In his State of the Union address at the beginning of this year, President Obama voiced his approval of hydraulic fracturing as a viable means for the U.S. to take advantage of its natural resources and become less dependent on foreign oil and gas sources. Not everyone is in favor though. In July, 2012 North Carolina governor, Bev Purdue vetoed legislation allowing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the state of North Carolina. Then lawmakers passed legislation over Governor Perdue’s veto that WILL allow fracking as soon as late 2014.
Part of the perception that hydraulic fracturing is bad is due to over-simplified definitions like this one from WRAL.com:
“Fracking involves pumping a mix of water and chemicals into a drilled well to break apart deposits of underground shale and release natural gas.”
That’s pretty simplistic and leaves out a lot of important detail. Vertical drilling into the earth far surpasses the water table before the bore makes a curve and eventually becomes horizontal. Another important factor to note is that all well bore sections are cased in cement to prevent leakage.
Once the well bore and casing are complete, a flute-like tool is lowered into the bore and sets off tiny explosions that create fissures in the rock. Next a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped through the “flute” to crack open the fissures in the shale releasing the natural gas. The important part here is to remember that water and sand make up more than 99.5% of the fracking mixture. Yes, a lot of water is used in the fracking process – anywhere from 65,000 gallons to 600,000 gallons. This may sound like a lot, but it’s actually small compared to the amount of water used in manufacturing, agriculture – even watering golf courses.
When it comes to the other 0.5% of the fracking mixture, the chemicals, different chemicals may be used for different jobs. However, if a well bore is properly cemented and the used fracking mixture is properly disposed of there will be no risk to the water table. The risk comes in when companies don’t follow proper protocol on disposal.
On Thursday, August 9, there was a Shale Gas Conference held in Raleigh. It was there that Andrew Stone, director of the nonprofit American Ground Water Trust, hit the nail on the head saying it’s inevitable that the U.S. will explore shale gas resources. He also stressed that it should be done properly. “If we’re going to do it, if North Carolina’s going to do it, let’s do it in a way that maximizes the energy benefit to the economy and minimizes, if not totally gets rid of, the risk to the environment.”
To sum up, hydraulic fracturing itself is a safe process and will be used in North Carolina and across the U.S. eventually. The main point to remember is that it has to be done correctly in order to benefit Americans and do no harm to the environment.