Hydraulic fracturing – or ‘fracking’ – is a highly controversial practice to tap natural gas locked in the earth. While promising to deliver less polluting energy at lower costs, there is ample evidence that the rush to this energy source may be equally polluting, a danger to precious water sources and perhaps more costly in the long run. Banned in many countries and regions, fracking has become one of the most argued energy practices that have emerged in the last decade with earthquakes a potential by-product. Are the risks outweighed by the benefits? The industry’s muscle has advanced this technology at a pace that has ignored, or overlooked, the science.
(Pictured: Fracking site in Pennsylvania)
Fracking in the USA – read here
Latest news: 2018 Guardian fracking review. Fracking has been hailed as an energy miracle in the US, yet globally it faces blocks and even bans. Why is it so controversial? link
- What is fracking?
- The dangers of fracking
- Fracking and earthquakes
- Fracking around the world
- The technology
Woodstockearthblog critiques the expansion of unlimited oil/gas through fracking while overlooking the problems for the environment. Link here to an article which refers to the industry’s marketing blitz to convince everyone about the benefits of ‘fracking’.
The 800 pound gorilla in the room.
What is ‘fracking’?
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, is a drilling technique used for extracting oil or natural gas from deep underground. Fracking is a hotly debated environmental and political issue. Advocates insist it is a safe and economical source of clean energy; critics, however, claim fracking can destroy drinking water supplies, pollute the air, contribute to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, and trigger earthquakes. Most fracking wells in use today rely on two technologies: hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. After the fracking well is fully drilled and encased, a fracking fluid is pumped into the well at extremely high pressure powerful enough to fracture the surrounding rock, creating fissures and cracks through which oil and gas can flow – more
(The fracking process is currently exempt from federal regulation, and instead states apply their own rules to it.) The Natural Gas industry, which has been exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and CERCLA since 2005, has never been forced to publicly disclose the contents of the fluids it uses to fracture wells. The so-called Halliburton Loophole, inserted into the 2005 energy bill, was a gift of the Bush-Cheney administration (Halliburton invented the process of hydraulic fracturing), and essentially said that the EPA no longer had the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing.
January 2018: Fracking is one of the least sustainable ways to produce electricity. A new study found shale gas ranks among the least sustainable sources of electricity, according to research from a team of Manchester scientists. As it stands, the US is still the only nation that is undertaking fracking on a large scale. When ascribing equal importance to the environmental, economic and social impacts of shale gas extraction, fracking ranked seventh out of nine electricity options. link
|Development of technology financed by taxpayers, not industry. Decades of federal support spurred the fracking boom. If we look at the history of how horizontal drilling techniques were commercialized, we find a strong base of government support through R&D, mapping techniques, cost-sharing programs, and billions of dollars in tax credits. The importance of federal assistance for new energy technologies and the establishment of a tax credit for drillers in 1980 that amounted to $10 billion through 2002, allowed the Department of Energy to provide crucial technical assistance during times of failure. (September 2012) link|
October 2009: New way to tap gas may expand global supplies. Extracting gas from layers of a black rock called shale are bringing oil engineers and geologists from Europe to the USA to learn the new methods. Shale is a sedimentary rock rich in organic material that is found in many parts of the world. It was of little use as a source of gas until about a decade ago, when American companies developed new techniques to fracture the rock and drill horizontally. link
|March 2017: “A Voice for the Planet” video. Fracking poses a tremendous risk of induced seismicity and chemical contamination to the adjacent groundwater aquifers, thus poisoning the people, plants and animals that rely on them. There are far better ways to power our society – view|
|What the industry says . . . American Petroleum Institute (API) site on fracking. Hydraulic fracturing is a proven technology used safely for more than 60 years in more than a million wells. It uses water pressure to create fissures in deep underground shale formations that allow oil and natural gas to flow. First used in the U.S.in 1947, the technology has been continuously improved upon since that time. link The gas industry has used hydraulic fracturing for 65 years in 30 states with a “demonstrable history of safe operations,” said Chris Tucker, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, a Washington-based research and advocacy group financed by oil and gas interests, in an email. Drilling in shale deposits in the eastern U.S. began in 2004. The industry created a public website|
The dangers of fracking
February 2017: Thousands of spills at US oil and gas fracking sites. Up to 16% of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells spill liquids every year, according to new research from US scientists. They found that there had been 6,600 releases from fracked wells over a ten-year period in four states, the biggest problems being reported in oil-rich North Dakota where 67% of the spills were recorded. Reporting requirements vary – in North Dakota, any spill bigger than 42 US gallons has to be reported while in Colorado and New Mexico the requirement was 210 gallons. Most spills occur in the first three years of operation, and around 50% of spills were related to the storage and movement of fluids via pipelines. link
|December 2016: EPA confirms fracking can contaminate drinking water. In a report that is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind to date on the effects of fracking on water supply, the Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that hydraulic fracturing has contaminated drinking water in some circumstances. Fracking is subject to only light federal regulations. The Obama administration has put forth one rule intended to protect water from fracking waste. But that rule applies only to fracking on public lands, which hold about 100,000 fracking wells representing about 10% of all fracking in the United States. The vast majority of fracking occurs on state or private land and is governed by state and local regulations. link|
