Monday, November 4, 2013


Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is a method of extracting natural gas deposits in shale rock using high pressure water.  Fracking involves drilling, sometimes to depths of over 10,000 feet (that's almost 2 miles down) and injecting millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals at very high pressures.  Horizontal drilling often occurs from the main vertical shaft. The pressurized water serves to break-up (fracture) the shale rock, releasing trapped gas deposits. The chemical additives serve many purposes, including thickening the liquid and dissolving minerals. The sand serves to keep the fissures open once cracks have been created by water pressure. Some of the water/sand/chemical mix stays in the ground after the gas has been extracted. Some has to be disposed of.

Fracking isn't new. The technology was first used in the late 1940s. But, the advent of horizontal drilling techniques in the 1980s combined with higher pressure water injection in the 1990s allowed access to previously unreachable gas deposits and started the current boom

The downsides of fracking are mostly related to water pollution at the drill site and disposal sites. The upsides pertain to a reduction in air pollution and costs, because natural gas is cheaper and burns much cleaner than coal.

It also appears that in the future, natural gas production may be cleaner than we thought and new technologies can reduce the associated water pollution.

Here is a short article at Grist providing a nice introduction to fracking and the sources of controversy. 

More here at The Economist

Here is a short article at USA Today looking at the future of the fracking boom

Here is an article at The Economist describing China's shale gas reserves.


Kerriann Jessamy said...

I did some reading on fracking, and my two greatest concerns associated with fracking is contamination of groundwater resources and structural damage which seems like the most general concerns of those who oppose.
Fracking is done at great depths which definitely can cause contamination of underground water resources. I believe, because it is done at these depths, that it can cause the weakening and structural damage to rock formation. This in turn can lead to structural damages in homes and buildings and as some are concerned, the damage to cemeteries.
I don't want to be considered as 'anti-fracking' so let me say, I assume those doing such will be and are doing so with all safety and as environmentally friendly as possible with no cutting of corners and with monitoring and enforcement measures at their peak.

Rasheeda Hall-Hanson said...

Any extraction of minerals or natural gas- in this case are bound to produce some less than desirable side-effects. Fracking I think is more of the same; humans are trying to extract every drop of resource it can from the environment. This process of fracking may not only be extracting the precious oil but just maybe it might be causing shifts in the plates in the Earth's crust (even if it's incremental)which can unleash a myriad of other problems.

However, as was pointed out in some of our lessons there are certain trade offs that has to be made in order for us to achieve certain standard of life and some level of development.

However, with the on going push for responsible environmental planning and management, I can only hope that the methods that are being used to harness/harvest the natural resources are those sustainable and with a as limited social costs as possible. sustainable.

Douglas Brown said...

I do believe that fracking represents a promising source for cleaner energy but only for some people. By some people I mean larger and and more economically well-off countries that can afford best technology to extract the natural gas and set aside vast landspace for the process. I think there are too many risks associated with fracking, as pointed out in the readings on it, for it to be done on a very large scale, certainly not in in the Caribbean. Countries that can manage to extract natural gas quite safely through fracking can maybe export some of it to other countries where it is not as costly to extract, in order to decrease the world's dependence on other forms of fossil fuels.

Diana Ruiz said...

My sentiments while reading the article was same as the conclusion of the USA today article. Environmental and economic costs will always be at the center of such initiatives. There will be costs and similarly benefits. We can only hope that environmentally friendly technologies are used and at the same time environmental standards are adhered to.

Robb C said...

I am finding it very hard to side which way I feel on the issue on fracking. I am right on the edge agreeing with both parties that are for and against it and for what reasons. Its the Gemini affect. Where both parties have arguable debates with evidence and data to back them up. I do know that if we are to continue fracking that only wealthy and highly developed countries will be successful at doing so. Much expense is needed to properly handle and operate such a delicate extraction process. I also hope that while the US has such an abundant supply of natural gas that we are using this time being less dependent on foreign oil we are brainstorming other ideas to create machines and power that can be powered by forms of renewable energy. Instead of just finding another reason to dig and destroy our landscapes to only suck and deplete all natural resources that we can get our hands on.

