Fracking: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Video
Fracking: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Video. [click on to map to enlarge view] The world has seen numerous revolutions in the energy industry over the last few centuries. We are producing and consuming unprecedented levels of energy. The rate of technological development is also startling. Even much of the developing world has access to modern energy sources; sources which only several decades ago were just being tapped. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of all this is the fact that despite the increasing demand and consumption, energy continues to be available at relatively stable prices. What's more, we've been told time and again that the world is running out of energy sources, specifically carbon-based fuels. So where is all of this energy coming from?
In the United States a lot of our energy comes from natural gas. And more and more of this is being collected by hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). The controversial new process has created a massive boom in the previously dying natural gas industry. Though having been around for decades, new innovations in the technology have resulted in some experts claiming that natural gas could alone power America for centuries.
There are, however, downsides. Fracking has raised alarm among many environmental organizations and now faces increasingly strict regulation. Indeed, the consequences of the process are still quite unknown.
Yet, alternative energy sources are not yet sufficient to power even a fifth of America's energy demands. Nearly everyone would like to see the world move away from fossil fuels, but for the time being, they are necessary. As the price of oil soars and U.S. relations with some of the top oil-producing nations remain tense, some have heralded fracking as a monumental breakthrough in the energy industry. Most importantly, it would be able to keep prices reasonable for the average American. This FAQ looks at how fracking works, its history, and the debate surrounding it which has become a primary political issue in many states across the country. - WATER ON FIRE! - https://youtu.be/g5QqidiEEHw
1. What is the history of fracking in America?
Technically, the basic concept behind fracking has been used for over a century. Using a procedure which was then called "shooting," individuals and companies searching for natural gas and oil used to use nitroglycerin explosions to expose underground reservoirs. In fact, a Civil War veteran received a patent for the "exploding torpedo," later known as the "Roberts Torpedo," in 1865. The idea actually came to the former Colonel during a Civil War battle as he observed artillery shells splitting the ground open. Colonel Roberts' new device was wildly successful and made him a fortune, as some wells saw increased production of over 1000%. Below is a sketch of Roberts' "torpedo" patent.
Roberts' invention set the groundwork for a company that still lasts today. Though the explosion techniques was refined and advanced, the basic concept remained the same. Now under the name Tallini and Otto Cupler Torpedo Company, nitroglycerin is no longer used, but the company is still in the fracking business.
Commercial fracking began to expand in the 1940s after Halliburton invented the modern fracking rig. Soon thereafter the process spread throughout the country. By 2010, about 2.5 million wells had been fracked with this technology. Because this technique does not use explosives, it quickly replaced most fracking which involved detonations. Moreover, natural gas consumption has increased to about 23% of the world's total. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that total natural gas consumption will increase by about 50% by 2035.
By the 1970s, in the midst of an energy crisis in America, fracking began to get more noticed. President Carter announced that the country was running out of natural gas. At the same time, the Eastern Gas Shales Project showed that, as natural gas entrepreneur Dan Steward said, "[There is] a hell of a lot of gas in shales." Since Steward's blunt announcement, fracking shale formations has provided America and the world with vast amounts of natural gas; so much gas, in fact, that prices have begun to plummet to levels which just a decade ago seemed impossibly low.
Though fracking has a long and colorful history, modern fracking techniques are quite new. The new fracking rigs are much more powerful and the projects are on a far larger scale.
2. How does fracking work?
Fracking is the common name used to describe the process of hydraulic fracturing. The technique is used to extract natural gas, and less frequently petroleum, from deep below the earth's surface. Despite it being the current buzzword surrounding America's natural gas and oil companies, the process was invented in the 1940s and patented by Halliburton. Further development of the technique has opened the door to deeper reservoirs and other areas which were previously deemed to be unreachable. High-volume fracking, to be discussed later in this FAQ, was not developed until the 1990s and is the target of the most criticism.
Fracking targets natural gas contained in two types of rock - shale formations and coal beds. Normally, natural gas is collected by trapping it following its release from naturally occurring fissures in the rock. But the most heavily concentrated and richest natural gas deposits are found in reservoirs deep in the earth and thoroughly protected by thick shale rock.
Natural gas is primarily methane. Indeed, once the gas gets to your home for use, it is almost pure methane. But the initial composition usually contains several other gases.
As the technical name suggests, fracking consists of injecting a liquid at extremely high pressures causing the rock to partially split. Once the fissures in the rock are large enough, the natural gas can leak upwards to be collected and stored.