April 2016: Fracking’s total environmental impact is staggering. The body of evidence is growing that fracking is not only bad for the global climate, it is also dangerous for local communities. And affected communities are growing in number. The report, released today, details the sheer amount of water contamination, air pollution, climate impacts, and chemical use in fracking in the United States. “For the past decade, fracking has been a nightmare for our drinking water, our open spaces, and our climate,” Rachel Richardson, a co-author of the paper from Environment America, told ThinkProgress. link
September 2014: Well leaks, not fracking, are linked to contaminated water. A study of tainted drinking water in areas where natural gas is produced from shale shows that the contamination is most likely caused by leaky wells rather than the process of hydraulic fracturing used to release the gas from the rock. link
May 2014: Too many knowledge gaps regarding safety. A new report commissioned by Environment Canada and authored by 14 scientists from across North America, recommends more information needs to be collected to understand the potential effects fracking could have on the environment. The report said the impact can’t be determined because the data to measure it isn’t there, making it hard to say fracking is safe. link
July 2013: Shale gas – a gangplank to a warm future. An engineer who helped develop shale fracking techniques for the Energy Department, says this gas is not “clean.” Because of leaks of methane, the main component of natural gas, the gas extracted from shale deposits is not a “bridge” to a renewable energy future; it’s a gangplank to more warming and away from clean energy investments. Over a 20-year period, one pound of methane traps as much heat as at least 72 pounds of CO2. Its potency declines, but even after a century, it is at least 25 times as powerful as CO2. While there is uncertainty over the rate of leaking, recent measurements by the NOAA at gas and oil fields in California, Colorado and Utah found leakage rates of 2.3% to 17% of annual production. link
December 2014: Study links fracking to infertility, birth defects. A new study links shale oil and gas development to a host of developmental and reproductive health risks, and says the processes pose a particularly potent threat to what researchers called “our most vulnerable population”, children, and developing fetuses. link
April 2014: New study says fracking bad for climate and health. Scientists have long expressed concern about how the lack of data and access to drilling sites prevents a complete scientific assessment of how hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas production affect the climate, environment and public health. A new University of Texas-Austin study not only criticizes state and federal regulatory agencies for dismissing public concern about the health and environmental impacts of shale oil and gas development, but illuminates the large gap in understanding about what shale oil and gas production mean for public health and the environment in Texas and beyond. link
June 2014: Air pollution spikes in homes near fracking wells. The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project has been conducting a “pretty aggressive” indoor air monitoring project since 2011 in the midst of Pennsylvania’s gas drilling boom, particularly near unconventional wells that employed hydraulic fracturing. link
October 2012: GAO report – there are serious risks to health, environment – link
April 2011: Carcinogens threat. A report released in Congress found more than 650 of the chemicals used in fracking were carcinogens. Meanwhile, a report challenged one of the fuel’s main selling points, that shale gas is a low-carbon fuel. The study found that the carbon footprint for shale gas was far greater than conventional oil or gas or even. link
January 2014: Study shows fracking is bad for babies. The energy industry has long insisted that hydraulic fracking is safe for people who live nearby. New research suggests this is not true for some of the most vulnerable humans: newborn infants. Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011 found that proximity to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half, from about 5.6% to more than 9% percent. link
June 2012: The downside of fracking is waste. Companies produce millions of gallons of salty, chemical-infused wastewater, known as brine, as part of drilling and fracking each well. Drillers are supposed to inject this material thousands of feet underground into disposal wells, but some of it isn’t making it that far. According to data obtained by ProPublica, oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids in 2011, about as many as in the previous two years combined. link
May 2012: New study predicts frack fluids can migrate to aquifers within years. A study has raised fresh concerns about the safety of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, concluding that fracking chemicals injected into the ground could migrate toward drinking water supplies far more quickly than experts have previously predicted. Scientists have theorized that impermeable layers of rock would keep the fluid, which contains benzene and other dangerous chemicals, safely locked nearly a mile below water supplies. link
|May 2016: Insurers shun risk as oil-linked quakes soar in Oklahoma. Insurers limit exposure to fracking support. As the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma exploded into the hundreds in the last few years, nearly a dozen insurance companies moved to limit their exposure to earthquake risks because of heightened frequency of seismic activity, which scientists link to disposal of saltwater that is a byproduct of oil and gas production. Homeowners are also put at risk: six insurers hiked premiums by as much as 260% and three increased deductibles. Three companies stopped writing new earthquake insurance altogether. link|
April 2011: Shale gas could be worse for climate change than coal. Over a 100-year timeframe, conventional gas is almost certainly better than coal, but shale gas could be worse. link
