Fracking Finds

A few years back, under the watchful eyes of Halliburton Company CEO Dave Lasser, an underling executive supposedly drank a glass of fracking fluid, namely, CleanStim, then under development. This was to convince attendees at a conference presented by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association that fracking fluid was safe.

It’s reasonable to assume that these demonstrations are hoaxes, substituting an organic fluid under development for toxic fluids actually used. Why else would most energy companies object to disclosing the contents of fracking fluid? Why else the lack of transparency?

As late as this year scientists investigating the aftermath of fracking know that the chemical cocktails that get pumped down into wells contains water, sand, hydrochloric acid, and ethylene glycol (antifreeze), and are injected at very high pressures to fracture the shale and release natural gas. It is not CleanStim, and probably never will be.

In fact, North Carolina, a state which declared fracking illegal, most likely because the state was not the best fracking candidate early in the game, had told the public there would be no fracking without long hearings and painstaking rules. In actuality, their long study lasted ten days, after which the Republican legislature passed a bill making it legal, this while criminalizing any disclosure of fracking fluid’s ingredients. The bill first declared disclosure a felony; then lessened to a misdemeanor, subject to 4 months in jail.

Supposedly the legislation was ready-made, written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is paid for by corporate interests, including Halliburton, the NRA, gun lobbies, and Koch Industries. A few things it has brought us include “Stand Your Ground,” privatization of education, drug testing of welfare recipients, and unbridled carry of guns.

What’s the reason for fracking? The fiction, even carried and claimed by President Obama, is that natural gas, most released by fracking, is far superior then the use of coal. That is only partially true, especially with evidence uncovered of late.

We keep doing these superficial dances, these partial studies that do not look at the life cycle of any endeavor to unlock energy. Life cycle cost studies consider the total cost, including externalities, of developing and marketing systems over their life span: research, development, operations and support, and disposal.

Garnering sources of energy involve the whole process of capture. It is a process that needs to consider its ingredients, method of extraction, transportation, required manpower, its use, and its externalities. The latter is seldom considered because energy companies rarely pay for the many costs of pollution. The taxpayers pay that cost in the form of subsidies (entitlement if you will) to ameliorate environmental impacts, and this doesn’t even consider the victim’s cost of health care — even death. The “Exxons” only clean up when they screw up, and then grudgingly.

Let’s give the example of natural gas development, so highly touted as our clean godsend.

It starts with sites with large deposits of shale, like the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and the Barnett or Eagle Ford formations in Texas. Over one million wells have been hydraulically fractured since the late 1940s, the process being more omniscient now – at least where there are shale formations.

Millions of gallons of precious water, sand, hydrochloric acid, and ethylene glycol (antifreeze) are injected at very high pressures to fracture the shale through horizontal drilling which can legally encroach upon private property. The natural gas in rock pores then moves freely through hundreds of fissures created.

Surface casings of cement, even extending horizontally, are supposed to contain the natural gas and protect ground water and wells, but a Gasland scientist estimated that 35% leak. Five percent of the concrete containments fail immediately and within 30 years, 50% fail.

Fracking is also tied to earthquakes in Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, the latter having almost 1000 unprecedented small quakes over a few short months.

According to Seth Shonkoff, a public health scholar at UC Berkeley, “It’s clear that the closer you are [to a well], the more elevated your risk.” Considering the levels of methane (worse than CO2)) measured near fracking wells (remember wells number in the millions now), it’s becoming questionable whether natural gas is much better than coal.

Furthermore, there are several ways gas drilling can make you ill:

Air pollution near wells: Within a half-mile radius included airborne pollutants (some endocrine disrupters); ground-level ozone, related to respiratory and cardiovascular disease; and silica sand, which cause pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

Recycled frack water: A third of fracking chemicals flows back up, not only the toxic fracking chemicals, but also metals like lead and arsenic. Traditional reuse treatment lends toxic agents to processed water used for irrigation or dumped in freshwater lakes.

Broken wells: As mentioned above, 35% leak, polluting ground water and rendering well water unusable.

Methane and benzene: It escapes into the air causing worse greenhouse gases.

The documentary, Gaslands, Part II, indicated that many homeowners were driven from their homes by fracking, chased by poisoned well water, bad air and illnesses; some were paid for damages in return for nondisclosure agreements. Many of these ills can be alleviated with engineering technology, but it takes studies to determine what is needed, something the EPA is belatedly doing, even under a Democratic administration.

Solutions to climate change need to consider all ramifications. The ethanol substitute for gas was one of many proposed that used more resources, caused food shortages, and distorted markets — in the end using more resources than fossil fuel production did, including additional fossil fuels to produce it.

To suggest that fracking for either natural gas or oil is a panacea for Americans tends to ignore already documented health risks and pollution threats.

James Hoover is a recently retired systems engineer. He has advanced degrees in Economics and English. Prior to his aerospace career, he taught high school, and he has also taught college courses. He recently published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes political columns on several websites. Read other articles by James.