Anonymous said...

Fracking comes down to the costs and benefits, just like any economic/environmental based decision. As an EVS major instead of an ECON guy, you would think that I would be totally against fracking, but I am not. The fact that it is still being explored despite the fact that a lot of monumental legislation has been passed since its discovery (i.e. CWA, CAA, etc.)shows that its benefits may outweigh its costs. The fact is that we need to find new and cleaner energy because our resources are not finite. My main concern from the environmental perspective is that upon researching some maps there appears to be a fair amount of fracking in the Western part of the U.S. This could be dangerous because the Ogallala Aquifer is in that area and could get contaminated.

Sara Kidd said...

As an EVS student I've been hearing about fracking for awhile now. From an economics standpoint and an environmental standpoint, natural gas has a lot of potential. Drilling for natural gas via hydraulic fracturing has a lot of risks the most pressing of which are groundwater contamination and just the huge amount of water used in the process. However, with the new technologies that are being developed by the oil and gas industry, I see fracking as a "doable" an highly profitable venture pending legislation that will protect citizens and their water supply over energy and business interests.

Shayvonne Moxey-Bonamy said...

Fracking is an extremely interesting concept with regard to 'clean energy'. On the one hand replacing coal with Natural Gas is better in the long term for air quality as Gas burn more 'clean' than coal. Additionally, there is enough natural gas reserve that will be able to supply this 'clean technology' for decades.
However, the externalities associated with fracking is rather serious. Ground water contamination from the mixture of water and chemicals used in the fracking process continue to grow. Additionally, a huge amount of water is required in the fracking process. Also, there seem to be no measure in place for methane that is released in the fracking process.
Perhaps some regulations or standards ought to be put in place for companies that will engaged in fracking. For instance, fracking should not be allowed with a certain distance of environmentally sensitive areas such as watershed and natural reserves, wilderness, etc. Also fracking should not be allowed in areas that are zone to be residential. Buffering criteria is necessary. Further, water and air quality standards need to be enforced whether through more strict regulations or more emissions control. Finally, chemicals are used in the fracking process, thus companies out to be responsible for clean up as this is a form of hazmat.

Charlette Alleyne-Greene said...

Water is a precious resource that is heavily depended on by mankind, especially for consumption.The process of fracking not only waste the precious water resource but at the same time pollutes the ground water with the chemicals used in the process. Consequently, coal should be utilized for energy than natural gas. Some may argue that the coal increases air pollution but can man survive without water? I guess that's the price man pays for progress.

Ben Calhoun said...

To me, hydraulic fracturing is one of the most interesting extraction processes used. This process is occuring globally; all indications are that this process will be continued to be used even more so in the future. As of now, hydraulic fracturing operations will begin in NC in 2015. Senate bill 820 effectively legalized hydraulic fracturing operations within NC. As noted by other students, there are many pros and cons associated with this energy production process. The main concern I have if this process is implemented in NC (Sanford Sub-basin) is where will the wastewater this process generates go? It has been proposed that the wastewater will go to some of the poorest areas in eastern NC. This proposal has been met with backlash and represents an environmental justice issue.

David W. said...

In practice, I think that natural gas extraction via fraking is not all that bad. It is minimally invasive when compared to traditional mining practices, and it provides one of the cleaner buring fossil fuels, nat. gas. In order for fracking to be an accepted means of resource extraction, then much research needs to be done to better understand the long term effects of pumping chemicles into the ground, as well as the polluting dangers it may pose to local drinking water. I think that any process that could potentially decrease our dependence on overseas oil is a worthy indeavor, but I don't not believe it is worth the degredation of water supplies or the potential risk of creating methane leaks, whatever/what have you. In conclusion, I would like to see the practice of fracking become more responsible by implementing some sort of damage control system that would lessen the possible negative externalities of the process itself.