December 2011: Landowners turn against leasing for fracking. Nearly half of the landowners who have leased their ground to shale gas developers in the north-east of America regret doing it, despite the money. Fracking has become increasingly controversial in recent months, as the process was found to have caused earthquakes in Oklahoma in the US and near Blackpool in the UK. link
Fracking and earthquakes
January 2018: Texans fear link between fracking and earthquakes. Environmentalists have long expressed concern over fracking risking air and water pollution, leaks and explosions. Now there is a growing body of evidence that oil-and-gas related activity causes earthquakes. Significant new research indicates that the spate of tremors in north Texas is occurring on faults that were inactive for at least 300 million years. Using a different analytical technique from earlier studies, it backs up previous conclusions that the only plausible explanation for the earthquakes is human activity. link
March 2017: USGS confirms fracking causes earthquakes. It has taken years to finally admit it, but the U.S. Geological Survey has just confirmed that three million Americans are at risk from human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater disposal, a process in fracking, in 2017. The study was focused on the U.S. Central East, primarily on Oklahoma and Kansas, who don’t normally get large earthquakes. Due to wastewater disposal however, their risk is now equal to that of California. [June 2018: The USGS said that most Oklahoma earthquakes are due to wastewater injection from oil extraction, not fracking wastewater, although some of the earthquakes have been linked to fracking. link]
January 2016: Fracking shakes American West. According to the National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado, in 2014 Oklahoma experienced 585 quakes registering above level three. In 2015 there were 842. George Choy, a seismologist at the center said “That’s almost a millennium’s worth of earthquakes in two years . . . When you see that you suspect something is going on.” link
July 2014: Fracking connection to US quake surge. Massive injections of wastewater from the oil and gas industry are likely to have triggered a sharp rise in earthquakes in the state of Oklahoma. Researchers say there has been a forty-fold increase in the rate of quakes in the US state from 2008-2013. The scientists found that the disposal of water in four high-volume wells could be responsible for a swarm of tremors up to 35km away. link
(Oklahoma earthquake tracking – link)
December 2011: More connections of quakes resulting from fracking. A string of tremors in Ohio, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas has raised the notion that efforts to unlock natural gas from shale rock are the cause. link
April 2012: USGS scientists report “remarkable increase” in earthquakes almost certainly man-made. A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team has found that a sharp jump in earthquakes in America’s heartland appears to be linked to oil and natural gas drilling operations. link
March 2013: Fracking linked to 2011 earthquake in Oklahoma – link
Fracking around the world
June 2017: Ireland joins France, Germany and Bulgaria in banning fracking. Sinn Fein Dáil member Tony McLoughlin said ”this law will mean communities in the West and North West of Ireland will be safeguarded from the negative effects of hydraulic fracking. If fracking was allowed to take place in Ireland and Northern Ireland it would pose significant threats to the air, water and the health and safety of individuals and communities here. Fracking must be seen as a serious public health and environmental concern for Ireland.” link
May 2017: When it comes to fracking, Argentina dreams big. Since a US Energy Information Administration (EIA) report announced in 2011 that Argentina had some of the world’s biggest shale oil and gas reserves, the dream of prosperity has been on the minds of many people in this South American nation where nearly a third of the population lives in poverty. The question that hangs in the air is whether it is really possible for Argentina to become South America’s Saudi Arabia. According to the latest EIA data, Argentina is only second to China in shale gas reserves, and in fourth position after the US, Russia and China, in shale oil. link
September 2014: Water shortage a challenge in 40% of fracking areas. A lack of available water could crimp energy development in many of the nations with the most abundant shale oil and shale gas resources, a new study predicts. Forty percent of the world’s countries with the largest shale oil and shale gas resources have arid conditions or steep competition for water, according to the World Resources Institute report, Global Shale Gas Development: Water Availability & Business Risk. link
France – first country to ban fracking. The French parliament voted on June 30 2011 to ban fracking. The bill had already passed the National Assembly, the country’s lower chamber, on June 21, and on June 30 a Senate vote of 176 to 151 made France the first country to enact such a ban. The vote was divided along party lines, with the majority conservative party voting in favor and the opposition voting against the bill, according to Le Monde. The Socialist Party, in particular, opposed the bill because it did not go far enough. The bill’s critics said that it left open possible loopholes and that in particular it does not prevent the exploitation of oil shale deposits by techniques other than fracking. An earlier version of the bill, which the Socialists had supported, would have banned any kind of development of the deposits, Le Monde reported. link (Photo: Anti-fracking protesters in La Petite Brosse, outside Paris. Photograph: Pierre Andrieu/AFP/Getty Images)
October 2013: French court uphold ban on fracking. France’s constitutional court has upheld a ban on hydraulic fracturing, ruling that the law against fracking is a valid means of protecting the environment. France banned fracking in 2011 and cancelled exploration licences after protests by environmental groups. link
Bulgaria – second country to ban fracking. In January 2012, Bulgarian MPs voted overwhelmingly for a ban on fracking following big street protests by environmentalists. Bulgaria has revoked a shale gas permit granted to US energy giant Chevron. Critics say shale gas drilling can poison underground water and even cause earth tremors. link
February 2015: Scotland and Germany also ban fracking – link
reports from elsewhere . . . .