The process begins by installing the first drill to create the main wellbore (the hole). The initial wellbore is rather superficial. The majority of the drilling is actually done by the liquid pumped into the rock. This liquid is continually injected into the rock until the fissure is both wide and deep enough. In order to facilitate a continual release of natural gas some sort of solid solution, usually sand, is injected following the liquid. This solution, called a proppant, keeps the fissures from closing back up.
Fracking was designed to reach natural gas in some of the more remote geologic regions. Some natural gas rigs drill miles beneath the surface. Fracking wells are usually bigger and deeper than traditional natural gas wells. Fracking rigs typically are between one and four miles deep. Moreover, the rigs are able to drill at many different angles. Unlike a traditional drill which could only move vertically, these new rigs can drill horizontally, vertically and diagonally. This maximizes the amount of shale formations that can be fracked while minimizing the total area above ground taken up by the surface rigs. It also enables the rigs to reach natural gas that is contained under environmentally protected or other areas which are not accessible by conventional drilling. Currently, some rigs are able to drill up to two miles horizontally.
3. How much water is used, and what composes the chemical solution used in the process?
The amount of fresh water used in this process is dependent on the depth of the natural gas reservoir and the structure of the rock. In general, far more water is used when drilling into shale as opposed to coal beds. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that fracking a coal bed uses between 50,000 and 250,000 gallons of water. Meanwhile, to successfully frack a shale formation, 1-8 million gallons are needed. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, fracking wells use an average of 2-4 million gallons. A single well can be fracked over a dozen times.
This massive amount of water is combined with multiple chemicals before being injected into the rock. Depending on the conditions of the shale which is being fractured, anywhere from three to twelve chemicals might be added to water in order to make the necessary solution. There are several reasons that these chemicals are added to the water. Often referred to as slickwater, the solution's most important fundtion is to reduce the friction along the fissure in the rock. Biocides are added to prevent contamination of the materials by microorganisms. Several acids are also contained in the solution, which are either for protection of the piping or waste from the wellbore near the surface. These chemicals usually make up 0.5% to 2% of the solution. Below is a look at the chemical composition of one fracking procedure in Arkansas, followed by a chart describing the most common chemicals used in the process.
Here is one more chart looking at fracking additives, created by Exxon Mobil. Coined "fluid disclosure," the federal government recently began to require each gas company to reveal all chemicals used at each drilling location. Prior to this, despite scientists finding volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in fracking wells, there was no requirement for the gas companies to disclose the chemicals which were being used.
On top of the chemical additives, the fracking process also releases naturally occurring chemicals in the rock, including the radioactive elements, barium and strontium, as well as benzene, a powerful carcinogen, though generally only in trace amounts.
4. How is the waste stored or disposed of?
This is one of the more controversial aspects of the fracking procedure. Fracking companies have two options when it comes to dealing with wastewater, or, brine: store the waste (the left-over chemical solution used to split the rock) in underground reservoirs, or bring it back to the surface and dispose of it aboveground.
Wastewater storage is currently under investigation by the EPA and is already heavily regulated. For instance, an above-ground storage facility must have capacity of at least 1,320 gallons. An underground storage facility must be at least 42,000 gallons.
Underground storage is becoming more popular. After years of polluting local streams, rivers, and lakes, gas companies are now forced to properly dispose of the wastewater. The wastewater is extremely difficult to treat adequately, so long-term storage is often the easier route. These underground chambers can be well over a mile deep. One plant in Ohio, opened in 2011, hopes to be at the forefront of a new, lucrative industry. Given the increasing amount of fracking, brine storage could become a blossoming business. Indeed, off-site and out of state garbage dumping has been a profitable business for years, albeit not usually popular with the local population.
Underground storage of toxic waste has been a common practice for decades. The most common form of disposal for nuclear waste has long been underground disposal. Sewage is of course commonly stored underground, although generally not for long periods of time. Some sites around the country have accumulated millions of barrels of waste over the last several decades. These wells are not intended to last forever. Thus far, there have been no significant leakages detected. But some are concerned about problems arising in the long-term.
Natural gas companies must also collect and store any air pollutants produced during the process, most notably benzene. Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), any "hazardous air pollutants" (HAP) must be captured and broken down. The Occupation Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970 established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as well as certain regulations for storage and disposal of potentially harmful waste.
5. What is the history of governmental support for natural gas and fracking?
The natural gas industry as a whole, as well as fracking specifically, have been federal subsidized for decades. Accessing deep gas deposits beneath thick layers of shale is an extremely difficult process. Though fracking technology didn't originally receive government support, the federal government began to invest in the technology following increased levels of lobbying for financial support throughout the 1970s and 80s. This continues today.
