Editor: Hydraulic fracturing has been around since 1947, when the now infamous Halliburton Corporation pioneered its use to retrieve gas deposits from a field in Kansas. Much the same as today, the processed involved injectiing millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals at high-pressure, first down, then across horizontally drilled holes in the earth (these holes can be as deep as 10,000 feet below the surface today). The pressure causes the rocks to crack and release the natural gas trapped within them. The rocks are kept separated by the sand particles, which allow the gas to flow up the well.
It sounds pretty simple, doesnât it? Water and sand at high pressure seem safe enough. Well, it canât be that dangerous. After all, they have been doing it since 1947. But what about those chemicals? I have been told some of them I can find in cleaners in my house. They canât be that bad? Right?
At fracfocus.org, you will see quite a litany of things on the menu. From acids and corrosion inhibitors to biocides and gelling agents, it is a very impressive cocktail. These are used to reduce friction, increase soil stabilization, kill bacteria and âwinterizeâ the well, or as you and I would say âantifreeze.â This site, which is produced by the industry in the U.S., tells us we should not be alarmed. We should âtrust them.â It is a safe and proven technology and that âthey have the protection of the environment as their top priority.â
Residents of the town of Roaring Branch, Pennsylvania, would strongly disagree with that. In 2012, they reported rust-colored water flowing from a spring and two small creeks bubbling with methane gas. The incidents were among more than 50 similar cases related to the gas drilling in the state. In several instances houses exploded as a result of gas leaks and in one case three people were killed.
Workers at U.S. Steel and Allegheny Energy near McKeesport found that water used to power their plant contained so much salty sediment it was corroding their machinery. An estimated 10,000 fish died on a 33-mile stretch of Dunkard Creek in this area.
Furthermore, in June 2010, Vanity Fair wrote a story about the small town of Dimock, also in Pennsylvania. It states âDimock is now known as the place where, over the past two years, peopleâs water started turning brown and making them sick, one womanâs water well spontaneously combusted, and horses and pets mysteriously began to lose their hair.
You would think the U.S. Congress might want to step in and do something about this: You would be wrong!
There are no regulations for hydraulic fracturing in 21 of the 31 states where the practice has been in effect for several years. Fracking was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act passed by Congress as part of the Energy Policy Act in 2005.
What makes all of the above more of a travesty is that it doesnât even help the U.S. economy in the long run.
Dr. Richard Miller, former British Petroleum geologist and co-editor of a special edition of the prestigious magazine, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, co-authored a paper with Dr. Steve R. Sorrel, co-director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex in Brighton. In it, they state: âGreater reliance upon shale oil resources produced using hydraulic fracturing will exacerbate any rising trend in global average decline rates, since these wells have no plateau and decline extremely fast â for example, by 90 per cent or more in the first five years.â
Moreover, they deem any benefits to the U.S economy will be short lived. Shale oil production will not benefit the economy, will peak by 2020 and will never be able to replace the current 9 million barrels a day of imports.
New Brunswick is now allowing hydraulic fracturing in their province. Why would they want to? It will not meet their long term energy needs; it will not provide long term employment to local people; and it could cause a great amount of damage to the environment and local people, which can not be reversed.
The winner, of course, will be Corridor Resources, currently performing the fracking. If everything goes well, they will be able to use the water, air and land resources cheaply and any profits will go to the management.
If things go badly, and there is a chemical spill, the company can just declare bankruptcy, the management loses nothing, and the taxpayers of New Brunswick, or depending on the size of the spill, Canada will be left with the cost of the clean up.
It doesnât matter how rich you become if you donât have clean air, water or food. As many Pennsylvanians discovered, New Brunswick has made a potential deal with the devil.
Commentary by David A. McGregor,