Jul 17 2013

Frack: Forget the Facts

The passing of the Fracking bill was news in North Carolina. Its passage had many outraged because of how quickly the legislation passed and how heavily influenced by private energy companies the passing was. The influence was blatant when the state Mining and Energy Commission approved a move to have energy companies disclose some the chemicals they are using in the process and Halliburton , a heavyweight in the energy industry, pressured the commission into withdrawing it. This is just a small example of the free-wheeling legislature that is very weak or non-existent for power companies to follow when using this relatively new form of energy extraction. The NC legislature, in particular Sen. Rucho, will have to come to terms with their decision for allowing fracking as of October 2014. This is the current deadline for regulations on fracking to be created in our state and it is fast approaching (more information on fracking and the legislature: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/08/north-carolina-fracking-wastewater-questions_n_3237895.html).

What concerns many citizens is that the majority of the reserves are in the Piedmont or the mountains and the bedrock there does not absorb as well as a more silt and sand based ground found in the Coastal Plains of the state. With the coastal plains having more absorbent soil, the plains will mostly become the wasteland for the fracking fluids from the more western lands in the state. This is particularly dangerous to choose the coastal plains because the disposal methods for fracking are grossly, and in some cases, disgustingly under researched and managed (more on coastal damage: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/08/north-carolina-fracking-wastewater-questions_n_3237895.html). So far, the chemical-laden water from fracking has been spread on roads because of its salty properties, dumped in open pits (impoundments), injected in the ground, or sent to regular water treatment plants ill-equipped to deal with those kinds of chemicals. The chemicals sent to the ill-equipped treatment plants are not truly processed and can lead the toxic chemicals to being sent directly into surface water. This exposes large areas of the environment to major damage considering the toxins and radioactive properties of many of the chemicals (more information on poor management of chemicals: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/rhammer/frackings_aftermath_wastewater.html).

Deteriorated water quality is a serious possibility with incorrect chemical dumping.

The State of Ohio is coming up on some of the logistic problems associated with fracking because they are on land similar to the NC Piedmont and cannot inject the chemicals into the ground because it will not be absorbed. They are likely going to have to dump in the Appalachians. Secondly, they are seeing how grossly unprepared the legislature is to deal with the human rights, land rights, and the strong arming the energy companies are prepared to do to make more money off the reserves. Some landowners were forced to accept the drilling of fracking on their land and get paid or they become a part of the parties responsible for the clean-up of the machinery left behind including the ruined water sources (more info on damaged drinking water: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LBjSXWQRV8). The biggest problem of all though is when someone agrees to have the chemicals injected into their land or drilling done, the toxic water can no longer be controlled once bedrock is cracking. This means the process can cross property boundaries, seep into water sources, and create environment and legal troubles that in some cases cannot be fixed (more information: http://sustainability.thomsonreuters.com/2012/09/27/litigating-the-aftermath-of-fracking-in-ohio/).  What is worse is the NC legislature is contemplating turning over the anti-drilling legislature to protect the state from irresponsible drilling for the fracking endeavors. It not only opens the door for irresponsible fracking but well storage. The improper storage of materials in a well can become a major problem when other states like Ohio looking for places to dump their toxic fracking water because our state could become a dumping ground for fracking projects across the nation (more info: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/08/north-carolina-fracking-wastewater-questions_n_3237895.html).

NC residents are not ignorant to the dangers associated with fracking which induced the legislature to add a 43-page bill that acts more as the duct tape around the fracking bill that passed and has many holes (more info on that bill: http://www.heraldsun.com/news/blog/state/x1065838522/AP-NC-Senate-bill-adds-divisive-new-fracking-measures). Since the infrastructure for fracking is already beginning, there have been protests at a chemical plant in Morgantown, NC who will be producing the fracking chemicals for energy companies drilling in the state. The citizens are trying to stop fracking before it begins. The protesters were so persistent that arrests did occur which is a sign that this anti-fracking movement is far from over with the citizens (more info on protesting citizens: http://wunc.org/post/croatan-earth-first-protests-fracking-western-nc).

This is a simplified example of how the chemically laden water is injected into the ground and energy source is extracted.

I feel this situation could be completely avoided if the magnitude of the energy business lobby could be reduced, politicians could hear more independent voices, and listen to what is in the best interest of the state for the long-term. For instance, the reserves in NC were downgraded to only 5 years of reserves which is much below the original projection. Additionally, the possible human rights infringements and property damage incurred from the uncontrollabletoxic water is a headache no one wants, especially in an agriculturally based state like ours. Additionally, the problem with storing your chemicals in the coastal region is that we have so many aquifers, water basins, and coastline that are beautiful and the toxins can easily leak into those water sources and travel into the estuaries and eventually the ocean if large quantities of the water is injected into the ground. This is an even greater problem if we accept fracking water from other states since larger amounts of the fluid will be stored.  What really struck me is Rep. Rick Catlin suggesting we rather view water as the new gold over conventional energy sources. As places like the American West are drying out, there is much to be said for the importance of having clean water sources that can bring in more business to our state than a single, small energy source like fracking. We have to be smarter than what the energy companies are telling us. If you frack and forget, you will always remember it.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/8864938/Protesters-vow-to-stop-fracking-after-energy-company-admits-causing-earthquakes.html


