Hydraulic Fracking

Fracking in progress, North Dakota

Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, is the process of injecting pressurized water, sand and poisonous chemicals into a rock formation, resulting in a fracture to remove fossil fuels from the ground namely  shale gas, tight gas, tight oil, and coal seam gas. This method has become increasingly common and its rapid deployment raises serious concerns about the impact on freshwater resources, chemical contamination and increased carbon emissions, earthquakes, industrialization of rural places among others . Fracking requires large volumes of water, 8-15 million liters to “frack” each well, which is of particular concern to arid regions during a time of drought. Beyond the dependency on huge amounts of water, other concerns include the composition of the fracking fluids, storage and disposal of wastewater, and the possible migration of chemicals into water supplies. In the United States fracking has created several divides within communities in several states. This has also happened in other regions, including Australia and Europe.

United States:
In the United States, federal standards for the fracking process are generally weak or non-existent. There are no federal  standards for pit-lining, injection wells or treatment of waste water from fracking operations. Additionally, there is no federal standard requiring a public disclosure of the chemicals that are injected into the ground during fracking operations. This oversight, known as the Halliburton loophole, was placed into the 2005 Energy Act that was mainly written by then Vice President and former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney.These oversights place the regulatory burden for fracking in U.S. on state and local governments. In Colorado and Wyoming there have been several reported cases where the natural gas industry was able to infiltrate the states’ Oil and Gas Conservation Commissions. Huge amounts of money have flowed from large gas companies into small county commissioner campaigns. Reports of earthquakes in Guy, Arkansas, where injection wells from fracking lie in the thousands, resulted in the state suspending all fracking activates in the area. In Pennsylvania, towns have had to have water brought in because of contamination from fracking. In Pavilion, Wyoming water contamination would have been confirmed if the industry or state had conducted baseline testing of water supplies.

Canada:
Fracking has been in common use by the petroleum industry in Canada since at least the mid-1960s. Massive hydraulic fracturing has been widely used in Alberta since the late 1970s to recover gas from low-permeability sandstones of the Spirit River Formation. The method is currently used in development of the Cardium, Duvernay, Montney and Viking in Alberta, Bakken in Saskatchewan, Montney and Horn River in British Columbia. The province of Quebec has banned “fracking.” In British Columbia, concerns about fracking emerged when the Government of British Columbia gave Talisman Energy a long-term water licence to draw water from the BC Hydro-owned Williston Lake reservoir, for a twenty-year term. Fracking is also highly controversial in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Europe:
In Europe fracking remains controversial with some countries heavily involved in the process, and others banning it. In 2012 France banned fracking so too has Bulgaria following initial approval for a Chevron project was met with widespread national protests. Romania has also seen protests because of fracking. In 2013 protests in Romania required police intervention after Chevron began fracking operations in the Pungesti village. Since then police have kept citizens from entering the area so that fracking operations can continue.

Conversely, Germany and Poland lead Europe in fracking operations. Germany gets most of its natural gas from hydraulically fractured wells. Unlike the United States however, Germany restricts fracking in wetlands and other sensitive areas. Poland continues to aggressively develop its shale gas reserves, thought to be the largest in Europe. While large-scale fracking in Poland is seen as a way to reduce would relieve some of the EU’s dependency on Russian gas, because Poland is densely populated and has a large agricultural sector, there remain concerns about the massive amounts of water required for fracking have raised additional concerns. In Denmark, two exploration licenses for fracked gas are now underway and run until 2016. In the Netherlands more than 200 wells are now in operation and in Ireland the group  “No Fracking Ireland” continues to grow as fracking exploration continues in nation. In the United Kingdom, fracking has been a common practice in the North Sea oil fields since the 1970’s, but now onshore operations are being met with criticism. As of Jan 2014, the only hydraulic fracturing job that has been performed for shale gas in the United Kingdom was by Cuadrilla Resources and that process was unofficially suspended for nearly a year after safety concerns emerged from the occurrence of two small earthquakes.

Australia:
Until the last few years, hydraulic fracturing was generally limited to conventional oil and gas wells in Australia’s Cooper Basin. Now, a “gas rush” is on. Australia’s gas rush started with liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from reserves under the Indian Ocean, off the north coast of Western Australia. Explorers are now flocking to Queensland and New South Wales, on the other side of the country. Thanks to surging demand in Asia, the gas trapped in coal seams are now on the radar for fracking. In the six years to 2010 production of CSG increased 22 times. Gas from coal seams now supplies about one third of eastern Australia’s gas. According to David Knox, chairman of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, the “CSG bonanza,” on top of Indian Ocean gas, means Australia is likely to overtake Qatar as the world’s leading LNG exporter by 2020

China:
China completed its first horizontal shale gas well in 2011. A global shale gas study by the US Energy Information Administration said “China’s technically recoverable shale gas reserves were almost 50% higher than those of the number two nation, the United States.”


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Quotes

  • “Natural gas is a finite resource. We will eventually run into depletion and higher cost.” He adds, “It still releases greenhouse gas emissions. So if we’re going to get to a point where we strictly limit those emissions, we need renewables.” -John Jacoby,  MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change
  • “Natural gas production is not sustainable — it’s also harmful to our climate. “The hydrofracking revolution that is bringing shale oil and shale gas to many parts of the world is very profitable, but it is not putting the world on a trajectory that is sustainable by any stretch of the imagination.” Jeffrey Sachs Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary‐General on the Millennium Development Goals
  • We should not be drilling for oil anywhere because burning oil and coal and natural gas is what’s destroying our environment, our climate. And we need the climate if we’re going to eat.- Paul Ehrlich
  • “[Fracking] is just like backing up a dump truck full of powdered barium and having about 16 of them just dump that right into the Monongahela River. There’s no difference. I shocked myself.” Conrad Volz University of Pittsburgh

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