Fracking is not the Answer to our Energy Needs by Paul Dolan

This is a rebuttal Mr. Walter Russell Mead´s article, “Energy Revolution will Change Everything,” appearing in the The American Interest. 

The article authored by Mr. Mead, appearing in this week´s The Atlantic Interest, raises hopes in an energy revolution revolving around a controversial technology known as “hydraulic fracturing,” or “fracking.” While the technology has been enthusiastically embraced by big oil and big energy companies, and is, indeed, creating welcome jobs in remote areas of the USA and other places around the world, fracking is a dangerous and unacceptably risky approach to dealing with national energy requirements. A breakdown of the costs and benefits of the fracking technology will conclude this rebuttal to Mr. Mead´s theses.

Mr. Mead´s article detracts the reader from the harmful effects of fracking and focuses on the uncertain economic and political benefits of recovering methane gas trapped in sand and shale miles below the surface of the earth by boring thousands of close-interval wells across the country using the fracking technology.

The author´s enthusiasm for the bi-products of fracking, which include the renaissance of industry in so-called deserted plain-state regions, as well as the supposed growth of political conservatism in those areas, ignores both,

a) the growing acceptance of renewable and alternative energies as safe sources of the same economic growth, which he welcomes; and

b) the dangerous consequences of fracking for human and animal life as well as the long-term pollution of air, water and the environment.

Mr. Mead´s closing paragraph admits that certain elements of fracking “require further investigation over time to mature…a modest conciliation to a technology, which without any doubt, is one of the most daunting challenges to threaten life and the environment in our country since the onset of the industrial revolution!”

Fracking proponents are suggesting that by boring 112,000 wells by the year 2015 (more than 22,000 wells each year) – only in the state of Pennsylvania - the national energy requirements for a 36-month period could be covered. But - what does green Pennsylvania look like after that? What state is next – North Carolina? Consider also, that one bore hole using fracking requires five million gallons of water loaded with a variety of poisonous chemicals comprising the fracking solution in order to release the gas from the shale rock deep below the Earth´s surface.

Assuming there were no alternatives to energy production, fracking would be at the bottom of the list of alternatives simply because of the ominous chain of unacceptable consequences that accompany fracking.

Fortunately, there are a vast number of attractive alternatives to fracking at the opposite end of the spectrum clustered under “Clean Technologies” – a term welcomed by most people but feared most by Big Oil and Atomic Energy producers.

For this reviewer, Mr. Mead´s article reads like a swan song for big energy companies, as the emergence of distributed energy plants and home-energy centers continuously gain in popularity. His attempt to glorify nineteenth-century America and the roots of mining camps, which grew into towns and the melodramatic perception that new towns will grow up on the forgotten plains of the Midwest, rising up around fields of gas wells, is grotesque. Imagine raising children in areas where the ground water and air are polluted, where faucet water may become flammable, and where drilling makes the land earthquake prone.

The author´s glaring neglect of the clean tech revolution in, for example, the fields of building, architecture, wind, solar, eMobility, water, biofuels, geothermic, smart grids and the vast savings emerging with the integration of the agrarian and the energy economies, is an insult to the intelligent reader.

Permit me to augment the author´s final paragraph, which reflects his growing cognizance of the world around him and contains his cautious reservation regarding fracking. To illuminate his reservations, let us study for a moment the work of Professor Anthony R. Ingraffea of Cornell University in the state of New York. He is a popular speaker and an internationally recognized expert in the fields of civil engineering, aerospace and hydraulic fraturing. Among Dr. Ingraffea´s many books and article, readers can find the article, he co-authored, “Structural Life Forecasting in Extreme Environments,” published in 2009. He points out in his lectures, also viewable on YouTube, that:

  • Five million gallons of water are required for each well bored.
  • The cost of attempting to find gas with fracking methods runs from $4 to $6 million without guaranteed success.
  • Using Pennsylvania as an example, eight wells per square mile is planned.
  • With every borehole there is a risk of deadly hydrogen sulfide gases escaping from deep within the Earth.
  • Dangers accompanying fracking come from above the ground as well as from the borehole itself:
  1. Aboveground – spills of toxic fracking fluids, storage, transport and seepages. Explosions far below the surface of the Earth can cause structural damage to homes and building. Methane gas seeping from faucets can catch fire.
  2. Belowground –migration of drilling fluids, chemicals and gasses coming back up through the borehole; rupturing of pipes and casings under tremendous pressures from water and sands being pumped into the well; spectacular blow-outs, in which a new borehole connects with a one forgotten and spews out contaminated fracking fuel over the countryside up through the old borehole.

