The Dirty Truth behind Fossil Fuel Production

Unsustainable Fossil Fuel Meeting

Unsustainable Fossil Fuel Meeting

The documentary "Gasland" first aired on HBO on June 21, just weeks after the worst oil spill in the history of the United States.  I'll warn you: watching it will infuriate you...that is if you care about individual human beings over the  profit of the fossil fuel industry.  Basically, the documentary highlights how natural gas drilling, specifically a process called fracking, across the U.S. is poisoning people's water supplies (in some cases resulting in water being flammable coming straight out of the faucet) and air quality resulting in the deteriorated health of those living near a natural gas well.

One of the key premises of the documentary is the fact that the natural gas industry was able to exempt drilling fluid used in fracking in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  Guess who helped push through that act? Dick Cheney, ex-CEO of Halliburton.  From Wikipedia on the topic of fracking:

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Reports of ground water contamination have questioned whether the exemption is appropriate. A complete listing of the specific chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations are not currently made available to landowners, neighbors, local officials, or health care providers. This practice is under scrutiny as well.

While watching "Gasland" and the continuing news of the Gulf Oil spill, and thinking about America's relationship to fossil fuel, I can't get one line of the rapper DMX's song "Let me Fly" out of my head:

I sold my soul to the devil, and the price was cheap.

I understand that we need energy.  I understand that we can't currently meet our energy demand through renewable energy.  But when our society signed a contract with the fossil fuel industry, I don't think that we meant to sign away our freedom, our health, and our environment.  Sure, everyone wants something for the least amount of money as possible. But I don't think anyone wants to cheapen the American way of life for the purpose of a little lower cost fossil fuel.  We need fossil fuel to run our current economy, but we don't need to whore out our environment and well-being so a few "suits" in the energy industry can line their pockets a little more.

When is society going to wake up and understand that the health and well-being of many Americans is being undermined by those in the fossil fuel industry who care about profit more than they do safety?

For an example of how some in the fossil fuel industry are putting profit ahead of society and environment, I made this convenient little list (and remember, this is just a tiny sampling):

  • Mountaintop coal removal: Desire for cheap coal results in the demolition of  million-year old Appalachian mountains damaging streams and rivers with runoff in the process.
  • TVA Coal sludge pond spill in Tennessee: Poor engineering of the sludge pond's dam and negligence in its upkeep resulted in the largest spill of its kind in U.S. history damaging the surrounding area, destroying the property value of land owners, and resulting in health complaints by neighbors
  • BP Gulf Oil Spill: Poor safety standards and lack of a safe shutoff redundancy, coupled with a complete lack of preparation in the event of a spill result in the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
  • Natural Gas Fracking damaging air and water supplies: Drilling fluid used in the fracking process and lack of concern about people living around natural gas wells result in water supplies being ruined, unhealthy air quality, and the sickening of many living around natural gas wells.

Luckily it seems that with enough public outcry, regulators will eventually put the safety of people over the profits of drillers.  In April of 2010 regulators in Pennsylvania blocked Cabot Oil and Gas from drilling in the state until it cleaned up areas it has already destroyed.  Cabot is one of the gas companies featured in Gasland.

Mapawatt Blog is about helping people live more sustainably by implementing energy and water conservation strategies and adopting clean energy, but even the most efficient home is worthless if it is spoiled by a mountaintop vista that is mowed down by a coal company, a coal sludge pond spill, an oil spill, or a ruined water supply due to natural gas fracking.

Natural gas is one of the cleanest fossil fuels we can use.  But as a society, we must ensure that it is procured in a manner that doesn't harm the environment and the people who live around natural gas wells.  To our "leaders", to those we entrust our freedom to, I must ask, "What the frack?"  To readers, I say, "Don't let your future be dictated by cheapskates."

