What the Frack?
What’s all this fuss about "fracking" and why should we care?
In honor of Earth Day (4/22) and the earth’s capacity to support life, including our own, let's begin to “drill” into this phenomenon of hydraulic fracturing.
In a nutshell, hydraulic fracturing is a method of extracting oil or gas from rock layers deep underground. This involves drilling a well into the shale layer where geologists have identified oil or gas deposits. Water mixed with silica and a large number of chemicals is then forced into this layer under high pressure in order to create fissures in the rock to release the oil or gas so it can flow up the well and be captured at the surface and further processed and transported to end users.
To get a sense of what this involves join us tonight (Monday 4/21 at the Central Library at 6:30 p.m.) to view Josh Fox' Gasland Part II. You can also visit Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy's 501(c)6 website, "Study Fracking" to view diagrams and read their explanation of the process.
A fracking boom is currently taking place in Colorado especially in Weld county. It has been lauded as a boost to the Colorado economy by providing jobs and financial rewards to those leasing their land and those companies extracting the oil and/or gas. In the case of natural gas the industry claims that it is a cleaner source of fossil fuel energy than coal and that local production of this fuel means more energy independence for the United States.
But not everyone embraces this new found fossil fuel wealth in our state. A number of municipalities have recently passed bans or moratoriums on fracking within their confines. In addition, petitions will be circulating this summer to put anti-fracking or “local control over fracking decisions” on the November ballot.
A number of local environmental issues have been raised. This includes: air quality in communities located close to fracking wells; toxic fracking water leaks; pipeline leaks especially during the catastrophic September floods of 2013; water use in the fracking process in arid Colorado; waste storage issues such as those raised in North Dakota's fracking boom; and hormone disrupting health impacts of chemicals involved in the fracking process.
In addition to these potential local level problems there is the meta-concern of climate change. Carbon molecules released during the extraction, production and consumption of fossil fuels is trapping the sun's radiant heat in the earth's atmosphere and oceans resulting in a higher frequency of extreme weather events including an increase in average summer temperatures and drought patterns. In a recently released report, the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), states that we have a 10-15 year window to make the transition from a fossil fuel based energy system to one based on renewables (wind, solar, hydro) in order to avert catastrophic climate change. Recent findings also conclude that 80% of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground to avert climate change disaster for humans and other species. Furthermore, a report released last month has measured a much larger degree of methane release in the fracking process in Pennsylvania than originally thought. Methane's impact on heating up the earth's atmosphere in the short term is substantially greater than that of carbon.
I will save economic arguments, pros and cons, as well as a discussion of DPL's collection regarding hydraulic fracturing for future blogs. In the meantime come down to the Central Library this evening, April 21 at 6:30 p.m., if you can, to view Gasland II. I look forward to a robust conversation on fracking in the months to come!