Concluding this rebuttal, it must be clear that the risks of fracking out-weigh the benefits. Moreover, fracking detracts from the more important and far more reasonable and reachable goal of capitalizing on the renewable energies revolution.

The proponents of Big Oil and Atomic Energy will fight for fracking with great sums of money and arguments. But let us be aware of what is at stake.

Hydraulic Fracturing FAQs by Josh Fox


How does hydraulic fracturing work?

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is a means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into a well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well.

What is horizontal hydraulic fracturing?

Horizontal hydrofracking is a means of tapping shale deposits containing natural gas that were previously inaccessible by conventional drilling. Vertical hydrofracking is used to extend the life of an existing well once its productivity starts to run out, sort of a last resort. Horizontal fracking differs in that it uses a mixture of 596 chemicals, many of them proprietary, and millions of gallons of water per frack. This water then becomes contaminated and must be cleaned and disposed of.

What is the Halliburton Loophole?

In 2005, the Bush/ Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. It is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole.

What is the Safe Drinking Water Act?

In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed by Congress to ensure clean drinking water free from both natural and man-made contaminates.

What is the FRAC Act?

The FRAC Act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness to Chemical Act) is a House bill intended to repeal the Halliburton Loophole and to require the natural gas industry to disclose the chemicals they use.

How deep do natural gas wells go?

The average well is up to 8,000 feet deep. The depth of drinking water aquifers is about 1,000 feet. The problems typically stem from poor cement well casings that leak natural gas as well as fracking fluid into water wells.

How much water is used during the fracking process?

Generally 1-8 million gallons of water may be used to frack a well. A well may be fracked up to 18 times.

What fluids are used in the fracking process?

For each frack, 80-300 tons of chemicals may be used. Presently, the natural gas industry does not have to disclose the chemicals used, but scientists have identified volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

In what form does the natural gas come out of the well?

The gas comes up wet in produced water and has to be separated from the wastewater on the surface. Only 30-50% of the water is typically recovered from a well. This wastewater can be highly toxic.

What is done with the wastewater?

Evaporators evaporate off VOCs and condensate tanks steam off VOCs, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The wastewater is then trucked to water treatment facilities.

What is a well's potential to cause air pollution?

As the VOCs are evaporated and come into contact with diesel exhaust from trucks and generators at the well site, ground level ozone is produced. Ozone plumes can travel up to 250 miles. 


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commented 2012-07-31 06:35:30 -0400 · Flag
The controversy over fracking and its pros and cons produced this response, “No fracking Way!”
followed this page 2012-07-29 11:51:00 -0400
commented 2012-07-29 11:43:14 -0400 · Flag
Ed. Dolan, professor of international economics, has developed three approaches for dealing with fracking. Please read on:
commented 2012-07-25 22:08:02 -0400 · Flag
Experts: Some fracking critics use bad science

PITTSBURGH (AP) — In the debate over natural gas drilling, the companies are often the ones accused of twisting the facts. But scientists say opponents sometimes mislead the public, too.

Critics of fracking often raise alarms about groundwater pollution, air pollution, and cancer risks, and there are still many uncertainties. But some of the claims have little — or nothing— to back them.

For example, reports that breast cancer rates rose in a region with heavy gas drilling are false, researchers told The Associated Press.

Fears that natural radioactivity in drilling waste could contaminate drinking water aren’t being confirmed by monitoring, either.

And concerns about air pollution from the industry often don’t acknowledge that natural gas is a far cleaner burning fuel than coal.

