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Just the Fracks, Ma’am

Info about hydraulic fracturing

by Geoffrey May


PetroWorth Resources is currently exploring for oil and shale gas in Lake Ainslie, Cape Breton, which drains into the Margaree watershed. Geoffrey May is a resident of Margaree who dug up some information on "fracking", the technique proposed by Petroworth to extract natural gas from its proposed mine.

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) injects chemicals at pressure into shale formations to release natural gas.

The chemicals include: benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, boric acid, monoethanolamine, xylene, diesel-related organics, methanol, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, ammonium bisulfate, 2-butoxyethanol and 5-chloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one (Christopher Bateman, “Colossal Fracking Mess,” vanityfair.com), ethylene glycol, propylene glycol (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) acetic acid, napthalene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and sodium hydroxide. (watershedsentinel.ca)

Former environmental quality analyst for Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources Chris Grobbel claims there are 900 fluid formulations used for fracking, each with 600 ingredients. According to Grobbel, “The fluid chemistry and toxicity is really driven by the naturally occurring chemicals that are coming up at toxic levels with the return flow," Grobbel said. "It brings with it dissolved hydrocarbons - benzene, thylene, ethylbenzene, xylene isomers being the four that are typically focused on. It brings up heavy metals, it can bring up radionucleutides including radium 226 and other naturally occurring materials that are at toxic levels at the surface. And of course you've got all the additives.” (waterlink-international.com)

“The chemicals transform the fluid into a frictionless mass that works its way deep into the earth, prying open tiny cracks that can extend thousands of feet; particles of sand or silicon wedge inside the cracks holding the earth open.” (propublica.org)

Industry claims the fluids can’t travel to the surface, although Richard Ranger, Senior Policy Advisor for the American Petroleum Institute admits, “There are no studies to support industry claims.” (propublica.org)

“There is no such thing as impossible, in terms of migration, like everything else in life it comes down to probability, it is never a hard and fast thing,” according to Dean Coleman, geologist. (propublica.org)

As pressurized fracking fluid “gets through the cracks that you have created and reaches a joint system that has been there for many years, the joint opens in unpredictable ways,” said Anthony Ingraffea, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University, in an interview with The Tyee’s Andrew Nikiforuk.

“To date, the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission has reported 18 ‘fracture communication incidents,’ in which sand and chemicals injected in one site pops up in gas wells 670 meters away,” he said.

Each gas well consumes 100,000 gallons of fracking fluids plus four million gallons of water. The amount of wastewater left underground is a function of local geology. The State Geologist of Alabama reported in 1997 “almost all fluid recovered” with the USEPA reporting returns of 15 per cent to 41 per cent. There is no known treatment for recovered fracking wastewater.

Following fracking in Pavilion, Wyoming, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) tested wells. Results released August 31, 2010, showed groundwater and 17 out of 19 wells contaminated with adamantanes, tri (2-butoxyethal) phosphate, gasoline-range organics, diesel-range organics, caprolactam, methane, benzene, cyclohexane, methylcyclohexane and propane. Fifteen of 16 residents participating in a health study reported 128 symptoms and diseases, most of which are linked to fracking. Residents reported the area smelled like rotten eggs, and they suffered headaches, burning eyes, itching skin, high blood pressure, memory loss, fatigue, and 80 per cent reported respiratory problems. (probublica)

USEPA warned people with contaminated wells on Septeember 1, 2010, to shower and do laundry only in well-ventilated areas.

Probublica found more than 1,000 reports of well contamination from fracking. In dozens of homes in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado, gas migrated through underground cracks into basements and wells.

Jessica Ernst of Rosebud, Alberta, had a well was contaminated with chromium-6. Ernst claims to have received calls from at least 50 landowners in the first year after she went public. Peter and Fiona Lauridson, Debbie Signor and Dale Zimmermen, all from Rosebud, all with contaminated wells, were featured in the documentary “Burning Water.” Wells contaminated with toluene, benzene and naphthalene were dismissed by industry puppet Alberta Research Council as “naturally occurring.”

That unconventional natural gas sources are preferable to conventional oil because of reduced GHGs is unproven, and highly questionable.

A 2009 Texas Barnett Shale study showed that emissions from compressor stations and production activities from 7,700 oil and gas wells emitted 33,000 tons of CO2 per day – equal to two 750 megawatt coal plants. (A. Nikiforuk, The Tyee)

Conventional oil and gas wells return 15 joules for each joule invested; unconventional gas gets a return of two for one. (A. Nikiforuk, The Tyee)

“The drilling equipment and the wells also effect air quality, as the material returning to the surface can include carbon monoxide, methane and other gases,” according to Grobbel. “Greenhouse gases, acid rain-causing gases, asthma-causing particulates are all associated with fracking.” (waterlink-international.com)

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