The first large-scale federal investment in shale gas occured in the 1960s. The U.S. Department of Energy and the Atomic Energy Commission worked together in detonating underground atomic bombs in New Mexico and Colorado. The bombs succeeded in cracking the shale and releasing the gas, but the project was quickly abandoned due to concerns over the levels of radiation.
Several years later, the first hydraulic fracturing (the form of drilling that we refer to as "fracking" today) was completed. It was a far too costly and massive undertaking for an individual company at the time to carry out. Because the Department of Energy saw the potential in this new process, fracking companies enjoyed continuing financial support from the federal government. Without this support, some argue, the industry would not have been able to survive and succeed today. As one proponent of energy subsidies argues:
"Private firms are really good at small, fast, smart, and cheap, but they mostly don’t do big, slow, dumb, and expensive, because the benefits are too remote, the risks too great, and the costs too high. But here’s the catch. You usually can’t do small, fast, smart, and cheap until you’ve done big, slow, dumb, and expensive first. Hence the reason that, again and again, the federal government has played that role for critical technologies that turned out to be important to our economic well-being."
The recent success of the natural gas industry has many hopeful that forms of renewable energy might take a similar route. Like fracking in its early years, these energy sources are thus far inefficient and small-scale, but continue to receive federal money in order to increase research and development with the goal of eventually creating cheaper, cleaner, and safer forms of energy.
Indeed, natural gas followed a similar path. As mentioned earlier, the natural gas industry was in a seemingly inescapable lull in the 1970s, just prior to receiving significant government support. The Eastern Gas Shales Project began in 1976 and changed the future of natural gas. By the mid-1980s natural gas production began to steadily rise.
The man widely credited as being the pioneer of the fracking industry, George Mitchell, was well known throughout the 80s and 90s for petitioning the federal government for increased support. On the heels of the success from the Eastern Shales Project, Mitchell was able to garner the aid of the Department of Energy, Sandia National Laboratory, and the Gas Research Institute. Mitchell's company was finally able to hone the technology needed to drill both deeper into the earth as well as horizontally, two vital steps in making fracking an extremely efficient and lucrative procedure. Moreover, it was through this project that microseismic imaging was developed, allowing natural gas prospectors to get a much more detailed and accurate picture of the shale formations and natural gas reservoirs.
In 1980 the Section 29 tax credit for "unconventional gas" companies was started. This tax credit led to tripling in production of nonconventional gas. According to the U.S. Department of Energy:
"The incentive provisions of the Section 29 tax credit were designed to reward efficient unconventional gas development and performance. During a time when national average wellhead natural gas prices were between $1.50 and $2.50 per Mcf, the tax credit for tight gas was about $0.50 per Mcf and for gas shales and was on the order of $1.00 per Mcf for coalbed methane, adding considerable economic value to the efficient production of these resources. The tax credits also helped justify the high investment needed for initial infrastructure."
This report also argues the the initial support through these tax credits and subsidies allowed the industry to construct the infrastructure base, so that even with diminished federal support, the industry would be established enough to survive and, hopefully, thrive. This is of course the stated goal of any federal support for energy.
One of the more recent breakthroughs in fracking technology came in the late 1990s. It was then that the chemical solution, "slickwater," was officially developed and put into use. This formula is vital in quickly and thoroughly creating fissures in the rock, while also keeping the cracks wide enough for the gas to leak upwards. Prior to this breakthrough, slickwater research had been the recipient of federal aid for over 25 years. It is new technology such as this which has the potential to make huge impacts on any energy industry.
Some argue that this technology would have emerged without any federal support; hence, the belief that renewable energy should not receive government subsidies, or at least less than the industry is currently receiving. Yet, because no fracking company has existed without being subsidized, others believe this argument cannot be substantiated. The former Vice President of Mitchell Energy, Dan Steward even acknowledged the role of federal support in developing natural gas: "They did a hell of a lot of work and I can't give them enough credit for that. DOE (Department of Energy) started it, and other people took the ball and ran with it. You can't diminish DOE's involvement." Steward went on to add, "Government has to be looking down the road. We really cannot wait to develop those other energies. Industry doesn't look as far down the road as the government should."
In 2011, the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act (NAT GAS Act) was proposed. This would grant billions of dollars to the development of vehicles run on compressed natural gas. Again, just like those arguing on behalf of solar or wind power, NAT GAS supporters have claimed that the bill will add thousands of jobs, cut energy prices, and lessen America's energy dependence.
President Obama has openly supported government subsidies for natural gas and fracking, taking credit for its recent successes. And like his support for "clean coal," Obama's support for subsidies for these fossil fuels has drawn criticism from many supporters of increased renewable energy. Meanwhile, others have criticized the President's support for the alternative energy sector. The history of government subsidies for energy research, development and production makes the current discussion very complicated and reveal the many nuances behind it.