“The debate is becoming very emotional. And basically not using science” on either side, said Avner Vengosh, a Duke University professor studying groundwater contamination who has been praised and criticized by both sides.

Shale gas drilling has attracted national attention because advances in technology have unlocked billions of dollars of gas reserves, leading to a boom in production, jobs, and profits, as well as concerns about pollution and public health. Shale is a gas-rich rock formation thousands of feet underground, and the gas is freed through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which large volumes of water, plus sand and chemicals, are injected to break the rock apart.

The Marcellus Shale covers large parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia, while the Barnett Shale is in north Texas. Many other shale deposits have been discovered.

One of the clearest examples of a misleading claim comes from north Texas, where gas drilling began in the Barnett Shale about 10 years ago.

Opponents of fracking say breast cancer rates have spiked exactly where intensive drilling is taking place — and nowhere else in the state. The claim is used in a letter that was sent to New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo by environmental groups and by Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of “Gasland,” a film that criticizes the industry. Fox, who lives in Brooklyn, has a new short film called “The Sky is Pink.”

But researchers haven’t seen a spike in breast cancer rates in the area, said Simon Craddock Lee, a professor of medical anthropology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

David Risser, an epidemiologist with the Texas Cancer Registry, said in an email that researchers checked state health data and found no evidence of an increase in the counties where the spike supposedly occurred.

And Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a major cancer advocacy group based in Dallas, said it sees no evidence of a spike, either.

“We don’t,” said Chandini Portteus, Komen’s vice president of research, adding that they sympathize with people’s fears and concerns, but “what we do know is a little bit, and what we don’t know is a lot” about breast cancer and the environment.

Yet Fox tells viewers in an ominous voice that “In Texas, as throughout the United States, cancer rates fell — except in one place— in the Barnett Shale.”

Lee called the claims of an increase “a classic case of the ecological fallacy” because they falsely suggest that breast cancer is linked to just one factor. In fact, diet, lifestyle and access to health care also play key roles.

Fox responded to questions by citing a press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that doesn’t support his claim, and a newspaper story that Risser said is “not based on a careful statistical analysis of the data.”

When Fox was told that Texas cancer researchers said rates didn’t increase, he replied in an email that the claim of unusually high breast cancer rates was “widely reported” and said there is “more than enough evidence to warrant much deeper study.”

Another instance where fears haven’t been confirmed by science is the concern that radioactivity in drilling fluids could threaten drinking water supplies.

Critics of fracking note the deep underground water that comes up along with gas has high levels of natural radioactivity. Since much of that water, called flowback, was once being discharged into municipal sewage treatment plants and then rivers in Pennsylvania, there was concern about public water supplies.

But in western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority did extensive tests and didn’t find a problem in area rivers. State environmental officials said monitoring at public water supply intakes across the state showed non-detectable levels of radiation, and the two cases that showed anything were at background levels.

Concerns about the potential problem also led to regulatory changes. An analysis by The Associated Press of data from Pennsylvania found that of the 10.1 million barrels of shale wastewater generated in the last half of 2011, about 97 percent was either recycled, sent to deep-injection wells, or sent to a treatment plant that doesn’t discharge into waterways.

Critics of fracking also repeat claims of extreme air pollution threats, even as evidence mounts that the natural gas boom is in some ways contributing to cleaner air.

Marcellus air pollution “will cause a massive public health crisis,” claims a section of the Marcellus Shale Protest website.

Yet data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that the shale gas boom is helping to turn many large power plants away from coal, which emits far more pollution. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed new rules to force drillers to limit releases of methane from wells and pumping stations.

Some environmental groups now say that natural gas is having a positive effect on air quality.

Earlier this year, the group PennFuture said gas is a much cleaner burning fuel, and it called gas-fired power plants “orders of magnitude cleaner” than coal plants.

Marcellus Shale Protest said in response to a question about its claims that “any possible benefit in electric generation must be weighed against the direct harm from the industrial processes of gas extraction.”

One expert said there’s an actual psychological process at work that sometimes blinds people to science, on the fracking debate and many others.

