Josh Fox‘s new movie vividly dramatizes the dangers of Hydraulic Fracturing. The other month I saw a screening of the movie in upstate New York – at once ground central for proposed Gas and New York’s main aquifer – and it makes for grim viewing.
Hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) is a means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into a well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well.
Horizontal hydrofracking is a means of tapping shale deposits containing natural gas that were previously inaccessible by conventional drilling. Vertical hydrofracking is used to extend the life of an existing well once its productivity starts to run out, sort of a last resort. Horizontal fracking differs in that it uses a mixture of 596 chemicals, many of them proprietary, and millions of gallons of water per frack. This water then becomes contaminated and must be cleaned and disposed of.
What is the Halliburton Loophole?
In 2005, the Bush/ Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. It is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole.
What is the Safe Drinking Water Act?
In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed by Congress to ensure clean drinking water free from both natural and man-made contaminates.
What is the FRAC Act?
The FRAC Act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness to Chemical Act) is a House bill intended to repeal the Halliburton Loophole and to require the natural gas industry to disclose the chemicals they use.
How deep do natural gas wells go?
The average well is up to 8,000 feet deep. The depth of drinking water aquifers is about 1,000 feet. The problems typically stem from poor cement well casings that leak natural gas as well as fracking fluid into water wells.
How much water is used during the fracking process?
Generally 1-8 million gallons of water may be used to frack a well. A well may be fracked up to 18 times.
What fluids are used in the fracking process?
For each frack, 80-300 tons of chemicals may be used. Presently, the natural gas industry does not have to disclose the chemicals used, but scientists have identified volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
In what form does the natural gas come out of the well?
The gas comes up wet in produced water and has to be separated from the wastewater on the surface. Only 30-50% of the water is typically recovered from a well. This wastewater can be highly toxic.
What is done with the wastewater?
Evaporators evaporate off VOCs and condensate tanks steam off VOCs, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The wastewater is then trucked to water treatment facilities.
What is a well’s potential to cause air pollution?
As the VOCs are evaporated and come into contact with diesel exhaust from trucks and generators at the well site, ground level ozone is produced. Ozone plumes can travel up to 250 miles.