Fracing / Fracking: cost of inexpensive energy?

First, to avoid confusion, I am using the term fracing as a derivative of fracturing, as it applies to induced fractures in subsurface boreholes. I think it is commonly written as fracking, but that just doesn’t seem right. Where does the “k” come from?

The media attention on fracing has become overwhelming. Many people who live near fracing operations are worried for contamination of their land or water. There is at the very least anecdotal evidence that fracing has “gasified” nearby water wells. However, industry has taken the general position that fracing can be (and is) done without any serious risk to local water supplies or the environment. Some scientists have echoed the same thing (see: “Fracking risk is exaggerated” But who trusts scientists, anyways?

I recently attended a lecture by Professor Karlis Muehlenbachs, a geochemist-colleague here at the University of Alberta (see the article “Fracking Contamination ‘Will Get Worse’: Alberta Expert” at ). He presented a point of view that was – to say the least – enlightening. Based on several years of research and thousands of chemical analyses from oil and gas wells in Alberta, he is able to show that gas routinely crosses from one geological unit to another. This leakage may primarily occur right alongside the well-bore, but in cases where fracing is more intensive (e.g. coal-bed methane), leakage is expected. Broadly speaking, the amount of leakage may be small or large (it is not really known) and it is unclear how much shallow aquifers are  influenced by this contamination, but it certainly provides food for thought. I think we need to know this.

Professor Muehlenbachs further pointed out that there is an assumption that people who are against fracing are worried about ground-water pollution. Sometimes, however, when a person says “I am against fracing” they mean “I am against the endless industrial traffic associated with fracing operations” or “I am against the noise associated with gas production facilities”. Maybe they simply mean to say that they do not trust industry. Certainly the issues surrounding fracing are more complex than gas in well-water.

There is good with bad. New fracing techniques, along with horizontal drilling, are technologies that are largely responsible for staving of a North American (read USA) energy shortage. Just 10 years ago, there was a lot of uncertainty regarding American energy independence, and now the USA is looking like the Saudi Arabia of natural gas (400-800 trillion cu ft)! Canada will probably be shown to have similar resources, but this is not yet well established. That is a lot of gas. Although neither side (industry versus concerned locals or environmental groups) seems prepared to admit it, leaky wells may be the cost of energy stability and keeping oil and gas affordable. Okay: who would want to admit THAT? I think it is true, however.

I turn the conversation over to you. How important is low-cost energy to you and your lifestyle? IS the cost of doing business reasonable? Can fracing be regulated so that it is safer? (see “Calgary-based energy companies welcome new fracking standards?” at )