The Real Risks of Fracing

Picture of a gas drilling rig
Gas Drilling Rig In Texas – Thanks to Wikipedia

In my last blog post I took the position that natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracing) is a good thing. This is an assertion that is born out by the history of natural gas drilling around the world over the last twenty to thirty years. Indeed, hydraulic fracturing has been used in one form or another for the last seventy plus years!

The technology has enough history, and the practitioners enough expertise that hydraulic fracturing should not be a problem, anywhere. It is physically impossible for seepage from a fractured shale formation over a mile deep to get to the surface. There are just too many layers of other, different types of rock prohibiting that seepage. The greatest risks for environmental problems lie elsewhere, not with the actual fracturing of a shale structure.

The environmental risks of any drilling technology can be expressed in three categories:

  • Water
  • Air
  • Land Use

Water – This is perhaps the most common pollution problem found at a drilling site. The hydraulic fracturing itself does not cause a problem. Most environmental problems linked to fracing are caused by the mishandling of drilling muds, fracing water, waste water, transportation spills of toxic chemicals, and improperly constructed wells. The literature is very clear on this account. If the well is properly constructed, and if the fluids are handled properly, there is no problem. Please read this article from the Shale Gas Wiki.

Much of the so-called evidence against natural gas hydraulic fracturing is anecdotal. It is just one uninformed, emotional story after another. The people in New York State are rightfully concerned about the natural gas drilling into the Marcellus Formation. The same shale formation underlies portions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.There have been reports in these states of methane pollution of the drinking water. This is not unusual.

Graph of Marcellus Shale extent
Extent of Marcellus Shale Formation

In one study it was found that out of 60 water wells tested in Pennsylvania and New York, eighty-five percent showed thermogenic methane content. This means that the gas was caused by natural seeps from deep in the earth. Thermogenic methane comes from deep underground, and biogenic methane is the stuff produced by biomass (garbage, etc.) near the surface. There had been no natural gas or oil drilling in that area.

The Marcellus shale structure shows up at different depths across Appalachia. In some places it is barely 1,000 feet under the surface, and in others it is over 8,000 feet beneath the surface.

Water drawn from wells that receive water from a coal seam has methane and other toxic chemicals with it. Water wells are a large source of the methane problem, but the consumer doesn’t know this because methane is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. There are about 20,000 unregulated water wells drilled in Pennsylvania and New York, every year. The probability of getting methane in the well water from natural sources is high.

Also, in  about a thirty year stretch lots of gas wells were drilled in the Marcellus shale. Mistakes were made as the technology was developed. Many of the negative attitudes and stories originate in that development period.

Fracing is blamed for a lot of things. Just because there are natural gas wells in the area does not automatically mean that hydraulic fracturing is at fault.

Air Pollution – Natural gas is mostly made up of methane. In the natural gas extraction process, there are natural gas liquids produced, also. These are ethane, butane, and propane. There are some nasty gaseous compounds removed, also, and this is where air pollution can occur. If the removal processes are faulty, there will be escaping gas into the atmosphere.

Because there are over 860,000 oil and gas wells in the USA, it is safe to say that the oil company people have figured out how to keep the air unpolluted at drilling and processing sites.

Environmental activists go overboard  on the danger of methane, and the risk it may pose to the environment. Remember, the natural gas drillers cannot make money from gas that is escaping to the atmosphere. They have a huge incentive to be safe and responsible with their operations.

It comes down to the fact that air polluting wells are not a technology problem.

Land Use – Here come the earthquakes. One of the most misunderstood risks about hydraulic fracturing is that they can produce earthquakes, usually micro-seismic events. We are not talking about the New Madrid quakes of 1811 and 1812 (the largest in the nation’s history). The seismic events caused by hydraulic fracturing, for the most part, cannot be felt on the surface. So, when someone says that they felt an earthquake and it was caused by fracing, season the information with a little salt.

Drilling wells is an ugly business. Ugly is pollution, too. The drilling structure is from fifty to one hundred feet tall. There is cleared land to accommodate the drilling equipment, fluid storage, and transportation equipment. Plus, roads have to be built to access the sites. With all those roads and tanker trucks come chemical and toxic water spills. This is the most common and greatest environmental risk in the whole process. This is also the most manageable portion. There are state and federal regulations about drilling, transporting, and cleaning up spills. Spills are avoidable.

So, there are real risks linked to natural gas shale hydraulic fracturing. All these risks can be properly mitigated. The technology is basically not a problem. The problems are management problems. With proper well construction, liquid transport and handling, and attention to details, environmental risks are relatively small.

Fracking Is Good!

Sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns and look something up, or study a technology to learn the truth. I had to do this with global warming, and I am having to do it with natural gas fracking, technically known as hydraulic fracturing.

I have known that this process existed in the drilling of oil wells since we lived in Houston in the 1970’s. A simple Google search will tell you that fracking in oil wells has been done since the 1940’s. There are over 840,000 oil and gas wells in the United States, and about 1.2 million wells world wide. In most of these wells some form of hydraulic fracturing was used.

