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What the Frack?

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Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania. Creative Commons photo by Ruhrfisch Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania. Creative Commons photo by Ruhrfisch

A look at Payette County drilling from the Scenic Route

Bumper sticker: “If you think oil wars are bad, wait ’til we start fighting over water.”

Fracking. If you’re not familiar with the word, fracking is a handy, industrial-strength euphemism for a method of enhancing natural gas and oil production: fracturing bedrock using hydraulic pressure. Liquid concoctions are pumped into bedrock, then pressurized. Resultant hydraulic force “fracks” the rock, releasing natural gas and oil captured in pockets or seams hitherto inaccessible.

“It’s estimated that 80 percent or more of new oil and natural gas wells drilled in the United States will require hydraulic fracturing to enhance production.”

This is not written as a warning, but I think we should take it as one of dire importance. The quote is from energytomorrow.org/blog, on a website of the American Petroleum Institute (API), whose membership includes, but is not limited to, BP America, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Enbridge Energy, ExxonMobil and Halliburton

I hate to bring this up in light of this revolting... er, I mean, revolutionary new way of supplying the world’s energy wants, but some of these companies have been connected with the largest environmental disasters in history, and none of them have been overly proactive in taking responsibility—except, of course, to their stockholders. Exxon Valdez comes to mind, the Deepwater blowout, and Halliburton’s role in Iraq.

So, when this group begins extolling the benefits of hydraulic fracturing (the site is not yet using the term favored by field workers), I automatically suspect that we’re being sold the next big thing to keep us paying $3.599 a gallon for unleaded (this week), while API spends nothing on exploring ways to wean us from oil.

The rolls of the API do not include Bridge Resources of Colorado, parent company of Bridge Energy, a company that is beginning to drill fracking wells around New Plymouth in Payette County in southwestern Idaho, but they fit right in. As environmental groups like Idaho Conservation League voiced concerns about the affect of fracking on ground water and Idaho government furiously put together rules on fracking, Bridge, the company ready to frack Payette County, declined to support a prohibition on pumping carcinogens into the earth’s crust in pursuit of gas. Like other companies planning to use fracking, Bridge also refused to reveal what is in their fracking fluids (knowledge of the recipes are protected under US patent laws). So, under the strength of leases signed with residents of Payette County, they are getting ready to pump whatever they damned well please into the ground.

If Payette County seems far from home, consider that there was virtually no natural gas exploration in Idaho prior to Bridge’s beginning, and the technology works pretty well in many situations — if what you are trying to do is unearth fossil fuels. I understand that there has also been discrepancy between the spoken word and the fine print on those lease contracts. Just so you know, if — and when — the frackers show up here, read the contract with a magnifying glass, at least. But, better advice is “Just say ‘No!’ ”

Proponents of the practice say there is no hard evidence that fracking is harmful. We might be more cognizant that there is no hard evidence that it isn’t, and there are hints and clues that it is disastrous for ground water. New York and Pennsylvania, where fracking has been widely practiced — and where ground water issues have cropped up left and right, including flammable tap water — have placed moratoriums on fracking (over the strident objections of oil and gas companies), until they can learn more about the consequences.

Of all the things we have done to provide ourselves with cheap comfort, fracking seems potentially the most dangerous, excepting nuclear power; and like it, perhaps, could alter the very structure of the planet. Even ignoring the groundwater issue, which we cannot, fracking disrupts deep bedrock. One of the proponent statements is that fracking is most often done at least 6,000 feet below the surface — what can they be thinking? We have no idea of the consequences of that on the stability of the planetary surface, much less the effects on ground water. Yet, like hydroelectric dam–builders who essentially cut the throat of the fisheries of North America, the frackers wish to rush ahead to profit without knowing where their actions will lead.

“New wells provide energy for all Americans,” says energytomorrow.org,  “ ... as well as create well-paying jobs, improve U.S. energy security, and encourage economic growth.”

Amen brother. Preach it. But, see that glass of water on the pulpit? What if it’s not safe to drink; full of the stuff you pumped into the ground the get the gas out? Or missing; sunk into your fractures? Then what? Are you going to have a glass of gasoline? 

Say “No” to fracking until we know what the frack it’s all about.

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

Tagged as:

Environment, Idaho, The Scenic Route, fracking, hydrofracturing, Payette County, natural gas, drilling, American Petroleum Institute, Bridge Resources, Bridge Energy

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