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” http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21341-fracking-risk-is-exaggerated.html). 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 http://thetyee.ca/News/2011/12/19/Fracking-Contamination/ ). 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 http://www.calgaryherald.com/business/Calgary+based+energy+companies+welcome+fracking+standards/6076346/story.html )

3 thoughts on “Fracing / Fracking: cost of inexpensive energy?”

  1. With the rise of various diseases and cancers, I don’t think contaminating groundwater is a bright idea! I mean we haven’t even come up with ways to deal with the ones we have at hand, and yet we want to add salt to injury! Plus our microbial friends are coming up with new ways to deal with us i.e., resistance to drugs. Professor Muehlenbachs seems pretty sure about the contamination of groundwater by these leaky reservoirs, but we are yet to see or document any devastating health/environmental damages. However, it’s possible to see the effects of contaminated water not until after a decade or more!
    Fracing technology is economically feasible at present and i think should be utilized until we come up with something else. You know, most people will not give up their range rovers and “hybrids” for more expensive oil and gas if asked to.
    So, in my opinion, the gas companies should go the extra mile to ensure safer drilling by casing and properly cementing their tools. Chemicals in useable water is never a good thing…e.g Arsenic in groundwater not a good look!

  2. Well we obviously need to find other sources of energy to keep up with our current demand but where do you draw the line? There are some downfalls to all methods involved in fulfilling this demand. If the resources are there then we should be utilizing them. The costs with fracking safely might be higher but we need to protect ourselves and our environment. Policies and procedures should be in place to monitor and reduce the risk of damages. Regulating this would be beneficial for our economy and our environment.

  3. The vast amount of natural gas resources that can be retrieved from shale offers massive opportunities to shift the energy demands in North America. However, the issue of fracking (or fracing) the tight rock in order to obtain the gas reserves has caused so much controversy due to its affects on surrounding groundwater and it seems that there is no precise answer available to the public on the actual effects fracking has on water sources. I think that the operating practices that the CAPP has recommended for further fracking projects is a step in the right direction to getting a more decisive view on the effects of fracking.
    There has been so much back and forth public opinions on the safety of fracking, it would be nice to actually have some data publically released from all of the wells that are currently using hydraulic fracturing. The practices proposed by the CAPP would give the gas industry some much needed “transparency” of operations to the public. The practices would likely increase the costs of production if the necessary equipment isn’t already in place, but in this stage in the refinement of the fracking process, I think it would be a crucial step towards improving fracking as well as getting the process to be more widely accepted as a way of obtaining resources. With relatively low price of natural gas at the moment, and the possible energy demands it could fulfill, it would be a positive action to assess a safe way to recover the resource.

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