e the chain of hydrocarbons of C1, C2, C3 and C4 in decreasing amounts.

    In today’s natural gas – be it of the regular type or recovered from shale – one finds predominantly methane, but also ethane, propane, butane, and pentane (the alkane sequence from 1 to 5 C-atoms), in decreasing amounts.

    When you look at today’s biogas you find only methane (plus CO2, H2O, and possibly sulfuric compounds), but none of the higher alkanes.

    Isn’t it funny then, that today’s bacteria can only produce methane, but former bacteria, producing those “Fossil Fuels” from chewing up dinosaurs, must have been able to synthesize the whole portfolio of alkanes, even up to gasoline and diesel compounds?

  13. tallbloke says:

    Ulrich: Fascinating! I wonder what the rate of abiotic production is. A never ending oil or gas well sounds like a nice cash cow to own. 🙂

  14. ulrich steiner says:

    Finally the word “abiotic” showed up! But I didn’t say it 😉

  15. ulrich steiner says:

    tallbloke says:
    “… A never ending oil or gas well sounds like a nice cash cow to own. 🙂 ”

    Easy. Just buy some property in (in! = offshore, not that cheap beach property) the California coastal waters and fill about one Exxon-Valdez tanker a year (http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n5/full/ngeo848.html ).

    Property in (in!) the Gulf of Mexico might work just as well. [Think about it: after the last BP oil spill in the Gulf the oil was digested by bacteria so fast that people couldn’t believe what they saw. But when you consider continual seeping of oil into the water, then bacteria were trained for million of years, and some good stock of bacteria was already present, and could explode in numbers by that nutritious stuff coming along].

  16. michael hart says:

    Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.

  17. ulrich steiner says:

    it’s almost a comic, but today the news are filled with reports about the Saudis going after their own shale gas AND shale oil, and expect shale resources to vastly exceed currently known ‘classical’ resources. The location will be offshore ” in deep and shallow water in the Red Sea”.

    They want to use (shale) gas domestically, and use the oil for export. A good move indeed, as gas is more difficult to transport.

    http://www.rigzone.com/news/oil_gas/a/125105/Saudi_Arabia_to_Drill_for_Shale_Gas_This_Year

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  19. […] Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Pennsylvania State University. She wrote a positive opinion piece in the New York Times last year. Lars Sørum, Director of Shale Gas, at internationally renowned […]