Thursday, March 8, 2012

What the Frack? The Truth Behind Hydrological Fracturing

Fracking, more technically referred to a hydrological fracturing, has been set on center stage surrounded by controversy as a result of misinformation and misunderstanding. Hydraulic fracturing has been taking place in America for nearly 60 years with over one million wells drilled since 1940. With a process such as this being used time and time again many improvements and modifications have been made to make the process safer and more efficient.
The Process
The process of bringing a well to completion is fairly fast taking only 70 to 100 days for a single well considering each well can be in production for 20 to 40 years. The construction timeline takes 4-8 weeks to prepare the site, 4-5 weeks to prepare the drilling rig and associated equipment and materials and 2-5 days of actual drilling. After the initial drilling, the affect surface area is reduced to the size of a two-car garage and the rest of the site is remediated to its original condition.
An overview of the drilling process can be seen here.
Typically, steel pipe known as surface casing is cemented into place at the uppermost portion of a well for the specific purpose of protecting the groundwater. Casing and cementing are critical parts of the well construction that not only protect any water zones, but are also important to successful oil or natural gas production from hydrocarbon bearing zones. It is critical for the casing and cementing to be done correctly in order to protect groundwater supplies. It’s also very important for brine wells to be sealed correctly also. Brine wells are used to store the saline water used during the fracking process. Since 1940, there have not been any confirmed cases of groundwater contamination due to hydrological fracturing. Many cases of water contamination occur due to old brine wells being improperly sealed and cased. To prevent contamination via the brine wells regulations must be imposed to insure they are cased and monitored correctly.
In theory, the process of drilling is safe on paper, but no one can accurately say there is no risk associated with it because there are risks associated with any action. Safeguardsproposed by the NRDC include:
1. Putting the most sensitive lands, including critical watersheds, completely off limits to fracking;
2. Not allowing leaky systems by setting clean air standards that ensure methane leaks are well under one percent of production to reduce global warming pollution, and requiring green completions and other techniques to reduce air pollution;

3. Mandating sound well drilling and construction standards by requiring the strongest well siting, casing and cementing and other drilling best practices;

4. Protecting the landscape, air, or water from pollution by closing Clean Air, Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water loopholes, reducing toxic waste, and holding toxic oil and gas waste to the same standards as other types of hazardous waste, funding robust inspection and enforcement programs, and disclosing fully all chemicals;
5. Using gas to replace dirtier fossil fuels like coal by prioritizing renewables and efficiency, implementing recently established mercury, sulfur and other clean air standards, and setting strong power plant carbon pollution standards; and
6. Allowing communities to protect themselves and their future by restricting fracking through comprehensive zoning and planning.

Implementing these proposed safeguards would allow hydrological fracturing to become a more viable energy resource without posing any environmental risks.

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