Here’s my reference:

Hydraulic Fracturing 101: What Every Representative, Environmentalist, Regulator, Reporter, Investor, University Researcher, Neighbor and Engineer Should Know About Estimating Frac Risk and Improving Frac Performance in Unconventional Gas and Oil Wells

This is a paper written for the Society of Petroleum Engineers International, the professional society of engineers engaged in the petroleum industry. As such, their members have generated reams of technical studies about hydraulic fracturing. There have been over 550 papers on shale fracturing, and there are over 3,000 papers on all aspects of horizontal wells. This is one of the most studied and researched technical areas in science.

Whenever an oil or gas well is drilled, a risk matrix is constructed for that well and field by the company. Those guys have been at it for so long, and have done this so many times that these estimates of risk are pretty much everyday things. They know how to do this.

Here are some of the salient points of the paper.

1. Polluted ground water is not caused by hydraulic fracturing. Fracking in and of itself cannot pollute ground water because the fracking takes place over a mile under the surface. It is usually a well construction problem, and that is a problem easily mitigated. Most often, ground water pollution is caused by water well drilling, and the water seeping up through the well has come through a coal seam, and is already polluted. This is a well known problem, especially in New York and Pennsylvania. If you remember the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859. They didn’t drill to discover oil because it was laying all over the ground. There are thousands of places where oil seeps to the surface and contaminates ground water, naturally.

2. Risk of earthquakes is extremely over-stated. Earthquakes can be caused by hydraulic fracturing, but very few will be felt at the surface. We are not talking about San Francisco scale earthquakes, here. The quakes caused by hydraulic fracturing are usually micro-quakes, and very few reach the intensity high enough to be felt on the surface.

3. General surface pollution can be caused by other processes. There are many sources of pollution around drilling sites. Thousands of gallons of drilling mud are used there, along with the water used in the fracking process. Pollution can result from accidental spills, or from the transport of those fluids to the drilling site. Care has to be taken in these areas.

In the introduction the author makes the following statement:

“The spectacular increase in North American natural gas reserves created by shale gas development makes shale gas a disruptive technology, threatening profitability and continued development of other energy sources.”

Yep! Natural gas from shale takes money out of the pockets of coal companies, solar companies, and wind turbine companies. Natural gas from shale fracking is so cheap that everybody is against it except the consumer.

Now, you know why there is so much press against fracking in natural gas wells. There is no evidence that it will pollute the environment, or that is can poison an entire region’s water supply. There is no reason to panic, unless you are invested in solar and wind power.

Follow the money!

Happy Dad’s Day, Kids

I was going to write a Dad’s day blog about my father, and what a great man he really was. Even though he was a poor man, had not finished high school, or even entertained college, he was fairly intelligent. He had actually been a school teacher at one time during the Great Depression.

But, now you are stuck with me. Yep, I’m a Dad, and I am proud of it. My two children lived to adulthood, although we lost one when he was twenty-one years old. It was fun to be around him, and others agreed saying that wherever he went there was sunshine, music, and laughter.

One day he called from his college saying, “Dad, I had an epiphany. While I was in the bathroom I realized that I am just like you”. Yes, he was a clown, too. Even at that, I was very pleased to hear those words. It was one of those little jokes between father and son.

My daughter is one of those musically talented people. She is an artist. She, like my son, went to college on  a voice scholarship. Now, she is a music teacher, and has delivered two of the most beautiful children on the face of the earth. It matters not whether they are as talented as my daughter. The idea is for them to be the genuine, loving persons my daughter and son became.

With the exception of my wife, my daughter is the most important person in my life. She is always concerned about my health, and promises to be an absolute health tyrant with her old man. She is unrelenting.

The fact that both of our children were Christians is the most rewarding thing you can imagine. “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”

So, you see that Father’s Day is about not only honoring fathers. On this Father’s Day, I want to honor my children and grandchildren who have made life so meaningful and worth living.

CYA Medicine

I was treated to a set of allergy tests, yesterday. Before the attendant could administer the tests, I was given several forms to sign. More than one was  long, and I was wondering if the attendant would be patient enough for me to read every word. When asked, she said, “No problem”. Yeah, sure. She wanted me out of there so she could clock in another paying customer.

The form in which I was particularly interested was the one that gives the doctor and his staff permission to do the tests, and exhonerates them of any culpability in case there are any problems. I had read these, before.

There was one side effect I was looking for, and I found it at the very end of the list.


Yes, every medical form in the United States serves as CYA to doctors and other health professionals if something goes wrong. There is not one doctor who can guarantee you will walk out of their office alive and well.

The medical world is this way because of lawyers. There have been so many bogus lawsuits that medicine is now being practiced on a Cover-Your-Ass basis. It is the fault of lawyers.

Sure, there are creepy and incompetent medical doctors out there, but there are more creepy and corrupt lawyers. There are lawsuits that are justifiable, but many are not. Witness the lawyer ads on television pimping one ambulance chaser or another. These guys are now specializing in whether they go after whiplash, internal injury, or asbestos cancer cases. They advertise the drugs for which there are class action suits.

The medical sector is a big target for our lawyer friends. They are fishing for victims.

