Billionaire oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens has invested millions of dollars in natural gas, which he promotes as a promising “bridge fuel” that could help the United States transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. This idea has gained traction as new drilling methods using hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” appear able to extract gas from rock sources that were previously uneconomical to access — especially shale. Shale gas has become one of the “hottest investments in the energy sector.”
Unfortunately, the promise of natural gas has been a nightmare for the neighbors of fracking gas wells. Over the past 18 months, at least 10 studies by scientists, Congress, investigative journalists and public interest groups have documented environmental problems with fracking. These studies, as well as the experiences of numerous affected Americans, have made it increasingly clear that this type of drilling poses unacceptable risks to the American public and is ultimately a misguided energy policy for the United States.
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The History and Next Wave of Fracking Hydraulic fracturing is not new, but its recent application to hard rock formations and the tremendous scale of the current rush for gas is a radical departure from wells of the past. Fracking injects a mixture of water, chemicals and sand into wells to create pressure that cracks the rocks, allowing the gas to escape and flow out of the wells.4 Halliburton is credited with the first commercial application to produce gas in 1949,5 and the gas industry insists that fracking has been used safely in thousands of wells for decades.
But this claim does not adequately consider the next generation of fracking, which is far more powerful — and more dangerous — than drilling methods used in the past. Up until the past decade, most on-shore gas production came from porous conventional rocks, a method where loosely held gas flows into vertical wells drilled straight into the ground. Other rocks such as shales, tight sands and coal beds contain gas, but it was packed too tightly to extract using economical methods until recently. Drillers have now developed a new generation of fracking that uses curved “horizontal” wells in the rock formation, adding a mix of chemicals known as “slickwater” and injecting the fluids at high pressure in stages. The pressure created by these techniques has been compared to exploding a massive pipe bomb underground.
Fracking America: Coming to a Rock Formation Near You
These technological advances spurred a fracking gas rush across America that some energy analysts and industry insiders have called a “natural gas revolution” and a “game changer.” Gas companies first developed the Barnett Shale reserves in Texas and gas production there skyrocketed more than 3,000 percent between 1998 and 2007. Drillers then targeted other shales as well — the Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas, the Woodford Shale in Oklahoma, the Haynesville Shale in Louisiana and the Marcellus Shale, which underlies parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky. The number of fracking wells increased six-fold in Pennsylvania just between 2008 and 2010, and the number of fracking wells nationally increased 41 percent between…read more on The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking | Food & Water Watch.
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