October 2013: Setback for the shale-gas industry in Europe. European Union lawmakers voted narrowly to force energy companies to carry out in-depth environmental audits before they deploy a technique known as fracking to recover natural gas from shale rock. Fracking is far less developed than in the United States and citizens are more concerned about the environmental impact of recovering the gas than about finding new sources of hydrocarbons as a way of combating stubbornly high energy prices. The rules must still undergo another round of voting in the Parliament once an agreement on final language is reached with European Union governments. link
November 2011: UK firm says shale fracking caused earthquakes. In the U.K., shale gas exploration triggered small earthquakes near Blackpool in northwest England in 2011. link
(More on fracking in Britain – link)
|Fracking in Canada – pdf
March 2012: Eastern Canada shows concern about fracking. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has not faced the same wrath from environmentalists in Canada compared with the oil sands industry. Although 70% of all gas wells in Canada now use fracking, the treatment remains divisive even within various provincial governments. Shale gas-rich Quebec has slapped a moratorium on fracking, while Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are hamstrung by public backlashes, which has made exploiting relatively low reserves politically unappealing. Meanwhile, pro-fracking provinces, Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, have allowed producers to use the method to access previously inaccessible gas resources. linkNovember 2016: In Canada, a direct link between fracking and earthquakes. A spate of earthquakes in Alberta within the last five years has been attributed to fracking. Scientists at the University of Calgary who studied those earthquakes, near Fox Creek in the central part of the province, say the quakes were induced in two ways: by increases in pressure as the fracking occurred, and, for a time after the process was completed, by pressure changes brought on by the lingering presence of fracking fluid. link
April 2011: South Africa calls halt to fracking. South Africa’s government has halted plans by the oil firm Shell to extract natural gas from the Karoo desert by using a method known as “fracking”. The cabinet decided to stop the development until the ecological consequences have been studied. link Change of mind – Update – October 2012: In April 2011 South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Two weeks ago the DMR lifted the moratorium, specifically on fracking for shale natural gas and last week released the detailed version of the report it commissioned on hydraulic fracturing. South Africa ranks among the top ten global owners of shale gas resources, perhaps even as high as number five. link
May 2011: Possible solution to fracking contamination. An absorbent form of silica can remove nearly all petro-chemicals from the water produced by hydraulic fracturing in shale-gas wells, Energy Department scientists announced late last week. After field testing the modified silica, called Osorb, DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory confirmed it can remove more than 99% of oil and grease from water, and more than 90% of volatile compounds that can poison drinking water. Hydraulic fracturing of shale has become increasingly important for freeing vast reserves of natural gas from shale formations in the United States, such as the Marcellus Shale formation under the Appalachian Mountains. But opposition to “fracking” has mounted because water injected underground to shatter the shale carries toxic hydrocarbons back to the surface and could imperil drinking water aquifers. Approximately 21 billion barrels of produced water, containing a wide variety of hydrocarbons and other chemicals, are generated each year in the United States from nearly one million wells. link
|Shale Gas fracking – The Guardian page on fracking – link
April 2014: Major firm to disclose fracking chemicals. In a major shift quietly announced Thursday, a leading hydraulic fracturing supplier said it would begin disclosing all of the chemicals used in so-called fracking without regard to trade secrets. link
August 2012: Alternative to using water for fracking. Compressed carbon dioxide may be more suitable than water for fracturing methane-rich rock – a finding that could help the growing hydraulic fracturing industry extract more natural gas from spent fields. And because the carbon dioxide is then trapped below ground, the discovery could also spur the development of large scale carbon sequestration. link.
March 2013: Long-term costs of fracking are staggering. A recent report from the Post Carbon Institute finds that projections for an energy boom from non-conventional fossil fuel sources is not all it’s cracked up to be. The report says the low quality of hydrocarbons from bitumen, shale oil and shale gas, do not provide the same energy returns as conventional hydrocarbons due to the energy needed to extract or upgrade them. When groundwater resources are used, aquifers can be drawn down and cause wells in the area to go dry. Once water is used for fracking, it is lost to the water cycle forever. link