Hydraulic Fracking: a Boon or Bane to the US

Hydraulic Fracking: A Boon or Bane to the US

The first question when hearing hydraulic fracking, it pops the question for what exactly is it? Hydraulic fracking (fracturing) is a controversial oil and gas extraction technique developed in the late 1940s to gain access to fossil energy deposits previously inaccessible to drilling operations. In the early 2000s, energy companies began combining horizontal (or directional) drilling with hydraulic fracturing to tap these reserves. The process involves drilling horizontally through a rock layer and injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand, and other chemicals that fractures the rock and facilitates the flow of oil and gas.

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These combined methods have allowed for expanded oil/gas development in shale and other formations in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia, and elsewhere. The rapid expansion of fracking is projected to make the U.S. a net exporter of natural gas in the coming years and potentially the world’s largest oil producer by 2018-20. Shale gas, which currently accounts for one-fourth of the nation’s natural gas production, is projected to increase to half by 2035.

Tracing back its history in the United States of America can be seen since 1862. It was during the battle of Fredericksburg VA., where civil war veteran Col. Edward A.L. Roberts saw what could be accomplished when firing explosive artillery into a narrow canal that obstructed the battlefield. This was described as superincumbent fluid tamping.

On April 26th, 1865, Edward Roberts received his first patent, for an Improvement in exploding torpedoes in artesian wells. In November of 1866, Edward Roberts was awarded patient number 59,936, known as the Exploding Torpedo. This extraction method was implemented by packing a torpedo in an iron case that contained 15-20 pounds of powder. The case was then lowered into the oil well, at a spot closest to the oil. From there, they would explode the torpedo by connecting the top of the shell with wire to the surface, and then filling the borehole with water

This invention increased oil production by 1200 percent from certain wells within a week of being implemented. This also led to the founding of Roberts Petroleum Torpedo Company, which charged $100-$200 dollars per rocket, plus a royalty of 1/15 of the profits generated from the product.

Even though the birth of fracking began in the 1860s, the birth of modern day hydraulic fracturing began in the 1940s. In 1947, Floyd Farris of Stanolind Oil and Gas began a study on the relationship between oil and gas production output, and the amount of pressurized treatment being used on each well. This study lead to the first experiment of hydraulic fracturing, which occurred at the Hugoton gas field, located in Grant county, Kansas in 1947. In this experiment, 1,000 gallons of gelled gasoline and sand were injected into a gas producing limestone formation with a depth of 2,400 feet. This was then followed by an injection of a gel breaker. While this experiment failed to produce a significant production increase, it did mark the beginning of hydraulic fracturing.

 After the massive rise of hydraulic fracking by American petroleum companies all around the nation, the President Gerald Ford in 1982 state of the union address, promoted the development of shale oil resources, as part of his overall energy plan, as a means of reducing foreign oil imports. Coming back to today’s politics for the help needed by the government officials or representatives of various states, it can be seen a total of about 40 senators hail from states that now have significant shale oil and gas prospects. Some represent what might fairly be called America’s petrostateslike North Dakota, which now gets more than half of its state government revenue from taxes on oil and gas extraction, second only to Alaska (82 percent) and edging out Wyoming (38 percent). It doesn’t require a political genius to see that these states’ government representatives will increasingly be defined by their support for that oil and gas: The oil and gas industry made some $73 million in total political contributions in the 2012 election cycle, nearly seven times what it spent in 1990. What do these folks want for their money? If the past is any indication, we’ll see attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency, hostility to climate science and a tendency to subvert other important issues to defend the industry. The modern day fracking started in the 1990s when it was combined with horizontal drilling, which increased the production exponentially.