“You can literally put facts in front of people, and they will just ignore them,” said Mark Lubell, the director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at the University of California, Davis.

Lubell said the situation, which happens on both sides of a debate, is called “motivated reasoning.” Rational people insist on believing things that aren’t true, in part because of feedback from other people who share their views, he said.

Vengosh noted the problem of spinning science isn’t new, or limited to one side in the gas drilling controversy. For example, industry supporters have claimed that drilling never pollutes water wells, when state regulators have confirmed cases where it has. He says the key point is that science is slow, and research into gas drilling’s many possible effects are in the early stages, and much more work remains to be done.

“Everyone takes what they want to see,” Vengosh said, adding that he hopes that the fracking debate will become more civilized as scientists obtain more hard data.
commented 2012-07-24 11:48:19 -0400 · Flag
I believe Mr. Dolan’s rebuttal to WRM’s fracking article is a rational and well-organized counterargument and adds a necessary tone of skepticism and factual analysis to the Frac(k)ing debate. Frac(k)ing offers great promise, but comes with great environmental dangers — though it is (for the moment) economically efficient. Clean Energy has equally boundless promise, and offers endless environmental benefits — but has yet to prove itself as an economically efficient alternative to fossil fuels. These two crossing lines on the graph both carry the burden of proof of their economic AND environmental benefits. When one of these two modes of energy production can prove both economic efficiency AND environmental safety it will become the globally dominant form of energy-production in the 21st century. AA
commented 2012-07-24 02:01:24 -0400 · Flag
The environmental movement presents powerful cartoons that sway the minds of millions of innocent kids in school and dopey sheeple in general, but innovation, when allowed to prosper, is always five steps ahead of ignorance. For now and for the foreseeable future, fossil fuel will be the answer, and apparently there is plenty of it. Alarmists continue to say “it can’t last forever.” Which is true, but then some other energy solution will develop, on its own timeline, probably in the nuclear fusion area or quite possibly with some new technology we’ve never even dreamed of yet. Looking ahead to the energy and “emissions” problems of the 21st century, I always tell people that at the start of the 20th century the biggest emissions problem on the planet was methane from all the horse[droppings].MT
commented 2012-07-23 22:25:52 -0400 · Flag
“Cheap and abundant, not just abundant, is the important point to keep in mind.” Right. Shale oil reserves will keep oil prices from skyrocketing for the next 20 years (good news!) but probably won’t bring them below $3.50 a gallon, maybe not even below $4.00 a gallon. That being said, in 10 or 15 years, solar power, along with several other energy sources, will become sufficiently cheap AND efficient so as to engender even greater energy dependence and downward pressure on oil prices. Thus, these new oil reserves buy the world time to further develope alternative sources like cheap nuclear, solar, wind, and LENR, without experiencing so called ‘Peak Oil’ or Peak Energy. CG
commented 2012-07-23 11:48:04 -0400 · Flag
“The ever resourceful Greens predict that eventually Solar and Wind will be economical. The only problem is that this is wrong. The limits for these intermittent sources, have already been reached. ”

Embarassing. Not true at all. Progress in solar is following Moore’s law. In ten years, it could provide the total energy requirment for the Us, it’s that good.

Of course, there are roadblocks. But materials science is also advancing, at exponential rates. Don’t count solar out.
commented 2012-07-23 09:57:50 -0400 · Flag
The ever resourceful Greens predict that eventually Solar and Wind will be economical. The only problem is that this is wrong. The limits for these intermittent sources, have already been reached.

There are few real scientists or engineers in that Green movement. Except in the non-involved sense of desiring Clean Air and Water. The Union of Concerned Scientists that I helped found, fired it last genuine scientist long ago. The only engineers it has are “janitorial engineers” who swab the floors, and empty the wastebaskets from midnight to 5 AM.

Anything they say is pure unadulterated PR scam, and Poli-Sci ideological bovine pasture patties. Their predictions are wishful thinking and green fantasy dreams with no reality, at all.

