Politics Stretches Fracking into Unholy Challenges

by S. Tom Bond on June 4, 2018

WV, PA, OH, shale fracking states

Fracking, fear and politics — an unholy mix of challenges

Opinion – Editorial by S. Thomas Bond, Charleston Gazette, June 1, 2018

Fracking, the most recent method of extracting gas and oil, is the delight of some and the dread of an increasing part of the population. The arguments for it are exactly two in number: first, civilization is based on energy, and burning fuels is the way to energy; second energy provides lots of jobs, the arguments against fracking are many, keen, and the list is growing.

Unfortunately, many tend to view fossil fuels as the only feasible source of energy. This inability to distinguish between the conventional way of getting energy and energy itself is the product of science illiteracy and not-so-subtle cultivation of the idea by our present day energy industry.

The most pressing argument for ending use of fossil fuels is the accumulation of the colorless, odorless, chemical byproduct of burning, carbon dioxide. It is capable of converting a certain range of the sun’s wavelengths into heat we can feel. This is causing measurable warming worldwide, a widely studied phenomenon with seriously deleterious effects. If you “don’t believe in global warming,” you are like people who don’t believe in evolution or those who think the world is flat, not a sphere. You are beyond evidence and reason, or too lazy to pursue the subject.

Why fracking? Our national reserves of conventional gas and oil are approaching exhaustion, due to profligate use and export for decades. It lays in porous rock, and all that was necessary was to drill down to the reservoir rock and pump from the well. The petroleum would make its way to the well through the pores in the rock, and wells would supply product for decades before becoming uneconomic.

Our use was profligate, and we exported, so conventional began to run out, and we have been importing more and more in recent decades. The Eastern Gas Shales Project ran from 1976 to 1992 at the Morgantown Energy Research Center produced a way to actually break rock in shale reservoirs, which are not naturally permeable. George P. Mitchel worked with government financing to combine this new high hydraulic pressure with bending the drill stem to horizontal, special targeting control to keep the drill in the preferred strata, and a zoo of synthetic chemicals to produce the method that is now called “fracking.”

In the hinterland where fracking is done, fear runs rampant. Experience shows the new method, in practice for only a decade or so, causes a variety of harms, which drillers are unwilling to recognize or pay for. Large acreages are required for drilling, pipelines and pump stations. They cannot be returned to their original use in the foreseeable future. Environmental problems result, such as sediment in streams and destruction of wildlife and domestic animals from the drillng and leaks of synthetic chemicals.

Devaluation of property results. Who wants to live or farm near the noise, light and smells of this industry? Roads are broken by a thousand or more trips to each well site and removal of waste. The tax money pays for this cost.

Sickness is well documented by over 1,700 medical research articles, illness such as asthma and other respiratory problems, abortion and light birth weights, heart problems, and endocrine gland disruption.

There are serious problems with fracking compared to alternate energy industry. It is high capital and low labor, compared to alternate forms of energy. A lot of jobs at the construction phase, but these last only a few weeks, followed by few workers to operate the equipment. The jobs are specialized, so little is open to local men (very few women want this kind or work) except truck driving and many cases are known where drivers are kept on the job 24 or more hours straight.

Fracked wells commonly have an economic life of 6 to 8 years, and the recovery is seldom more than 8 percent of the oil or gas in place. No chance of recovery of the rest is insight. Increase in production per well is due to longer laterals (horizontal drilling segments of the well), not any real efficiency.

According to a report in a December Wall Street Journal titled “Wall Street Tells Frackers to Stop Counting Barrels, Start Making Profits,” the fracking industry has lost an amazing $280 billion since it began.

So what is the power of fracking? Politics! The accumulated law and practice that allows the industry to rip off land and mineral owners, make its neighbors sick and gets the public to pay for roads and emergencies. Cozy relations with glad handing legislators and officials is a big factor. And not to be forgotten is inertia due to lack of scientific awareness, and general reluctance to change the way things are done.

Fracking is power over people and property, over a livable world, and over alternatives the world must have.

>>> S. Thomas Bond, of Jane Lew, is a retired chemistry teacher.

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