The recent boom in natural gas and fracking in light of significant government support help make the debate over the government's role in energy very interesting. The key, however, in this debate, as in most debates, is finding consistency. All forms of energy in America have long been subsidized. Should this continue to be the case? There have certainly been successes and failures in all energy fields. But would America be better off with less regulation, fewer subsidies, but increased risk? When attempting to come to a conclusion over this, it is crucial that the full history be examined and assessed. The current state of affairs does not provide sufficient evidence for a conclusion to this question.
6. What areas in the United States are ideal for fracking?
A distinction must be made between natural gas production in general versus shale and coal bed natural gas production, using fracking. First, here is a map of the shale gas plays (areas that has been targeted as optimal for drilling) across the United States. Below is a second map showing the conventional natural gas fields in the United States.
This next map distinguished between shale gas basins and Devonian shale. The latter is much more difficult to drill and has only recently begun to be tapped.
Here is a look at the existing fracking wells, along with some future proposals. Several of the larger, established sites are often discussed in conversation surrounding fracking, such as the Marcellus and Barnett shale formations.
Natural gas production has increased in most areas of the United States. In general, the best areas for production are parts of the Mountain West, Appalachia, and the southern Midwest. Below is a look at the highest producing states (the Barnett shale bed is in Texas and was the first modern-day fracking site, drilled by Mitchell Energy in the 1990s). Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale formation opened for drilling in 2010 and is one of the most discussed and controversial.
Despite heavy criticism, Pennsylvania saw the biggest percentage jump in total natural gas production between 2009 and 2010, nearly doubling.
The United States produced over 24 Tcf (trillion cubic feet) of natural gas in 2011. The highest-producing states were Texas, Wyoming, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico. These six states accounted for over half of all natural gas production in the U.S. The next chart shows the change in regional production between 2009 and 2010.
Natural gas production has been expanding so rapidly that many international companies have rushed in to invest in individual companies.
Offshore drilling for natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico contributes a significant amount of America's gas (1-2 Tcf/year), but sharply declined in 2011 following the BP oil spill and new regulations. In fact, fracking regulations both locally and federally have led to declines, though less drastic, elsewhere around the country.
7. How much of America's natural gas comes from fracking?
In 2000, only about 1% of total natural gas production came from fracking. By 2010, that number had risen to nearly 20%. Some sources say that currently fracking accounts for nearly 30% of natural gas production. Still others claim that fracking is responsible for closer to 40%. These numbers can often become a bit hard to decipher because some sources cite the amount of natural gas from fracking, while others cite natural gas from unconventional methods in general. Fracking is included in unconventional methods, but extraction from tight sand is also included. Adding to the confusion over exactly how much natural gas fracking contributes is the fact that fracking is sometimes applied after initial, conventional drilling has already taken place. The amount of additional gas which is produced following the fracking procedure varies. Fracking is applied to about 90% of all wells in the United States.
Global energy demand is expected to increase by about 30% by 2040. Natural gas will most likely be the largest contributor to this rise, specifically gas that is produced from fracking. Natural gas produced from fracking is estimated to rise to over 50% by 2020. Moreover, the American Petroleum Institute (API) claims, "that if fracking were eliminated, natural gas production would fall 57 percent by 2018."
The natural gas industry currently employs 3 million people and adds nearly $400 billion to the American economy. Further, some have claimed that the current supply of natural gas reserves could power the country for over a century. The most recent estimates from the EIA claim that there are over 2500 trillion cubic feet of potential natural gas resources in the United States.
Given these incredible facts, it is hard to believe that the industry will be completely shut down any time soon.
8. Have other countries used fracking yet?
Fracking has quickly spread across the world. Canada has a huge shale formation throughout Alberta, while Europe also has some significant proven natural gas reservoirs.
Fracking is currently in widespread use in Canada, the UK, Russia, Australia, China, and India. Many other countries are in the process of building the infrastructure necessary for such a large-scale project. Meanwhile, France and Bulgaria have completely banned the practice. Below is a closer look at the recent developments of fracking in Europe.
Many countries have been drilling for natural gas for a long time. Fracking the same areas will usually produce more gas. It is likely that most of the nations with such reserves will begin to frack in the near future if they haven't started already. Below is a look at the world's supply of both proven gas reserves (areas that have been determined to contain sufficient natural gas to justify fracking), as well as "recoverable" shale gas reserves (less is known about these reserves, making those sites unlikely to be drilled in the near future).