Tomorrow, I go to a medical doctor to have a growth removed from my back. I will look, once again, to see if I am excusing them for killing me if things go wrong.

I am paying someone to stab me in the back. If he kills me, he cannot be held responsible, nor will he give me my money back for botching the job.

It’s a tough world out there.

Campaign Contribution Law Is Anti-Freedom

Picture of John Edwards,
Slimy Wife Cheating Jerk

In the news, today, is the story that the Depart of Justice dropped all charges against former Senator and Presidential candidate, John Edwards. Edwards has been the focus of a couple of years worth of scandal. Having cheated on his terminally ill wife, and having taken what might have been campaign funds to support his mistress and love child, he was judged not guilty last month of accepting illegal campaign contributions. The jury was hung on five charges.

There is no law against cheating on your mate, but there are laws that limit what you can do with campaign funds. In this case Edwards lawyers apparently sold the jury on the idea that one or more of the donors gave him money for other purposes, like, to take care of his mistress and illegitimate child.

Understand my opinion of John Edwards. I knew from the first time I heard him speak that he was a slime ball. He still is slimy, and always will be slimy.

In this one case I will side with Edwards, greasy slob that he is. I believe there should be no restrictions on political contributions. To do so is to limit freedom of speech in this country. However, I would limit those who could make those contributions to US citizens and registered voters in the political subdivision of interest in the election.

We could have a much better political system if donations to  political candidates were limited to those voters who live in the candidates geographical area of representation. If your candidate is running for Representative for the Fourth District, only people who live in that district should be allowed to contribute to the candidates running for that slot.

If a candidate runs for the US Senate, then the residence of all donors must be in that state.  The same for Presidential contributions.  The contrubutors must be US citizens and registered voters who live in the United States of America. No Chinese money in this system.

I don’t believe there should be any limit on how much people can individually donate. They should be able to donate as much as they wish with the restriction they must live in the geographical area of representation.

To monitor all this we would rely on each candidate to police their opponent. Each candidate would have to post online every donor’s identification, and how much they donated. Records of each contribution should be posted online within twenty-four hours. There would be no restrictions on how the candidates spend the money. If a candidate is caught taking out-of-area money, then they should be disqualified from running for office.

This would give us a simple system that is manageable. Right now, our system is not manageable, and candidates have to spend too much time making sure they don’t step out-of-bounds of legal restrictions where there should be almost no restrictions in the first place.

Putting restrictions on our political donations is limiting our right of free speech. Democracy takes a hit.

I know how some people feel about rich people donating to elections. It has turned out that rich people are not the problem with the system. The problem is with money aggregated from all over, and that means all over the world.

Do you agree with me?

A Saturday In June

picture of a beachSomewhere, children frolic in swimming pools and oceans under watchful parental eyes. Somewhere, people are taking the opportunity to drive around the country to see what they can see. Somewhere, people have paid cash money to enter an air-conditioned movie theater to view the latest movie of whoever about whatever.

I don’t have a swimming pool, and learned a long time ago that kids pee in swimming pools. I also do not own a beach cottage, and my kids are all grown so I don’t have to watch them lose themselves in the sun and surf. Movies? I gave up going to the movies a long time ago, unless a really great science fiction flick comes along. Nothing worthy has appeared since the first Star Wars.

So, what’s an old guy to do on a Saturday afternoon? Since I am not a golfer or a gardener, my preference is to stay home and play computer whiz and wannabe intellectual guru on the internet. I have twisted interests, but, so what? It keeps me off the streets.

Of particular interest is the Obama Re-Election Campaign. It’s not working too well when, in the middle of a severe recession with the number of jobs dropping like a rock, he says, “The private sector is in good shape.” He could be a star on a reality show if he applies himself.

On the climate front, a young wannabe climate scienctist and PhD, Joelle Gergis, published a new paper that made questionable conclusions. When asked for her data and methods, she got snarky. Apparently, Dr Gergis’ people skills are even worse than her science skills. The very same people whom she refused found egregious problems with her statistics and methodology, even without all the data. Her paper was put on hold until by the other authors of the paper! Imagine, a half-dozen PhD’s spending over $300,000 on a paper that was written so carelessly.

Unfortunately, much of climate science falls into the category of junk, just like Gergis et al, and sometimes for the same reasons. This was a PEER REVIEWED PAPER!!!  None of those PhD dummies at the American Meteorological Society who reviewed the paper caught the problem. Apparently, those so-called scientists at the American Meteorological Society can’t do weather or climate science. Why are they there?  It took an informal bunch of bloggers to call attention to the crime. A. W. Montford at Bishop Hill gives a good layman’s explanation. Steve McIntyre and colleagues at Climate Audit did the work.

Turning to things personal, this is the second week of my wife’s retirement from the public school system. Today was her first foray into the world of nutrition and grocery shopping. I helped her with a list of things needed, and kissed her for good luck before  she disappeared around the corner headed for stores unknown. Things were good. I had her doing some things to relieve me of my difficult duties.

She just returned from the store. There were no chips. There was no beer. Oh, what have I done? Where is that lawn mower? I need to work out some frustration.