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We wish to reply to the question, “Does hydraulic fracturing or fracing, as it is called in the industry, with hazardous chemicals present a threat to the environment and ground water supplies?” An appropriate answer requires a discussion of the ingredients that are used in the fracing process and a description of the fracing process itself. For starters, the process consists of the injection under high pressure of a mixture or solution of water and sand along with a relatively small volume of chemicals into a formation for the purpose of creating a multitude of fractures in that formation. The water and sand comprise 99 % by volume and the chemical additives amount to about 1%. The water serves as the transporting medium, while the sand serves as a propping agent, which holds the fractures open after the fracing has been completed. The purpose of the high pressure is two fold; to create sufficient force to break the formation and cause the fractures, and to create a stream velocity sufficient to keep the sand entrained as it is transported into the formation. The ingredients that comprise the fracing fluid, other than the water and sand, are specifically selected chemicals to assist in assuring the highest efficiency of the fracing process. In a typical frac job those chemicals would be as follows: Gel Agent Guar gum or hydroxyethyl cellulose----------thickening agent Bactericide Glutaraldehyde-----------------------eliminates harmful bacteria Acid Hydrochloric acid------------dissolves minerals/initiates cracks Inhibitor Formamide---------------------prevents corrosion of well casing Crosslinker Borate salts-------------------------------maintains fluid viscosity Friction agent Petro distillate-----------------reduces water friction/slick water Stabilizer Potassium chloride----prohibits fluid invading formation clays pH agent Potassium carbonate----------assists crosslinker and other agents Surfactant Isopropanol-----------------reduces surface tension of frac fluids It should be noted that all of these chemical additives are typically used in everyday products such as hair coloring, medical disinfectants, laundry detergents, swimming pool cleaners, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, household cleaners, deodorants, plastics, and antiperspirants. They have been proven through these many uses to pose no risk to the environment, nor to the men and women who use them. These are not hazardous chemicals. In the typical frac job, a well is drilled and cased to the depth of the target formation using a surface string of casing, an intermediate string of casing and finally a production string. The surface string is placed in drilled hole deep enough to have passed through any and all aquifers. Cement is then introduced into this casing and forced out the bottom or shoe of the casing and on up the outside of the casing until the cement reaches the surface. This cement is then allowed to dry, providing a bond between the wall of the drilled hole and the outside of the casing. A test is made of this cement job to be sure that it has isolated the aquifers and all other formations from each other behind the surface casing. The operator then proceeds into the hole with another bit of smaller size and drills the intermediate hole to some programmed depth above the target formation. Then the intermediate string of casing is lowered into that hole and cemented back up to the shoe of the surface string of casing to provide isolation of all the formations behind that intermediate string from each other in a manner similar to the cementing of the surface casing. After that cement job has dried, the operator goes inside the intermediate casing string with a new smaller bit and drills out the shoe of the intermediate string and proceeds to drill down through the target formation to the programmed total depth. The final production string of casing is then run in this hole and cemented back up to the shoe of the intermediate string. When that cement is dried, the operator goes inside the production string with a smaller bit to drill out the cement remaining inside the production string to a depth sufficient to allow the perforation of the target formation. It is important to note here that the production string may be in a vertical hole or at the operator’s election in a lateral leg or horizontal leg of the well. The cementing process is essentially the same for a vertical or horizontal leg of the well. When the inside of the production string has been cleaned out, the perforation process begins. In shale wells particularly, the perforating may be in several sets or stages, which allows the frac job to be done in stages. This is more effective than to try to perform and effective frac job on one long set of perforations for the whole producing formation. When the frac job has been completed the frac fluids are allowed to flow back up to the surface along with the gas that will now be flowing out of the shale formation. All of these flow back fluids are directed into carefully lined pits or into containing tanks brought to the well site for this purpose. At the surface the gas is separated from the liquids and portions of the sand that also flow back, and the gas is normally flared until the well clean up period is concluded. Great care is given to the containment of the liquids which are either transported to the next well location for use in a frac job on that well or sent to a processing plant where the water is stripped of its impurities and returned to other uses. Now the frac job has been directed at a formation thousands of feet below the aquifers that are isolated behind the surface casing and there is no possibility of those frac fluids coming in contact with those aquifers or any other source of potable water. In fact, through the 60 year history of hydraulic fracturing there has never been a verified case of any contamination of aquifers or other water supplies from hydraulic fracturing. It is really easy to see why, since there are thousands of feet of cemented casing separating the frac fluids from the aquifers.
"It should be noted that all of these chemical additives are typically used in everyday products such as hair coloring, medical disinfectants, laundry detergents, swimming pool cleaners, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, household cleaners, deodorants, plastics, and antiperspirants. " I don't think I want all of those "everyday products" in my drinking water either. Granted some of the things you listed (near the beginning of the list aren't to bad. But Borate salts? petro distillate? come on you can't tell me you would want that in your drinking water even in the ppm range.

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