As with oil reserves,the Middle East has the largest amount of proven natural gas reserves. Fracking proponents hope that the new technology will even the "natural gas playing field."
Finally, here is another look at the proven natural gas reserves on a regional and national basis. Click on the source to reach the interactive map and explore it yourself.
9. What are some of the common criticisms aimed at fracking?
In the last several years there has been an amazing amount of debate surrounding the possible environmental implications caused by large-scale fracking. There have been numerous, large demonstrations around the world against the expansion of fracking. In 2011, the New Jersey legislature voted to outlaw fracking. Though the bill was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie, he still instituted a 1-year moratorium on fracking while the process went under investigation. Meanwhile, the legislature, as of 2012, was attempting to override his decision. Other states have also put moratoriums on fracking while the long-term risks are being assessed. Elsewhere, France and Bulgaria have both banned fracking nationally, the first nations to do so.
Given these recent trends, the future of fracking is very much up in the air. So what exactly are the environmental concerns which are driving so many people against fracking? Below is a list of the main issues brought up and some specific instances which are used to support the concerns.
Opponents to fracking argue that water contamination will greatly increase in areas near the the natural gas drills. There are two main sources of potential contamination of the water table: (1) excess methane released during the process which is not captured and brought to the surface; and (2) the chemicals used in the slickwater solution escaping the casing of the well.
Numerous cases around the country have been brought to the public's attention. Some people have reported finding sand and dirt, grease residue, and increased levels of methane in their drinking water. In several instances, most famously in a scene of the 2010 documentary GasLand, homeowners are able to light their tapwater on fire due to high levels of methane.
The fracking rigs are designed to keep both the excess methane and the used slickwater safe from the water supply. These wastes are either brought back to the surface and stored above-ground or are left in a sealed underground reservoir. But there have already been several instances of wastewater leakage or spills. Moreover, little is known about the lifespan of the underground containers. Eventually the toxins could escape the reservoirs and possibly reach the water table.
The process of fracking also causes the release of several naturally occurring radioactive elements in the rock. These elements can easily be brought to the surface along with the natural gas. Some companies carelessly store these chemicals, increasing the risk that they reach local streams or rivers, contaminating the water supply from above. There is also the argument that there is currently not nearly enough accountability in the fracking industry.
The huge Marcellus shale wells (4,000 have been built since 2008) have been linked to the most water pollution.
In 2008, local residents were warned not to consume the tapwater due to dangerous levels of toxins. Though not confirmed, the toxins are believed to have originated from local fracking wells. The steel and concrete casings of the fracking well are quite resilient but do not guarantee protection against leaks. One of the freshest rivers in America, the Delaware River in eastern Pennsylvania, is now listed as one of the most endangered due to nearby fracking in the Marcellus shale field. Millions of people get their drinking water from the Delaware River, and there have already been numerous cases of contaminated tapwater in the areas that have been linked to local fracking wells.
Despite water pollution standards and regulations set by the EPA, groundwater contamination can still occur. One of the largest natural gas companies, Chesapeake Energy in Oklahoma, was fined several hundred thousand dollars for water pollution. The EPA is currently conducting multiple studies regarded the matter; yet they do not expect to release the results until 2014. According to preliminary reports, fracking wastewater contains excessive levels of total dissolves solids, fracking additives in the slickwater, toxic metals, and radioactive elements. Furthermore, there are currently no regulatory standards for the disposal of fracking wastewater, and many local treatment and waste facilities are ill-equipped to handle the chemicals.
In Wyoming the small Wind River Indian Reservation began to have increased water pollution following the construction of dozens of fracking rigs nearby. Residents claim that this has been happening for years. Though many in the area support drilling, they are arguing for more stringent regulation to protect the groundwater. In 2011 the EPA conducted a full investigation into the matter. Residents near this rig as well as others have reported increased levels of cancer, liver and kidney problems, and neurological disorders. The Wyoming case is unique because the natural gas sits far closer to the surface than typical shale gas formations. Because of this, universal laws and regulations are not sufficient. More case-specific judgment is necessary.
Finally, though fracking companies have recently been forced to give full chemical disclosure of the slickwater used ("fluid disclosure"), this still does not prevent them from using the chemicals. Toxins are being pumped into the ground across the United States. It took years for the EPA to require full disclosure of the chemicals used in the process. Prior to this, the oil and natural gas industries were the only industries exempt from such a requirement. This was coined the "Halliburton Loophole," so named because of suspicion that former Vice President and Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney, played a key role in keeping the EPA out of regulating this aspect.
