One of the most contentious issues surrounding the process of hydraulic fracturing (commonly called “fracking”) is the belief that it leads to groundwater contamination. Yet, according to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, the process “is perfectly capable of being clean.” Moreover, she agrees with U.S. President Barack Obama in that hydraulic fracturing can benefit the economy through job creation without sacrificing the environment.
Despite these and other compelling arguments, fears surrounding the procedure continue to drive a wedge between citizens, legislators, and gas-extracting operators. Nowhere has this confrontation been clearer than in New York State. Concerns about groundwater contamination in several towns have spurred the passage of recent anti-fracking legislation. The issue has become such a lightning rod that the New York Supreme Court recently ruled that local drilling in the town of Dryden should be prohibited. The ruling essentially constitutes a ban.
Below, Brandon Davis explain how hydraulic fracturing works, and present the concerns posed by critics of the procedure. He then takes a closer look at evidence suggesting their fears are unwarranted.
Brief Overview of Fracking: How It Works
The main purpose of fracking is to extract natural gas and oil from shale formations. The procedure represents a relatively recent advancement in technology, and has made gas and oil extraction economical. Back in the 1970s, before hydraulic fracturing was widely used, reaching deposits trapped within shale formations was cost-prohibitive. Today, due in large part to fracking, gas production in the United States is much higher. Many proponents of the process argue that it will help the U.S. reduce its reliance upon foreign oil imports.
A well is drilled thousands of feet below the surface to reach the layer of shale rock. It descends vertically until it reaches the shale formation.
More than a million gallons of water, along with sand and various chemicals are sent through the well. Most fracks contain 99% water and sand. This introduces a high level of pressure into the rock layer, which causes fissures to form. The sand keeps the fissures open, allowing natural gas to escape into the well through small perforations made in the steel casing. The gas flows from the well into a special container. The pressurized water is then removed and transported to a treatment center.
Concerns Regarding Potential Water Contamination
Swan Energy knows that primary concern posed by fracking critics is that groundwater – water found below the surface – is contaminated by the gas-extraction procedure. They particularly complaint is about contamination of water wells in highly-populated areas, since the general public is exposed to such wells. Critics allege that the chemicals added to wells escape from the casing, and thus jeopardize the safety of the public’s drinking water.
Arguments That Dispel Groundwater Contamination Fears
There are few, if any, reliable studies that clearly demonstrate the contamination argued by critics of hydraulic fracturing. In fact, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified in front of a House Oversight Committee in May 2011 that she was unaware of any documented cases showing such results. She stated, “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”
Additionally, Mr. Brandon Davis points to a report titled “Fact-Based Regulation For Environmental Protection In Shale Gas Development” that shows many of the issues attributed to fracking actually stem from other causes. The report’s authors demonstrated that if contamination occurs, it is due to poor well construction as opposed to the fracking procedure. Such problems can be found in all gas and oil drilling projects, implying that the focus on hydraulic fracturing is misplaced.
The Path Ahead For Hydraulic Fracturing
The industry is in favor of smart regulations that will improve the construction of wells, and thus minimize the likelihood of gas and fluid seepage. To that end, many operators are working with state legislators. The danger is that unwarranted concerns lacking factual support may prompt many states to impulsively pass laws banning fracking, despite its proven benefits. While the road ahead is uncertain, Ms. Jackson’s testimony and recent comments should prove helpful toward forging a reasonable path forward, say Brandon Davis of Swan Energy.