The above image is a fundamentally flawed diagram of “fracking” by anti-fracking groups.
The Image on the right is a widely publicised and shared picture that clearly shows the dangers of fracking which would affect the most people. There is only one small problem with this diagram – it is completely false and misleads the viewer completely.
I have decided to make this page as to share actual facts with those willing to learn them before making decisions, voting or protesting something that has been proven safe for decades, brings economic prosperity to regions and allows for much more green energy than say the Oil sands. Oh and it lowers oil/gas prices.
I am utilising specific arguments from the Windsor area fracking debates as this is where I grew up, however alot of the information is universal.
Should you believe anything I have said? Nope, do some real research, look at the facts and don’t be led by emotions and or well spoken individuals. I am biased, of course I am – everybody is to some extent. I have presented my interpretation of the facts from a logical/scientific side. You the reader should do the same.
The large glaring fact in my mind is the fact that the majority of fracking occurs in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The provinces who are economic powerhouses are Alberta and Saskatchewan (mostly related to oil/gas). The provinces who complain/protest the least about fracking are Alberta and Saskatchewan. Where are most Nova Scotians moving to work? Alberta and Saskatchewan to work in the oil/gas fields.
What is fracking?
“Fracking” is a word made up by the TV show Battlestar Galactica to be their worlds “F” word. It seems to have been adopted to replace “Fracing” is short for fracturing which refers to hydraulic fracturing as we know it. – I guess the first lie 🙂 but as I was a BSG fan – I’ll keep it.
Fracking is the hydraulic fracturing of non-porous rock deep in the earth creating voids into which oils and gas will migrate to and cumulate in those newly opened cracks. This allows for a “pool” of oil/gas that can then be extracted to the surface via pipes and well heads. 90% of oil/gas wells are fracked to some extent. Fracking has even been used to create water wells where rocks don’t allow for fast recharge of the water table.
Fracking takes place 1000m-2000m (6000-10000 feet), well below any known water aquifer which due to physical restrictions are confined to an average 200m depth.
A drill is used to drill deep into the target shales which hold the oil/gas, then the drill continues drilling horizontally through the shale (in most cases shale are near horizontal). The drill is removed, and its casing is secured/cemented and lined and then under strict environmental regulations fluids (95-99% water) are pumped into the well at high pressure which will fracture the shale on contact. This may be repeated over a couple of days but usually is accomplished within one day. The fluids are then removed and stored for re-use or are processed to remove contaminants, both man made and natural.
The newly fracked well has a well head and containment system as well as safety sensors/etc. set-up and oil/gas is extracted in the usual manner.
History of fracking
Fracking is nothing new – fracturing rock to allow for pooling of fluids has been around for centuries – this is why we put sand/gravel/boulders around and underneath dug water wells. Well fracking itself has only been around for (1949 commercially) 60-70 years or so. 2.5 million fracked wells have been drilled to date, the majority of them in North America (Canada / USA).
In 2008-2009, engineers made the process much more economically viable through new technologies and especially directional/horizontal drilling techniques developed in deep oil wells. Suddenly known oil/gas reserves locked tight in non-porous shales became economically extractable. An a large increase in the price of oil/gas in 2000 to 2008 didn’t hurt either.
Today shale oil and gas is the number one method of extracting oil and natural fas in North America. In Canada Alberta and Saskatchewan have benefited greatly economically from the widespread use of fracking in their oil/gas wells. They are the provinces with the strongest economies and where most other provinces are sending their youth for jobs.
Fracking is new untested technology
Although fracking has been economically viable in some areas since 1947, most fracked wells were “easy” fracks and used conventional water and basic fluids as well as strictly vertical drilling to extract oil/gas. Since the fracks were vertical, it required allot of holes and surface disturbance.
The new form of fracking uses directional drilling which allows one vertical mother hole through which numerous horizontal wells can be drilled along the targeted rock. This makes the new drilling technology much cleaner with a smaller surface disturbance. A single well can feed out to 1-2 km radius around the well-head. The horizontal drilling part of the wells is the primary new drilling technology that is allowing for extraction of previously un-recoverable oil/gas reserves. Drilling is a physical act, not a polluting act. Most drilling fluids are plant based due to environmental regulations – Vegetable oil for the most part.
The other new aspect of the new fracking is the fluids used to fracture the rock. 98%-99.5% water and the other 2% – 0.5% is made up of “chemicals” with each well requiring a different cocktail for best results.
Calling something “new” because of some small change in the process. Fracking physically is the exact same process as when it started. Directional drilling and better understanding and use of fluid additives.
