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Earth The Almighty Buck United States Technology Politics

US Energy Panel Cautiously Endorses Fracking 294

Posted by timothy
from the like-they're-the-fracking-experts dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Christian Science Monitor reports that a U.S. Energy Department advisory panel has endorsed fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a promising technology that injects a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals underground to fracture rock and release shale gas previously thought unretrievable, paving the way for tens of thousands of new wells. If fracking can be done safely, it could be a major source of domestic energy over the next century. Shale gas makes up about 14 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply today, but is expected to reach 45 percent by 2035. But first, serious environmental concerns must be addressed. Earlier this year, a Duke University study of 68 private groundwater wells in Pennsylvania and New York state found evidence that shale-gas extraction has caused them to become contaminated with methane. One key recommendation by the panel is a call for transparency regarding the use of chemicals in the extraction process. Drillers say they would like to keep the exact formula of the chemicals they use secret because it represents a competitive advantage."
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US Energy Panel Cautiously Endorses Fracking

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  • WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Syberz (1170343) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:18AM (#37066898) Homepage

    The U.S. Energy Department endorses this horrible process?!? All of the places where this technology was used has resulted in contaminating the neighboring population's water.

    Oh wait, it also resulted in the harvesting of gas... well that trumps everything then.

    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Informative)

      by drunkahol (143049) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:23AM (#37066926)

      Fracking is just another tool in the arsenal of getting hydrocarbons from the ground. Doing it too close to underground wells, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. I would suggest that these cases come down to negligence on the part of the individual drilling company rather than an systematic failure of the process as a whole.

      • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Syberz (1170343) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:31AM (#37066990) Homepage
        I'm not saying that the process doesn't work, I'm saying that whenever it's used it also contaminates the ground water. Even if you're careful, it's more than likely that you will contaminate the water so unless the odds improve, this tech should not be approved for use, even far from civilization as water is a more important resource than gas.
        • And how do you heat your home in the winter?
          • by Syberz (1170343)
            Currently, via electricity produced by hydroelectric dams. Yes, flooding large swatches of land is a bad thing, but it's cleaner energy than coal, shale gas or oil. My province (Quebec) is also currently working on adding cleaner sources such as wind and tides. Fracking was also proposed, but the outcry from the population put a break on that endeavor and the government decided to invest in cleaner forms of energy (energy companies here are owned by the government).
            • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Slime-dogg (120473) on Friday August 12, 2011 @10:08AM (#37068524) Journal

              Currently, via electricity produced by hydroelectric dams. Yes, flooding large swatches of land is a bad thing, but it's cleaner energy than coal, shale gas or oil. My province (Quebec) is also currently working on adding cleaner sources such as wind and tides. Fracking was also proposed, but the outcry from the population put a break on that endeavor and the government decided to invest in cleaner forms of energy (energy companies here are owned by the government).

              Hydroelectric power is the reason that the NWP region is losing salmon populations. There is no "clean" power. It either screws up the ecosystem by way of pollution, screws up the ecosystem by displacement, or screws up the ecosystem by removing energy from the atmosphere and messing up weather patterns.

              Stop lying to make yourself feel special. Thanks.

              • by Syberz (1170343)

                I said that hydro-electric was cleaner than the other methods, not totally clean. I also said that other methods were looked into that might be cleaner still.

                Learn how to read. Thanks.

                I do however agree with you that there is no source of power which is 100% clean, but just because that's true it doesn't mean that we shouldn't care where the power comes from.

          • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Funny)

            by Zerth (26112) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:37AM (#37067580)

            And how do you heat your home in the winter?

            Open the taps and light a match?

          • Nuclear? It's still more manageable than fracking. These chemicals are usually carciogens. Just look up burning tap water, and the health statistics in the affected regions.

            • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Interesting)

              by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7&cornell,edu> on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:29AM (#37068026) Homepage

              Yup. 5-10 years of fracking has sickened more people than the entire history of civilian nuclear power. Maybe even pseudo-civilian power which lets you count Chernobyl.

              The big difference here is:
              Gas industry - "We have no problems. We are 100% safe. That contamination didn't happen. We're 100% safe." - In the past 5-10 years we have seen ZERO improvements to their operational techniques to improve safety and eliminate underground blowouts and spills.

              Nuclear industry - "If we fuck up, bad shit's going to happen. Let's go to great lengths to prevent it from happening, and if we have a close call we'll immediately modify other plants to address it." - Even before Fukushima happened, plant designers decided that it COULD happen, as unlikely as it was, and addressed its failure modes in modern plant designs.

              There's a constant evolution of safety in the nuclear industry, with core damage probabilities constantly moving downwards. There is no such evolution in the gas industry.

              Drilling near me - HELL NO. Nuke plant upriver from me on the Susquehanna? - Sure, if it means no drilling and no coal plants!

              I'll take living a mile from a nuke plant (especially a modernized one like an AP1000 or ESBWR) over 5 from a coal plant and anywhere downriver of a gas drilling site any day.