Regarding the Water and Air, they have successfully suppressed the true State of affairs in America. Every city save two, Houston and Los Angeles, now has Air Quality meeting Air Quality Compliance rules of the EPA.

Essentially every domestic body of Water now meets Water Quality Compliance Standards, as the days of burning Rivers and flowing open sewers is long gone.

In simple words, after forty plus years of hard cleanup efforts, the Air and Waters are “Clean”, in the most industrialized, advanced, civilization in the World. Euro Socialist dweebs pontificate; but Americans have done the hard work and are just about finished,withthis multi-generational task.

Our Public sanitation infrastructure has been expanded, and Industrial processes have been modified and cleansed. Our ICE engines for Transport have been cleaned to the point they are actually clean and better than a pure zero emission EV vehicle. Proving that coexistence of Nature and Civilization is both possible and accomplished,if the Will is there. As alwasy the leftist idealogues talka good show bu the worst pollution locals occur in Socialisit countries. Europe was embarassed that third World countries were actually imposing tougher emissiosn requirements than htey hasd andare finally startign to clean up. In 2016 they will install cleanliness requirements thay we Americans required in 1980,and developed the technology to accomplish same. Better late then Never.

Oh sure there are still two American metro areas with much cleaner, but still endemic polluted Air, metropolitan Houston and Los Angeles; but even there the Air is much, much cleaner then it used to be back on the First Earth Day in 1970 and in prior decades.

Occasionally, problems such as a local fire or flood or other accident temporarily reduce Air or Water Quality, somewhere. But these are now just localized, temporary and transient occurrences.

As for CO2, the era of mass hallucination about global doom, spread by the Greens is coming to an end. Changes in CO2, a very minor trace gas, just does not have sufficient power to alter the climate except minimally; but what it can do is beneficially fertilize the Plants and mankinds crops,and the NASA satellites confirm that this is ocurring.

In any case there are places where the Earth and its Flora and Fauna absorb more than ALL the CO2 emitted by Nature (97%) and Man (3%). Both the North and South American continents do so, with North America, the very largest Carbon Sink of the Planet, according to measurements peer reviewed and published in Science journals, by Scientific teams working at Princeton University. Not only absorbing all CO2 produced on those continents, but a lot blowing in on the prevailing winds from Asia.

So the tripe propaganda that applies perhaps with some applicability to Eurasia, emanating from the Watermelon polemicists is invalid here. Their polemicists are too stupid to know that; or too cagey to admit that and ruin their money/power grabbing hoax.

In any case vast new finds of hydrocarbons will more than provide the time to get to real limitless sources, like clean Fusion and or nuclear sources.

Scientists working at ITER, the crude Prototype of a Commercial Fusion Reactor have issued a a startling proposal. ITER is the Last Fusion Physics experiment, and First Fusion Engineering design for a crude prototype of a commercial sized Fusion reactor.

Scientific staff there are saying that work should begin on designing the First truly Commercial Fusion Reactor in 2017, for construction completion less than a decade later. That is less than 5 years from now, so certain of their success are they.

Essentially the last of all the Fusion problems originally envisioned for ITER to solve, have now been met and solved, in piecemeal efforts at other little Tokomaks around the world, while ITER is being constructed.

Meanwhile the comming Fusion reactors and French efforts and accomplishments at “Actinide Burning” technologies, have shown the way to eliminate all long lived, highly radioactive wastes from our present nuclear reactors, and not by simply burying them.
S. Peterson
commented 2012-07-23 07:18:49 -0400 · Flag
I can only support P. Dolan. When do the Americans wake up and develop with (not only) their intelligence energy efficient technologies in order to solve the problems instaed to destroy the globe. Water is more scarce than oil already today!!!
Investments in not only clean production of technology but clean intelligent usage of energy is needed much more in the future. Every body can contribute in buying the right cars, manage energy spending, and developing local energy. Isn´t energy at a great part a local business?
Thanks for your article
commented 2012-07-23 07:08:14 -0400 · Flag
published this page in MONEY+TECHNOLOGY 2012-07-22 11:14:00 -0400