Techniques including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling can help make it possible for the United States to be more independent when it comes to our oil and natural gas supply. We have vast oil reserves that have gone untapped until these techniques were established.
Fracking involves a device, similar in shape to a flute, that’s lowered to the appropriate position to blast open small fissures in non-porous shale with a small charge. Next a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is forced through the holes in the “flute” to create cracks so the crude oil can escape the shale. When the fracking process is complete, oil is pumped to the surface.
As with most large-scale processes, hydraulic fracturing has its critics. Some believe that chemicals used in fracking will leak into our water supply. Casing and cementing the wellbore keep it open and ensure there are no leaks.
Another fear is that horizontal drilling can cause earthquakes. In reality, it isn’t actually the fracking that’s the likely cause but the deep injection wells that hold the used chemicals recovered from fracking. Newer treatment technologies make it possible to recycle the water recovered from hydraulic fracturing. This will be of great importance in conserving water long term and avoiding earthquakes. In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama backed hydraulic fracturing on federal lands as long as the chemicals are disclosed and there is a plan for safely disposing of each well’s wastewater. These are the “all-important” stipulations.
The main ingredient in fracking is water. It’s combined with sand to make up more than 99.5% of the fracking mixture. People may be concerned about the amount of water used. Yes, it’s a lot – from 65,000 gallons to 600,000 gallons but to put it in perspective, the amount of water used is pretty small when compared to the amount of water used for manufacturing, agriculture and municipal water supplies.
The chemicals in fracking fluid vary from one geologic basin or formation to another. Some chemicals are used to limit the growth of bacteria, while others are used to prevent corrosion. Chemicals used in fracking will also vary depending on well conditions, however a typical fracture treatment uses a low concentration of anywhere from three to twelve chemicals. Any one fracturing job will use only a few of the chemicals. Fracking fluids create the fractures in rock and carry a “propping agent” or “proppant” (usually sand), to hold the fractures open. Natural sand, or specially engineered proppants can be used.
The main take-away here is that hydraulic fracturing in and of itself is not a danger. It is how workers dispose of the waste that’s the tricky part. If it’s done properly there is almost no risk whereas when companies become sloppy and don’t follow protocol problems ensue. Looking on the bright side, being able to depend on our own sources of energy will make this country stronger while simultaneously creating new jobs and cheaper, cleaner power. Holding workers responsible for properly using and disposing of fracking fluid should negate the public’s fears.