      • by S.O.B. (136083)

        Fracking is just another tool in the arsenal of getting hydrocarbons from the ground. Doing it too close to underground wells, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. I would suggest that these cases come down to negligence and/or greed on the part of the individual drilling company rather than an systematic failure of the process as a whole.

        FTFY

      • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:23AM (#37067414) Homepage

        Drillers say they would like to keep the exact formula of the chemicals they use secret because it represents a competitive advantage.

        And they should be allowed to keep their formulas secret.

        However, if they do, they shouldn't be allowed to inject them into the environment.

        (COMPANY: "I need approval to make a chemical release into the environment." EPA: "OK, what chemical?" COMPANY: "We can't tell you, it's secret." EPA: "OK, here's your permit."

        WTF?

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Seems like I just found a cheap way to get rid of nuclear waste. I will just make it part of my new fracking formula.

      • by Sloppy (14984)

        President Muffley: General Turgidson! When you instituted the human reliability tests, you assured me there was no possibility of such a thing ever occurring!

        Buck Turgidson: Well, I, don't think it's quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up, sir.

      • by Hadlock (143607)

        A major problem with fracking is that Texas is a prime candidate for the process, but at the same time relies heavily on regional aquifers for our drinking water due to drought conditions pretty much every summer. The fact that an external electric company poached our electrical generation capacity two years ago and did a bunch of bad things immediately after the acquisition doesn't leave me much faith that there will be many safety precautions, let alone feigning them. Texas is extremely liberal when it co

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      The technology is still new and the full environmental impact isn't known. Trying it out in a controlled method as they ramp up to more is reasonable. This method is no worse then other energy extracting methods such as drilling for oil or coal mining. We need smart environmental laws that realize that some things do have a cost however the benefits out weight the costs. It seems like environuts are booing every idea that has a negative impact on the environment, forcing us to stick to the old end even m

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by Syberz (1170343)
        I agree that better methods are needed and that current methods aren't great, but fracking has been proven to be a problem and the benefits definitely do not outweigh the cost. This documentary provides quite a bit of info on the subject [gaslandthemovie.com].
      • by Teun (17872)
        There's nothing new about hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas reservoirs.

        As a matter of fact I'm this very moment involved in one.

        The reservoir is 3,500 m. down, the salt dome that for in excess of 250 million years has prevented the gas to seep up has by the frac process not been affected in any way and continues to contain the valuable energy till the reservoir has been depleted by the investing company.
        This is not to say oil or gas recovery can't cause serious issues when regulations aren't followed.

    • There's more to it, methane and water do not mix, yes methane can flow into underground water wells, they often do naturally. If one wanted to, some entrepreneurial person could easily come up with something to separate the water and methane out of ground. Then people who own this device gets methane to heat/power/cook with for free. Another major factor about "fracking" it has been around for decades since 1947 for gas and oil, the first official use is dated to 1903, Why worry about it now? Sounds like me
      • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by GrumpySteen (1250194) on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:14AM (#37067904)

        > Another major factor about "fracking" it has been around for decades since 1947 for gas and oil, the first official use is dated to 1903, Why worry about it now? Sounds like media scare tactics.

        Asbestos was used for insulation since 1857 and the first usage of it goes back at least 4,500 years. Why worry about it now?

        Radium-laced water was used to cure virtually everything around the start of the 20th century. Why worry about it now?

        Thalidomide was used to combat morning sickness since 1957. Why worry about it now?

        Maybe because we've actually learned that some of the things done in the past turned out to be staggeringly stupid and short sighted?

      • by Andy Dodd (701)

        We're worrying about it now because the way it is being used has changed, and it has become FAR more widespread.

        As a result - contamination is happening left and right.

    • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7&cornell,edu> on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:23AM (#37067976) Homepage

      Simple - all but one of the members of this panel had proven ties to the gas industry.

      I support gas drilling if it can be done responsibly and safely. The problem is that right now, there is no evidence that it is possible to do it responsibly and safely.

      It isn't a technical problem, it's a political/management one - If the gas drilling companies said, "OK, we just fucked up, here's what we are doing to prevent it from happening again." - I'd be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt after a few screwups.

      The problem is that their attitude is, "Nothing wrong ever happened. The contamination is not our fault... Some bacteria crawled into your well that had been clean for decades at around the same time we started drilling. No, there isn't any connection. Drilling is safe!" - They refuse to acknowledge their problems and mistakes and take responsibility for them, and as a result, those mistakes keep getting made over and over again.

      If New York approves gas drilling, I'm seriously considering moving elsewhere. The uncertainty of hydrofracking is why I haven't bought a house yet - I'm screwed if house values around here plummet due to hydrofracturing.

  • by decora (1710862) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:19AM (#37066902) Journal

    There are already thousands and thosuands of wells all over the United States, that was the whole point of part of Cheney's energy plan.

    Please see GASLAND by Josh Fox.

    Fun fact - the people who own those mineral rights probably don't care about the environmental damage, they are getting massively rich. if you could somehow spread out the wind-power profits to tens of thousands of people you might see more political support for wind farms.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by cowboy76Spain (815442)

      Fun fact - the people who own those mineral rights probably don't care about the environmental damage, they are getting massively rich. if you could somehow spread out the wind-power profits to a few hundreds of wealthy people you might see more political support for wind farms.