  • Associated Press, 2013, “AP: NC Senate Bill Adds Divisive New Fracking Measures.” The Herald-Sun. The Herald Sun, 25 June 2013. Web. 14 July 2013. <http://www.heraldsun.com/news/blog/state/x1065838522/AP-NC-Senate-bill-adds-divisive-new-fracking-measures>.
  • Hammer, Becky, 2012, “Fracking’s Aftermath: Wastewater Disposal Methods Threaten Our Health & Environment.” Switchboard: Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog. Natural Resources Defense Council, 9 May 2012. Web. 14 July 2013. <http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/rhammer/frackings_aftermath_wastewater.htm
  • Malewitz, Jim, 2013, “North Carolina Fracking Options Leave Looming Questions About Wastewater.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 08 May 2013. Web. 14 July 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/08/north-carolina-fracking-wastewater-questions_n_3237895.html>.
  • O’Reilly, James T., 2013, “Litigating the Aftermath of Fracking in Ohio.” Sustainability. Thomson Reuters, 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 14 July 2013. <http://sustainability.thomsonreuters.com/2012/09/27/litigating-the-aftermath-of-fracking-in-ohio/>.
  • Tiberii, Jeff, 2013, “Croatan Earth First! Protests Fracking in Western NC.” WUNC. North Carolina Public Radio, 8 July 2013. Web. 14 July 2013. <http://wunc.org/post/croatan-earth-first-protests-fracking-western-nc>.

Pictures and Video


One response so far

One Response to “Frack: Forget the Facts”

  1.   Sandrine Charleson 25 Jul 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Is geothermal energy taking a turn for the worst, one “frack” at a time?
    In a conventional geothermal reservoir, hot water is created when cool water seeps into the earth’s crust towards hot spot areas or where there are dry rock formations. The hot water or steam flows back upward through the permeable or porous layers of the rock until it is trapped by an impermeable layer or it reaches the surface. The trapped water is commonly known as an underground geothermal reservoir and the surface water as hot springs or fumaroles.

    Geothermal Resources of the United States, NREL; http://www.nrel.gov/gis/images/geothermal_resource2009-final.jpg

    In the United States, according to the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), that there is a total potential resource of 39,000 MW of conventional capacity for geothermal energy. Most of the resources are situated on the West Coast (see map above). Recent research led to development of a new way of extracting geothermal energy called enhanced geothermal extraction. The way that it works is it that they drill down into a rock and pressurize the present well to create fractures that will increase the permeability of the rock. This technique is very similar to the hydraulic fracking used by fossil fuel and natural gas plants. Once the rock has been fractured, cool water is pumped down an injection well and the water flows through the rock before returning to the surface as hot water or steam through the production well (see image below).

    Enhanced Geothermal Extraction; http://altarockenergy.com/egs.htm

    The NRELs potential resource for Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) in the US is of 520,000 MW. However, a great majority of that resource may not be extractable due lapses in technological advances and the magnitude of the environmental concern that they may pose. So far, the major problem with geothermal is caused by the injection of fluids into the grounds which has been shown to cause earthquakes. This phenomenon is called induced seismicity. In Europe, where the use of EGS is more widespread, earthquakes with a magnitude ranging from 3.4 to 3.7 have been registered near plants. When comparing the various impacts of geothermal (see image below), the major problems are related to the extraction phase. With EGS, the level of impact at that phase will greatly increase. Although water use is not of a great concern, water contamination may be. The same problem associated with drilling for oil and natural gases where gases from different layers of stratification of the ground seep into the fresh water reserves and aquifers may occur in this scenario.
    The advertisement for EGS by energy.gov , presents this novel way of extracting the geothermal energy as the energy of the future: a very ecofriendly alternative; but, they do not present to the customers the possible damage it may cause to their water supply and the surrounding area with the increased probability of seismicity. In David Biello’s article for Scientific American he objectively presents the pros and cons of the innovation. Towards the end he stresses on the current cost inefficiency of the device by stating that “Drilling a several-kilometer-deep well costs millions of dollars, and one needs at least five such wells (and possibly as many as 50) to prove a given geothermal resource is going to reliably deliver heat with which to make electricity”. Right now, Altarock is a big supporter of EGS and has projects in Oregon underway (see video link below). They claim to have taken supplementary measures to prevent the increase of detrimental environmental impact but the efficiency of their protective devices has yet to be determined.

    Newberry Geothermal Systems Demonstration; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oscqx08zBXQ.

    Right now, just as in the case of North Carolina, all that can be done to stall further damage to the environment surrounding those future EGS installations is public protest. Although energy companies are very powerful with their lobbyist benefactors, the active opposition of the mass public will raise the attention of the media; and once the media’s involved, all hell can break loose for the protested companies. If you care about your health, then pay close attention to changes in legislatures and proposals by so called “green” energy companies.


    NREL, 2009; http://www.nrel.gov/gis/images/geothermal_resource2009-final.jpg.

    Geothermal Power Module by Enerdynamics; http://www.enerdynamics.com.

    Enhanced Geothermal in Nevada: Extracting Heat From the Earth to Generate Sustainable Power; http://energy.gov/articles/enhanced-geothermal-nevada-extracting-heat-earth-generate-sustainable-power

    Stop Mining for Oil (and Coal), Start Drilling for Heat, David Biello (2011); http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2011/06/20/stop-mining-for-oil-and-coal-start-drilling-for-heat/.
    Newberry Geothermal Systems Demonstration; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oscqx08zBXQ.