The other organization outside environmental activists that use this “its new” are the pharmaceutical companies who will change their drug in some tiny insignificant way right before its patents are coming to an end to avoid opening it up to cheaper generic versions.
The other chemicals
Sensationalist reports of companies being exempt from saying what’s in their fluids, they can put anything in there, they have big scary names like Alcohol Ethoxylate Surfactants – that’s bad, horrible stuff. Ok, I present a simple google search to: This site which has a handy little map feature and chemical search feature (chemical information supplied from the companies) shown by wells (USA Only). Search through, find lots of big scary looking names. The one listed above Alcohol Ethoxylate Surfactants with a simple google search results in this Wiki Page. Kinda takes the scare out of the big chemical name when you learn its in laundry detergent and cosmetics. Dihydrogen Monoxide is likely the most deadly and widely used chemical in fracking fluids. View more information here.
So yes, some chemicals are likely bad and horrible in their pure concentrated form, but don’t forget they are diluted so much in the water as to be statistically inert. The ocean is full of cyanide, deadly gasses and chemical, fertilizers, really nasty stuff – but with the dilution factors – they are no where near harmful.
Use of big scary chemical names makes something sound bad. Dihydrogen Monoxide (H2O) is what we commonly call water.
Fracking uses water
Yep, sure does, 0.6 to 4 million gallons per frack. That’s up to 4000000 per frack and some wells require multiple fracks. That’s horrible – such a big number.
Well what does 4 million gallons of water look like? An Olympic sized swimming pool holds 600,000 gallons of water – seven pools worth, wow that’s allot of water right?
Lets take a small town, say Windsor Nova Scotia with a population of 4000 people. The average household use for water in Canada is 80 gallons per day (2004). That’s 320000 gallons of water per day. That’s 2240000 in a week for lil old Windsor. Now say Halifax with nearly 10 times the population is 20 million gallons per day – give or take.
That ads up fast, and that doesn’t account for normal industrial use. All industry uses water, its life. In 2007 the paper industry in Canada used 42098457888 gallons of water – and for the most part that water needs allot of cleaning before being released. That’s enough for 10000 fracks (without recycling and if all fracks took the most water.
There are some areas where fracking does use up the water and probably shouldn’t be used. Texas and southern states have had aquifers dry up from fracking water removal – and also from over irrigation for food. But as a rule those areas have limited or no water supply and their natural state is desert. Most of Canada has a great abundance of water – it truly is our national resource.
Widespread use of huge scary numbers that the average human mind cannot comprehend with nothing true that it can be compared to for real people to understand. This is a common scare tactic for a number of “environmental” activists and causes.
Just for fun, it takes 1.8 gallons of water to make the plastic in one bottle of bottled water, not including the water inside. How many bottled waters do you see everywhere? How many are in your home?
Whats with NORM?
Naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMS) are exactly what they sound like. As rocks erode are carried downstream and deposited in lake/rivers/streams they carry with them (depending on the rocks they come from) small amounts of radioactive minerals.
Sometimes these sediments even pick up organic matter like trees, grasses, animals, etc etc. Now these minerals create a sand/silt an are continually covered with new layers. Over millions of years the layers with increasing layers above them start to lithify (start forming rocks) and trap the radioactivity in their rock layers. Decomposition of natural organic matter, coupled with slightly radioactive minerals which are now “trapped” can concentrate radioactivity as well as natural gas/oil/coal.
Then we drill into the rock to take the gas out and BOOM – out comes the radioactivity as well.
Radioactive minerals are all around us, every day. In the local case in Nova Scotia/Windsor area there is an ancient mountain chain that has eroded away leaving this large granitic intrusion called the South Mountain Batholith (SMB). One cool thing about the SMB is that its well, slightly radioactive, especially around the Windsor area. Alot of granites are actually slightly radioactive as the have NORMs. SMB was explored for possible uranium mines in the 1980’s due to its radioactivity in airborne surveys. This lead to a ban on exploration for Uranium in Nova Scotia’
So where does the sediment come from that forms the NORMs in the fracking wells? well mostly from SMB erosion. Is the SMB still eroding? Well yes – has been for many millions of years, eroding and depositing sediments with NORMs downstream, and downstream includes the Windsor area.
Not just the deep gas producing rock layers hold NORMs, they are present in almost all layers of rocks, including the ones on and near surface, and surely the ones in direct contact with the water table.
So throw the term radioactive… anything out there without context is scary, just don’t tell them that its actually everywhere around them already, their cottage is built on the epicentre, their wells are dug into it, their basements concentrate it (RADON gas?)
The following diagram, is a fixed (to scale) version of a diagram commonly circulated by anti-fracking groups. I’ve added notes relevant to the Windsor area fracking controversy.