Along with this entire successive profitable process for the Oil and Natural Resources Corporative Industry came a lot of environmental troubles. Some of them can be seen with the current major spill happening since 2014, The Taylor Energy Spill off the coast of Louisiana which is actually totally ironically discovered when watchdog groups stumbled on oil slicks while monitoring the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster a few miles north of the Taylor site in 2010. Other troubles are noted as follows:

  • Water Use: In order to hydraulically fracture shale and extract the hydrocarbons, large quantities of water and chemicals must be injected underground. Because of the cost to truck water in from further away, companies prefer to use water from sources as close to the well as possible, which can result in significant impacts on local waterways and overburden local water treatment facilities. In Texas, which is suffering dangerous drought conditions, fracking continues even as water use by citizens is restricted, the landscape wilts and the animal life dies. In 2011 the Wall Street Journal reported that the diversion of water for fracking oil and gas wells is also a serious threat to ranchers and other businesses in Texas. (Russell Gold and Ana Campoy, Oil’s Growing Thirst for Water, Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2011)
  • Fracking Fluids: During the hydraulic fracturing of a well, water is mixed with various chemicals to make a toxic brew called frack fluid. Until recently, neither the federal nor state governments required drilling companies to disclose the ingredients used in frack fluids. Some states have begun to require that companies disclose the chemicals they use, but even in such cases, companies can withhold some chemical names under trade secret exemptions. As a result, a comprehensive list of chemicals used in the fracking process does not exist. Some states have begun to require that companies disclose the chemicals they use, but even in such cases, confidential business information claims result in only partial disclosures. Corporations involved in fracking, like ExxonMobil, have inserted loopholes in drilling legislation that allow them to keep various chemicals used in the fracking process secret.
  • Contamination of Water Wells and Gas Migration: Groundwater becomes contaminated by hydraulic fracturing in a number of ways, including leakage from liquid storage areas, leakage from injection wells, leakage during hydrofracking along faults or up abandoned wells, seepage into the ground when wastewater and residuals are applied to land (i.e. used for irrigation or on roads for dust suppression or de-icing), and other means. The cement casing which rings the well bore and goes through underground aquifers is meant to act as a barrier between underground water and the shaft through which frack fluid and gas flow. But the casing can fail or break during the fracturing process, allowing the frack fluid or naturally-occurring contaminants to contaminate groundwater.  When that happens, frack fluid and methane can leak from the well bore directly into the water supply, causing dangerous gas buildups, and making water unfit to drink. (US EPA, Science Advisory Board, Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel, report to Lisa P. Jackson, August 4, 2011). Some recent examples can be seen as
  • In New York, claims have already been filed against the Anschutz Exploration Corporation and its subcontractors on behalf of nine families for the contamination of their drinking water due to natural gas exploration and drilling.
  • A Duke study examining 60 sites in New York and Pennsylvania found systematic evidence for methane contamination in household drinking water. Water wells half a mile from drilling operations were contaminated by methane at 17 times the rate of those farther from gas developments. Although methane in water has not been studied closely as a health hazard, it can seep into houses and build up to explosive levels.
  • Methane leaks in the Permian Basin, Texas has been totally going unnoticed during the recent past which is having a lot of public health hazards for the such as skin irritation and headaches. Approximately 2.3 million Texans live within a half mile of potentially hazardous oil and gas operations. That encompasses almost a fifth of the nation’s second-largest state. At least 900 schools and 75 medical facilities are also compromised, according to the Texas Observer. Much of that concentration is found in the Permian Basin, where emissions are a fact of life.

Talking about the The Trump Administration recently stoked the debate even further, as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took the final steps to halt an Obama-era fracking regulation.

The BLM, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, recently rescinded a rule aimed at protecting the environment from the ill effects of fracking. The agency claimed that repealing the rule would save millions of dollars per year and eliminate redundancy with existing state-level fracking regulations.

The rule being rescinded had been established under the Obama Administration to create a framework of oversight, disclosure, and operating standards to ensure the environmentally responsible development of oil and gas resources on Federal and Indian lands.

It had sought to remedy the potential risk of fracking to underground water sources and to manage the disposal of pollutants resulting from fracking operations. Fracking raises these concerns because the technique extracts natural gas from rock formations deep underground by pumping water, sand, and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to fracture the rock, which subsequently releases gas trapped within. The gas can then be recaptured on the surface and stored, but leaves the water and other material injected into the ground in need of disposal. This, in turn, can cause potential contamination of water supplies, as well as seismic activity.

To this end, the rule included several requirements for oil and gas operators, such as the submission of fracking applications to the BLM for agency approval and verification about the fracking well’s structural integrity.

Under President Trump, the BLM reasoned that removing these requirements would likely not increase the environmental and health risks associated with fracking. The agency stated that, as an initial matter, the BLM already has an extensive process in place to ensure that operators conduct oil and gas operations in an environmentally sound manner that protects resources.