Air pollution has also been a concern due the release of greenhouse gases during the process. Fracking companies are able to capture the majority of the methane that rises toward the surface after fracking, but a significant amount still escapes. Though the quantity of methane released is far smaller than carbon dioxide from a typical industrial plant, methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas. There have been several studies done recently comparing the air pollutants of fracking and coal. Experts have estimated that about 2% of the natural gas which is extracted is not successfully captured. Fracking also releases volatile organic compounds which are the main source of urban smog. Several types of confirmed carcinogens are also expelled in the waste. Most of this pollution occurs after the well has been drilled but before it is properly hooked up to transport pipes.
There has been an increasing number of small-scale earthquakes in areas surrounding fracking rigs. The wells are dug so deep and with such force, that actual earthquakes, though small, can result. The underground disposal units are also generating concerns. They have been linked to larger earthquakes, including over ten in 2011 near a large Ohio rig. There have been similar reports in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arkansas. NPR correspondent Christopher Joyce sums up the difference between the two types of earthquakes:
"Hydraulic fracturing pumps a lot of water underground, where it's used to crack the rock and liberate gas. This may cause tiny quakes, but fracking goes on for a day or two, and the quakes are small.
Recent quakes reported in Ohio and Arkansas are associated with wastewater wells, not fracking wells. The water first used in fracturing rock is retrieved and pumped into these waste wells, which take in lots of water. And at more than 9,000 feet deep, the water is under high pressure that can build up over months or years. It's this pressure that can actually create earthquakes."
Ohio has opened numerous facilities across the state to house the wastewater from fracking wells in nearby Pennsylvania. Though the state gets compensated nicely, the pollution and earthquake worries have forced the state to temporarily suspend further fracking waste disposal. There are alternatives for disposing the toxic water, but surface storage or treatment is very expensive and, in many locations, not possible. Seismologists can also scout certain areas to find an optimal location for the wastewater reservoirs, but the process currently costs $10 million for each well.
Waste of Freshwater
Each large-scale rig uses millions of gallons of freshwater to frack the shale just one time. This water cannot be recovered because it is mixed with numerous toxins. Therefore, if fracking were to continue at its current rate or increase, hundreds of billions of gallons of freshwater would be lost every year. According to estimates in Pennsylvania, the site of a large section of the Marcellus shale fields, the natural gas industry uses 1.9 million of the 9.5 million gallons of water used in the state every day.
Mineral vs. Surface Rights
One problem for individuals with natural gas beneath their land has been the issue of mineral rights. Mineral rights differ from simple property rights. In fact, when a property is sold, the mineral rights can, and often are, held by former landowners. Because of the possibility that the land contains valuable natural resources, owners of mineral rights do not often want to sell. In most areas of the world, the government owns all mineral rights, but in the United States landowners own the ground beneath and air above the surface of their property.
But because the mineral rights are often more valuable than the surface rights, there have been numerous occasions in which the mineral rights owner is compensated far more lucratively by fracking companies than the surface rights owners. Meanwhile, it is the landowners that have to deal with any pollution issues. Many have complained about this process, arguing that it is unfair to the landowners. Moreover, in some instances, the homebuyers are not informed that the owners of the mineral rights intend to lease the rights and allow drilling. In North Carolina, the nation's largest homebuilder, D.R. Horton, is building homes without granting the homeowner the mineral rights. The company then transfers the rights to its subsidiary, DRH Energy. Drilling the property can not only be a significant nuisance, but it can also greatly reduce the value of the property.
10. What do fracking's proponents say?
All of the vigor and passion seen in recent protests against fracking is equally matched by its supporters. The natural gas industry has been growing at an incredible rate since large-scale fracking began. Meanwhile, the price has plummeted and the natural gas consumed in America is now largely domestically produced. Fracking has enjoyed the support of politicians on both sides. Several states have seen significant booms in spite of the national economic difficulties. In many ways, natural gas in general, and fracking in particular, have revolutionized the energy industry in America. Below are several of the main reasons that so many Americans still support fracking.
The price of natural gas has fallen to levels that just several years ago were unimaginable. The breakthrough in natural gas technology and production began around 2000. Since that time prices have fallen from around $15 per million British thermal units (Btu) to under $3/million Btu in early 2012. The percentage of natural gas which is derived from shale has risen to over 25%. Furthermore, this trend isn't likely to break any time soon; America's proven natural gas reserves are the highest since 1971.
The falling prices have had amazing effects on both the producers and consumers. Not only has it helped to revive many struggling regional economies, but the average consumer is now able to heat their home for a fraction of the price that was paid 10 years ago. This leaves consumers with more money to spend elsewhere, in turn propping up other struggling industries in the United States.
In a time of sharply rising energy prices and a continually sluggish economy, falling natural gas prices have been crucial in curbing the downward spiral.
Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel available. Renewable energy is not yet capable of producing a sizeable portion of America's energy. For the time being, energy demands will remain high and they can only be fulfilled by fossil fuels. Natural gas is cheap, abundant and cleaner than oil.
The facts surrounding the environmental risks of natural gas, and in particular, fracking, have been exaggerated, manipulated, and even made up.
The Academy Award nominated documentary GasLand was released in 2010. The film portrayed the industry in an extremely negative way, stirring up public anger over the dangers of fracking. Yet, there was little science in the documentary. The film's creator, Josh Fox, is an activist with no expertise in natural gas, engineering, or geology. Not only did the film demonize everything and everyone in the industry, but it also depicted horrifying environmental consequences caused by fracking. The now iconic scene of a rural resident lighting his tapwater on fire highlights Fox's egregious journalistic errors. This scene was deceptive. The water obviously contained methane, which of course is a problem. But further testing of the water revealed that the methane didn't originate from the fracking well near the resident's property. For a more in depth look at specific errors contained in the film, see Energy in Depth's "Debunking GasLand."
Of course GasLand is not the only source of criticism of fracking. Fracking's proponents address each of the issues discussed in the previous question. Most admit that there are certain environmental risks, but these are far more remote than usually portrayed. For instance, groundwater contamination is highly unlikely because the shale gas reservoirs are far below the water table. Any slickwater or methane leakage will not go into the water table. Moreover, the EPA has still not discovered one proven case that a fracking well contaminated drinking water. Methane contamination is also unlikely and much more harmless than many claim. Methane contamination can occur for a number of reasons and though fracking might be a culprit, there are many others.
The dangers of the chemicals in the fracking fluid are also exaggerated. Most of the chemicals used in the slickwater solution are benign. And to prevent against any harmful pollutants being released, many states have begun to pass more rigid laws. Even though there have been leaks in the well casings, there has never been any groundwater contamination of anything considered dangerously toxic. The similar charge against fracking and the phenomenon of radioactive elements being released is also false. Several drilling sites have been tested and radioactivity was at or below normal levels. The chemical of choice for those seeking to indict the fracking industry has been benzene, an extremely dangerous carcinogen. Yet, when benzene levels were tested in several towns across the country, the levels of benzene were normal and safe. This was not how it was reported in some instances. Several sources referenced higher levels of benzene in some of the city's residents. What it failed to mention, though, was that all of these people smoked (a very common source of excessive benzene).
The possibility of earthquakes is also a much discussed topic. What fracking opponents fail to mention is that similar worries arise from geothermal exploration (an increasingly prevalent source of alternative energy), as well as underground carbon dioxide storage. Both of these enjoy nearly universal support, but do come with certain risks. Fracking, though really no more of an earthquake risk, and arguably not an earthquake risk at all, faces far more criticism.
Finally, there is the claim that fracking is in many ways ignored by the EPA and other regulatory agencies, giving the industry free reign over the environment. This is simply false. Fracking is currently up against many city, state, and federal regulations. New Jersey is moving to eliminate the practice completely.
This topic has permeated maintstream political discussion in America for decades. Almost all agree that more energy produced domestically is good for America's economy. The United States has been a gross importer of oil for over 60 years now. The oil resources on American soil are not nearly as vast as natural gas. The renewable energy sector, though growing, is many years away from being able to replace current fossil fuel consumption.
Natural gas, almost wholly due to fracking, has emerged at a time when many were on verge of declaring an energy crisis in the United States. Many experts believe that the current amount of natural gas may be able to power America for centuries. Some have called this decade the "golden age of gas." The new fracking technology is able to reach countless new natural gas reservoirs deep beneath thick layers of shale. Moreover, it is now able to do so efficiently and cheaply. This vast resource should not go to waste.
Since the 2008 recession and the subsequent spike in unemployment few industries have done more to revive the job market in America. In 2012 there were over three million people employed in some way through the natural gas industry. The development of drilling in the Marcellus shale formation created 72,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania alone between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2011.
President Obama, generally known for siding against the fossil fuel industry, has pushed for increased fracking. In his 2012 State of the Union Address, the President vowed to "take every possible action to safely develop this energy." A large part of his stated incentive was due to estimates that the industry, which has already created hundreds of thousands of new jobs, will add another 600,000 by the end of the decade.
Cut National Spending on Subsidies
The federal government and many state governments are currently subsidizing renewable energy companies with billions of dollars every year. To be sure, the fossil fuel industry is also subsidized, but the amount of production from renewable resources in light of the number of dollars they receive is startling. America's rogue national spending must be curbed. Though cutting subsidies on renewable energy would not come anywhere near solving our debt problems, it would be a step in the right direction. Rather than spend billions on unproven and, as yet, inefficient technology, we would all be better off using our cheap and productive resources.
