Discussions about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have heated up over the past few months. Here’s a quick summary of what fracking is and a few of the concerns.
“Fracking” is a slang term for hydraulic fracturing. Energy companies use this technique for extracting higher quantities of oil and natural gas from the ground.
Step 1 – Drill the Well
A fracking well is drilled in two stages. First, the company drills vertically or diagonally into the ground to a depth of two miles or more. Once they reach the layer in the ground housing the natural gas or oil, the company then drills horizontally for a mile or more to access the greatest amount of fuel material.
Opponents are concerned that fracking has led to an increase in earthquakes due to the use of horizontal drilling that can disrupt large layers of earth versus a single, vertical well.
Step 2 – Use Pressurized Water to Extract the Fuel
There’s concern about the use of pressurized water to extract gas and oil from the ground. Consider using a power washer to clean your driveway. The force of the water is strong enough to remove dirt, moss, and grime from cement, but will also kick back water, debris, and sludge into the air and onto the washer.
With fracking, the water (called “slickwater”) is pressurized to 9000 pounds per square inch or more and contains additives and chemicals to assist with the fracking process. The water that is kicked back to the surface from fracking is called “flowback.”
One concern is that slickwater containing detergents, lubricants, salts and acids could get into the groundwater, particularly if there are breaches in the cement or the steel encasements of the drilled well.
Another concern centers on the sludge and debris kicked back to the surface in the flowback water. The ground at these depths contains many radioactive materials, toxins, hydrocarbons, and heavy metals. Once disturbed, the material breaks free, mixes with the slickwater, and is then forced up to the surface of the earth. For example, flowback water often contains high amounts of radon, a by-product of uranium deep in the Earth. Drilling companies are supposed to collect, contain, and process the flowback water to prevent contamination in the environment.
Why is hydrolic fracturing used?
There are a number of reasons oil companies use fracking techniques. First and foremost, fracking makes it easier to extract fossil fuel from hard-to-reach areas of the earth. Because of that, the amount of fuel a company can extract increases exponentially. U.S. companies want to employ more fracking to reduce our fossil fuel dependence on other countries and to drive the price of oil and natural gas down for U.S. consumers.
What can you do, no matter what side of the debate you’re on?
- Stay informed about fracking discussions going on in government. Educate yourself about fracking and contact your legislators to express your feelings about the use of fracking techniques.
- Find ways to use alternative energy solutions in your home. By choosing electric-powered vehicles (EV’s), investing in solar power generation, or purchasing biodiesel when possible, you can make significant shifts away from relying on conventional fossil fuel – regardless of how you personally feel about fracking.
- Share your story. By sharing what you know and your excitement about your own positive changes with your friends and family, you’ll be encouraging them to do the same!
Want to learn more about biofuels and other forms of alternative energy?
The Rogue Valley Clean Cities Coalition’s mission is enhancing the livability of the Rogue Valley. We promote and educate on alternate fuels, seek to decrease dependency on petroleum, and promote clean air and water in the Rogue Valley via alternate fuels. Contact us today for more information!