• Fracking Bad

    A few days ago, my fellow SINner Smilodon took issue with the Texas governor for preventing citizens to vote to ban fracking. I won’t defend a Republican or a hypocrite politician, but I do want to question the merits on which some people pretend to ban fracking.

    So, what is fracking?

    Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of fracturing rock with pressurized liquids. Although it seems an evil new technology, fracking was actually born in 1947 and had its first successful commercial applications in 1949.

    And what’s new?

    Since 1949, fracking has been used as a technique in oil and natural gas wells, but it was not until 1997 that we learned we could use it to extract shale oil and natural gas that, up until then, were impossible to exploit.

    Does fracking entail any risk?

    Of course, like everything else — there are no 100% safe activities; leaving the house, driving a car, eating, swimming, having surgery and many other activities and technologies involve risk levels to be administered. One must know how to use the precautionary principle.

    Although fracking is not a drilling technology, it takes place after the well has been drilled, cased and cemented. The implementation of any of these preliminary steps must be done under the strictest regulations, or accidents could occur (as with any other technology of extraction).

    Contrary to what evil tongues say, fracking doesn’t involve pumping massive amounts of dangerous chemicals into the ground. Actually, fracking compounds are 98% water and 2% of various chemical including antibacterial agents —used in disinfectants—, gelling agents —used in ice cream—, friction reducers —used in cosmetics— and surfactants —used in laundry detergents—.


    The myth also says that fracking poisons drinking water aquifers, however, hydraulic fracturing occurs 6000 feet underground, far, far away from sources of underground drinking water. As mentioned above, the phases of drilling the well are those that, if done carelessly and without a clear adherence to strict regulations, could pollute aquifers, but fracking per se could not.

    Some have even tried to to blame fracking of polluting aquifers with methane. However, the evidence shows that methane in groundwater is not caused by fracking, but rather comes from decomposition of organic matter in surface sediments and peat bogs.

    Other objections claim that fracking wastes a lot of water. Fortunately, water is reused in the process and, moreover, now fracking can be done with seawater and with no water at all.

    Putting it in perspective, among others, the construction, electricity, agriculture, textiles, food and beverages industries use far more water than fracking. Nobody in their right mind would seek to ban these activities.

    Earthquake activity

    This seems to be the point that worries Smilodon the most — I would ask him to consider the following.

    In 2012 the National Research Council published a study indicating that in nearly 90 years of follow up, it has been shown that human activity has triggered 154 significant earthquakes —most of them moderate or small— due to the extraction of oil and gas, construction of dams in rivers and wastewater injection.

    Of those 154 earthquakes, only two have been caused by fracking, one of 2.8 magnitude in Oklahoma and another one of 2.3 magnitude in England. In those earthquakes no one has died and, when compared to the almost 14.500 earthquakes of 4 magnitude or more that occur worldwide each year, it doesn’t seem a risk worth banning an entire technology.

    And that’s it — that’s all there is to know about fracking.


    Now, I’d like to say I have the utmost respect for Smilodon, and I like his posts on evolution and GMOs, and that’s exactly what puzzles me the most about his stance on this one topic: he is aware of anti-science and Luddite tactics, so it strikes me as odd he is so sure about the so-called dangers of fracking — I think we have good and strong evidence to put those myths to sleep once and for all, but may be I’m wrong and it would be nice if he could tell me why he thinks what he thinks.

    Category: Skepticism


    Article by: Ðavid A. Osorio S

    Skeptic | Blogger | Fact-checker

    One Pingback/Trackback

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      My post was not about the technology of fracking. It was about the idea of small government vs. a hyper controlling government. I also wanted to bring up the hypocrisy of a political party that screams about Federal control of them, but then rejects local governments (and citizens) from doing what they want.

      I want to point out that water recycling is not universal and is actually a relatively recent development (as of mid 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/15/us-fracking-water-analysis-idUSBRE96E0ML20130715) (and of mid 2014: http://www.dallasnews.com/business/energy/20140809-fracking-companies-begin-slow-shift-to-recycling-wastewater.ece)

      “10 percent to 20 percent of the water being used now comes from recycling”

      I should add that current estimates do show that using natural gas turbines to produce electricity is much more water efficient than coal or fuel-oil fired, steam powerplants. Still, that doesn’t deal with the increase in CO2.

      Of course the bigger issue is one of spills of the water, saltwater, waste water, and/or fracking chemicals: http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20140716/saltwater-north-dakota-fracking-spill-not-whats-found-ocean

      Contamination could be from peat bogs, but I’m curious how peat bogs produce methanol, ethanol, barium, selenium, etc. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es4011724

      Further, there is significant evidence that earthquakes are caused by fracking.



      While, the magnitude of such earthquakes is small, we are still creating earthquakes where none existed before. This has got to be a concern. We just don’t know what’s underneath us. Just last week a 3.3+ earthquake was felt in downtown Dallas. Not exactly known for fault lines.

      Again, the article was not about fracking, except as a source of disagreement between a city and its citizens and the state government. I do maintain that there are some issues with fracking. The 100 billion US dollars spent on fracking wells between 2006 and 2012 could have been spent on wind turbines without the inherent dangers of any fossil fuel, spills, fires, contaminants, etc.

      • I know your post was not about fracking, but I felt you took for granted that fracking was bad.

        Yes, water recycling is not universal yet. We’re getting there. That’s what we do with technologies: we enhance them and make them better.

