The United States has plenty of natural gas reserves trapped in shale formations around the country at a time when we desperately need clean energy resources to be more self-sufficient. Very convenient, but not without a flurry of controversy on the method of extraction — horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Over the years there have been advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies, enabling safer and easier access to the natural gas that exists in the nation’s shale formations. If the public, businesses and the government can agree on a plan for responsible acquisition of these resources, our country will prosper economically and not be as dependant on outside energy sources.
Currently the EPA is working with states to help ensure that extraction is done properly and will not endanger the environment or public health. The EPA is working to set up additional rules and regulations for hydraulic fracturing to enhance current health and environmental safeguards. Simultaneously, the Department of the Interior is conducting a national study to better understand natural gas and shale gas extraction.
Some of the fears that arise when discussing drilling and fracking are:
• The withdrawal of large amounts of water used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Golf courses use more water to keep their grass green than fracking does.
• Contamination of underground sources of drinking water and surface waters resulting from spills, faulty well construction, or by other means. This scenario can be avoided by proper use of equipment by well-trained employees and enforcement of strict rules and regulations.
• Adverse impacts from discharges into surface waters or from disposal into underground injection wells. Underground injection wells are far below the water table and are sealed to avoid any discharges.
President Obama said early in his Presidency that his administration’s priority is to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production. To that end, the Department of the Interior is tasked with creating what they call “commonsense updates” that “increase safety while also providing flexibility and facilitating coordination with states and tribes on Indian land.” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell stated in May, “As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands for oil and gas development, it is important that the public has full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place.”
The three main components of these safety regulations are:
1 – Operators must disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing.
2 – Well-bore integrity is of the utmost importance in protecting groundwater from fluids used during fracking.
3 – Oil and gas operators must have a water management plan in case any handling fluids flow back to the surface.
What all of this boils down to is that both government and businesses need to work together to ensure that all hydraulic fracturing is done properly. The job needs to be meticulous to avoid contamination due to sloppy or poor quality work by the companies performing the hydraulic fracturing. This way our country will benefit from the jobs created and the self-sufficiency of having viable energy sources at home.