Moreover, according to the BLM, many of the Obama-era rule’s fracking-specific requirements were already consistent with industry practice, which appreciably reduces potential harms. Perhaps more importantly, the BLM found that all 32 states with federal oil and gas operations already have laws or regulations that address fracking.

With steadily improving industry practices and comprehensive state regulatory programs, the BLM argued that the requirements in the Obama-era rule amounted to an unnecessarily burdensome and redundant regulationone that could potentially save the industry between $14 million to $32 million in regulatory compliance costs.

Additionally, the BLM noted in its repeal that implementation of the Obama-era fracking rule had already been complicated by litigation. Industry groups had previously challenged the authority of the BLM to enact the fracking regulation, prompting a suspension of the rule by the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming. Since then, the rule faced further litigation, which resulted in the fracking rule’s never going into effect. The BLM stated that by rescinding the rule, the agency would circumvent the need for any additional litigation over the authority of the BLM to issue such a rule.

 

Oil and gas industry groups applauded the decision to repeal the Obama-era rule. Moreover, a lot of US oil pipelines with current administration have been seeking from the steel tariffs as well as even asking the government to help build a wall in the Gulf of Mexico for protecting their oils fields from disturbances of the waves and possible flooding of the structures used in the oil field.

The current society fo Americans are actually in favor of preserving the environment. Americans are generally less positive about the quality of the environment than they have been in years, and are convinced that it is getting worse rather than better. The Trump administration has over the course of its tenure in office announced that the U.S. will not participate in the Paris climate accord; rolled back government efforts to protect the environment; and advanced efforts to support traditional, fossil fuel energy sources. These policy actions appear to be contrary to the general trends in U.S. public opinion, which support more, rather than less, government action to protect the environment and favor efforts to develop solar, wind and other alternative fuel sources.

The president and his appointees may argue that their main focus is on the base of voters who put Trump in office, and clearly his environmental approach receives more support from Republicans than from the general population. Most tellingly, Republicans agree with the general Trump position that economic growth should be prioritized, even if it risks harming the environment.

Even with that, however, less than half of Trump’s Republican base supports giving government money to support the coal industry, and slim or larger majorities say they favor a number of proposals to reduce emissions and develop alternative energy sources. This suggests that the president and Republican lawmakers and candidates could well find a nuanced position that coincides with the overall environmentalist sentiment of the American population without alienating their voting base.

Works Cited

  1. Manfreda, John. The Real History Of Fracking. OilPrice.com, 24 Feb. 2017, oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/The-Real-History-Of-Fracking.html.
  2. Harvey, Hal, et al. 5 Ways the Fracking Boom Changes Politics. POLITICO, POLITICO, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2013/11/5-ways-the-fracking-boom-changes-politics-098984.
  1. Boudet, Hilary, et al. ‘ Fracking’ Controversy and Communication: Using National Survey Data to Understand Public Perceptions of Hydraulic Fracturing. Energy Policy, vol. 65, 2014, pp. 57-67., doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2013.10.017.
  2. Fears, Darryl. A 14-Year-Long Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico Verges on Becoming One of the Worst in U.S. History. The Washington Post, WP Company, 21 Oct. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/a-14-year-long-oil-spill-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-verges-on-becoming-one-of-the-worst-in-us-history/2018/10/20/f9a66fd0-9045-11e8-bcd5-9d911c784c38_story.html?noredirect=on.
  3. Fracking’s Environmental Impacts: Water. Greenpeace International, www.greenpeace.org/usa/global-warming/issues/fracking/environmental-impacts-water/.
  4. Texas Oil Boom Has Environmental Advocates Choosing between 2 Unwelcome Scenarios. ThinkProgress, ThinkProgress, thinkprogress.org/pipelines-texas-exxon-permian-0db9ddeef1e6/.
  5. S. oil pipeline companies, producers seek relief from steel tariffs. Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-tariffs/u-s-oil-pipeline-companies-producers-seek-relief-from-steel-tariffs-idUSKBN1JF0DZ
  6. Gallup, Inc. Americans Want Government to Do More on Environment. Gallup.com, 29 Mar. 2018, news.gallup.com/poll/232007/americans-want-government-more-environment.aspx.
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