There must be a better fracking way

By Robert McGowan

Several issues ago, in these pages, Gene Qualls mentioned the word “fracking.” The term refers to the activity as an environmental danger.

I am almost ashamed to admit, claiming to be an ecologist, that I was unfamiliar with the term or the process of fracking. But no more am I unfamiliar.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” releases the gases (the main component of which is methane) which are hidden deep within layers of ancient shale. To unlock these half-billion-year-old hydrocarbon deposits, for every new shale well 4-8 million gallons of water laced with potentially dangerous chemicals are pumped into the ground under explosive pressure.

This process, itself, is a geological assault on the environment. Once the gases are unleashed, a huge industrial process is required to move them into the world use.

Yes, the millions of dollars in payouts by the gas companies has led many farmers, homeowners, county commissioners, etc., to lease out their underground energy wealth.

For some, land owners leasing their lands to gas companies might be “saving the farm.”  But to other land owners and practicing farmers leasing their land to gas companies has proven to be a disaster.

Since fracking began, gas companies have been cited by Pennsylvania regulators for more than 4, 000 violations. Studies showed that from 2008-11, 3,355 of those violations, or 70 percent, posed “a direct threat to our environment.”

Some of the old vertical oil wells were fracked in the 1940s. But the technology for drilling very long horizontal wells through deep thin layers of shale is new, and combining it with fracking is even newer. And the long horizontal shafts necessary for today’s shale gas extraction requires up to 100 times as much fracking as old-school vertical wells.

People in rural Pennsylvania report “frackrash” asthma, diarrhea, incontinence, sore throats and joint pains, and water from faucets that smells horrible, and that the fumes have set off the household smoke alarms.

Serious environmental incidents in Pennsylvania were caused by fracking is six out of eight wells.

The above is only a short example of the serious problem reported in Pennsylvania due to the fracking process.

Sixty-five miles away, the residents of Carroll County, Ohio, are watching the events in Pennsylvania closely, because the shale gas express is heading their way.

Then, there is South Africa. Should they “frack” or not? A research team estimated their shale-gas resources at 486 trillion cubic feet, the fifth largest in the world. So, does anyone doubt their upcoming decision whether to “frack,” or not?

We must remind ourselves that this earth is all we have. It is 71 percent ocean, 29 percent land area (29 percent of which is desert). And, we are almost seven billion people.

Isn’t there a more environmentally sane way to obtain energy than fracking?