Natural gas and fracking have been tagged as corrupt, greedy, unaccountable, power hungry cronies of the D.C. elite. And like any industry that has ever existed there are certainly some of those out there. But it is an unfair assumption of the industry in general. These companies have brought affordable energy to millions of struggling people across the country. Though there are certainly some environmental concerns, they are not as extreme as some would like the American people to believe. Precautions must be taken and risks assessed, but no energy source, not even wind or solar, comes without some chance of environmental harm. The fracking technology is quickly advancing and becoming more safe. Cities and states are taking actions against those companies which have made mistakes. If left to the market with the incentive to make massive profit, natural gas companies will continue to provide cheap energy while also ensuring safe procedures and minimal local damage. The most productive and safest companies will succeed. Fracking is just another example of an ingenuous and brilliant technology becoming wildly successful only to face widespread, unfounded criticism. In order to ensure an America that is still profitable in the coming decades, industries such as natural gas must be allowed to exist and thrive.
11. What legislation has been passed recently concerning fracking? What might be the future of fracking in America?
The list of environmental regulations is far too extensive for the purposes of this FAQ, but there are several laws, regulations, and government agencies which are continually brought up in the discussion over fracking. Further, government agencies such as the EPA have been strongly criticized because of the leniency which the fracking industry has historically been given. Over the last several years, however, natural gas companies have been faced with more and more regulation due to environmental concerns. Here is a list and brief description of those which directly connect to the natural gas industry.
Clean Air Act (CAA - 1963) - The CCA has been amended several times since it was first enacted in 1963. The subsequent amendments further regulated things such as vehicle emissions, ozone protection, and excessive carbon waste. The CCA is often referenced when discussing the methane which escapes into the atmosphere during fracking. Only recently has fracking been more regulated under the CCA; prior to that the EPA's CCA standards had not been updated for decades and had not accounted for the emissions that result from fracking. The EPA began to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the CCA beginning in 2011.
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA - 1974) - Due to the chemical components used in the fracking solution as well as possible methane leaks into the water supply, the EPA has begun to more strongly regulate fracking under the SDWA. Because of this and the Clean Water Act, natural gas companies are now almost universally required to give "fluid disclosure." The disposal of the wastewater is also closely monitored.
Clean Water Act (CWA - 1977) - Similar to the SDWA, the CWA has been a key topic in discussions over fracking regulation. The images of flammable tapwater spurred many to seek further rules and regulations from the EPA over the natural gas industry.
Superfund Law (The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation, and Liability Act - 1980) - This law gave the federal government vast authority for cleaning up areas heavily contaminated with dangerous toxins. The EPA called upon the Superfund Law several times in order to carry out investigations of fracking rigs and the surrounding area. The most notable cases were the Marcellus Shale tapwater contamination accusations and Wyoming's Wind River Indian Reservation complaints.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - This government agency started in 1970 under President Nixon. Over the last four decades the EPA has grown to almost 20,000 employees and has obtained broad federal powers.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) - Created in the same year as the EPA, OSHA is a part of the U.S. Department of Labor. It is charged with ensuring "safe and healthful" working conditions throughout the United States. Several industries, however, are wholly or partially exempted from OSHA's regulation. Fracking is one of these. Some have been urging that OSHA, along with the EPA, be given more jurisdiction over natural gas companies.
Energy Policy Act of 2005 - This Act was passed by President Bush in an effort to address the growing energy problems in the U.S. It offered large tax reductions/credits and grants for renewable energy companies, added stricter regulations and provisions, and instituted further energy plans on a national scale. In many ways, Bush's Energy Policy in that year set the stage for America's current energy policy. This Energy Policy was also unique because it was comprised of so many parts. It has been the most encompassing energy policy in America for decades. Yet the policy hardly touched the topic of fracking. Therefore, it has been widely criticized for neglecting regulation in this area. It was from this policy that the infamous Halliburton Loophole emerged, as many claimed that Washington purposely ignored fracking regulation because of the sitting administration's close ties with the natural gas and oil industry.
It is legislation and federal agencies such as these that will determine the future of fracking in America. After looking in depth at this incredible industry, there are two widely accepted truths about fracking which help put the issue into perspective. First, fracking comes with some level of environmental risk. Second, fracking provides large quantities of cheap energy. These two facts must be weighed appropriately to decide where one stands on the issue. - http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/faqs/fracking-frequently-asked-questi...Filed under: Government
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