        Yes, wind can have some benefits over other kinds of energy sources (it also has its downsides: there’s no 100% clean energy yet).

        Peat bogs may not produce methanol, but it could come from decomposition of organic matter (like I said in my post).

        Yes, fracking can cause little earthquakes where none existed before (I acknowledge that), but building dams can do that as well and I don’t see that kind of concern about dams-building.


        • SmilodonsRetreat

          I do think that fracking is bad. It causes earthquakes. The use and reuse of water is much, much, much less than you implied in your article. There are millions of gallons of chemical spills in multiple states every year. There is evidence that the chemicals used in fracking are showing up in water used for other things (like drinking, for example).

          Those aren’t some piddling concerns. I see that you mentioned NIMBY… just so you know, I grew up in a refining town. I lived across the street from a refinery for 2 decades. I’ve seen, first hand, what even minor chemical spills can do to a town. I don’t want this kind of thing in anyone’s backyard.

          And that’s the point. It’s not necessary. Yes, we need a transition period from fossil fuels to renewable power. No one disagrees with that. But we don’t need fracking to do it… if we can get money out of politics and get rid of subsidies and promote clean energy.

          As far as the no 100% clean energy argument, that’s ridiculous. No one believes that. No one thinks that using wind will have no adverse effects and it can be made by wishing. We know that we have to build them, using materials and generating waste. There’s also a huge difference between a single capital expenditure and a capital expenditure AND operations, which is what fossil fuels have.

          But, compare the number of direct deaths between fossil fuels and renewable power. Go ahead, name one explosion at a wind farm or a solar array. I’ve got the research on this on my blog. Then we get into pollution and I’m not talking about what comes out of the smokestack, but there’s that too.

          Then there’s the indirect deaths ( http://www.chron.com/news/article/Fracking-and-hydraulic-drilling-have-brought-a-5747432.php) and environmental issues.

          As far as the dams, maybe the do (I’d like to see a citation on that), but then so does strip mining for coal (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/01/070103-mine-quake.html).

          I have presented my arguments and papers that support my claims. Yes, more research needs to be done. More research always needs to be done. But I really don’t think that your OP represents the reality of the oil industry.

          • Well, I happen to think fracking is not bad per sé. The fossil fuels argument is a red herring: yes, we’d be better if we transitioned ASAP, but that doesn’t mean fracking is evil. I, somehow, feel arguing with someone with an anti-GMO stance.

            I didn’t imply any quantity of water reuse in my post. I pointed out the fact that we can reuse water now in the process (which is true) and I hope it is done every time (I know it isn’t like that yet).

            About the spills: 1) They’re not from fracking itself. They happen due to errors when drilling, casing and/or cementing the well. (And, just like I said in my post, this is wrong and therefore these activities should be done following the strictest of regulations.)

            2) Do you happent to have a *causal* link between those chemicals and the fracking (and I mean the fracking, not what could result from bad drilling, casing or cementing). Because last I checked correlation is not causation.

            You know what’s funny? I gave a super-review of all this issues and I think you didn’t even have a look. So here’s it again: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-environ-031113-144051

            Have a good day.

            • SmilodonsRetreat

              Yep, I’ve got it. It’s 39 pages so it’ll take me a bit. But I’ve already seen some things that are interesting.

              I disagree about what you wrote about water use. Here’s what you said

              “Fortunately, water is reused in the process”

              That statement implies some things to a reader. I pointed out that water reuse is a new process and only about 10-20% of water is reused… as of last year. The fracking boom has been going on for some time.

              You’re right correlation is not causation. Your articles suggests that in Pennsylvania that methane comes from peat bogs instead of fracking. I can accept that. But that’s not Texas as the reference I supplied suggests.

              Maybe it’s not fracking… but shouldn’t we be really sure what the “trade secret” chemicals are before suggesting that fracking (which is purposefully shattering otherwise impermeable rock) is safe?

              I’ll finish that report you posted.

              I still think that your article does not accurately represent the reality of the situation.

    • “…construction, electricity, agriculture, textiles, food and beverages industries use far more water than fracking. Nobody in their right mind would seek to ban these activities.”

      None of those activities end up locking the water away in deep injection wells.

      • So… ?

        So far, the argument is against how much water is used in the process.

        • SmilodonsRetreat

          Really?!??!? That’s what you think the entire argument against is?

          ok then…

          • You think is not? Would you care to explain it to me? Or will it just do with being patronizing?

            • SmilodonsRetreat

              In 17 and half hours, you didn’t read my reply to your article? If not, then I can’t help you.

              I’ll restate it for you. I think that your article misrepresents the reality of the fracking and oil industry. The references are in my other post.

            • Yes, I don’t always have the time to answer immediately.

        • It doesn’t matter overmuch how much water is used if it ends up back in the water cycle. If it’s locked away, that’s another matter entirely.

    • im-skeptical

      Fracking brings oil extraction to more neighborhoods than ever before. I don’t care what technology they use – when they want to come to where I live, I’ll fight them.

      • You’re a NIMBY, then?

        • im-skeptical

          Yes, and not ashamed of it.

          • Ok

            • im-skeptical

              There are numerous accidental oil spills every day in this country. Most are not large, but they add up. Do you think the people at Refugio Beach are happy? That was 1% of the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster and the locals are scrambling to clean up the damage, while the responsible executives are scrambling to minimize their liability.

    • Pingback: Fracking - Good or Bad • Smilodon's Retreat()