      There, fixed that for you.

    • by Gideon Wells (1412675) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:45AM (#37067098)

      I live near State College, Pa. Knew several people who went wind farming as in this state there is a group that will pay you if you generate surplus energy. I've heard nothing from complaints about single digit pay outs. Your wind farm idea won't work here.

      Marcellus Shale? There are the people who don't want it due to environmental reasons and the people in rural communities who have $28,000 average house hold incomes thinking this is he best golden era for the state since the coal mines and lumber clear cutting. The area needs money badly.

      Not just drilling is helping us. Businesses that were shut down due to the economy have reopened and retooled to M.S. support. General metal fabricators are now reopening as dedicated parts crafters for well pads. Welders are producing storage tanks. Cash strapped municiplaties are selling water to be used for fracking. There are roads that were once paved, deteriorated into gravel that were repaved by the Shale Drillers in order to have good roads for their trucks. Locals are now being hired for 2-4x the average salary for the area. There are even talks in several communities of building frack water treatment facilities.

      Jobs, money, etc. are being created by shale when green energy such as the ethanol plant a county away is shutting down. I just wish it was all being done by something without such negative impacts.

      Additional Fun Facts:
      * Mineral rights != Shale rights in PA. We also have a thing called gas rights.
      * Well drillers can drill on your property if you want it or not if your neighbors sell their rights but your property is the only one around that can support a well.

      • it ran out. there are other places we can get it cheaper.

        what will happen to the gas?

        same thing.

        your fossil fuel ideas wont work here.

      • Small scale alternative energy can only work when there is net metering, where you get paid per kWh what you pay to consume it. Where there is net metering (e.g. Germany) small, distributed, eco-friendly power generation is going up like a mofo. Of course, they are spending some tax money to subsidize this, but actually having sufficient power generation is a worthy goal.

        However, the goal here in the USA is to permit corporations to control every power plant and every source of clean water. If they can ruin your drinking water, you are now vastly more likely to buy bottled water for more per gallon than gasoline. If you can't get paid for your excess power they're betting you won't put in any of your own power generation and you will remain at their mercy.

        They also want to be the sole source of food, but we can talk about that later.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:42AM (#37067624)

        Same bullshit argument, different day.
        I grew up in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. The lion's share of the town's economy was tied to the forest products industry. The timber barons got rich, the rivers and streams got silted and polluted, the old growth forests were destroyed (and won't be back for centuries), and "the jobs" so loudly touted by those industry barons are long gone. On the whole, I'd say that was a lousy trade. The argument that the temporary economic boon is welcome despite the risks is laughable. That deal will make a few folks rich, and will eventually leave the community worse off than it is now (jobless and

        poisoned. Think harder.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Same goes for Seattle. Jet City just about shut down during the 70s when Boeing was doing massive layoffs because we were that dependent upon that one industry. Since then we've diversified greatly, but we still get a substantial income from only a couple industries and we'll be in a world of hurt in the longshoreman decide to get greedy again. The last time that happened a lot of shipping moved down to Tacoma.

      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:54AM (#37068292) Homepage

        You should read up on the concept of Resource Curse [wikipedia.org]. In fact, your region has already dealt with those issues twice according to your post (coal, timber). Yes, you make money in the short term which is hard to ignore because long term your region has gone through several boom bust cycles and you're in one of the 'bust' times at present.

        Shale gas, while interesting and perhaps important in the short term suffers from two significant drawbacks. First is the fallout from hydrofracking. As several posters have pointed out, this is a technical issue and can be mitigated by best practices. Which somehow never seem to happen (cf, the nuclear power industry). The second is harder to escape. It is a very short term [businessinsider.com] resource. In 5-10-20 years (not the 100 year timeframe that is bandied about by industry), the pressures will drop to unusable levels. Yes, you can 're frack' but that's expensive and natural gas (currently) isn't.

        So, you're back to another resource that temporarily brought some economic good to the region, allowed a few lucky people to cash out and trashes the environment for everyone for long periods of time. You all should at least take the hint from Alaska [wikipedia.org] and try to keep the money in state a bit longer.

    • GASLAND?? You mean the one where they showed that the methane gas in the water wasn't from fracking but naturally occurring seepage into the water reservoir, and the fact that it wasn't even in the same place or state the film was supposed to be filmed in?? That Gasland? ya right....
      • no, i mean GASLAND (Score:5, Insightful)

        by decora (1710862) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:13AM (#37067300) Journal

        the film that causes gas industry PR people to shit bricks, because it shows several people, on film, setting their water on fire, and because it has interviews with people who have had the gas companies pay for their new water supplies (trucked in periodically), and because Josh Fox has discussed what happened to those people for daring to talk to him - the gas companies shut off their supply of water.

        initimidation and persecution are not the tactics of an group that has the facts behind their cause.

        • by Tomato42 (2416694) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:21AM (#37067394)
          Thing is, it's not because of gas companies that there is methane in water. It's a natural process that was happening for at least few hundred years.

          It's not like they are without fault, but I give credit where credit is due.
          • its also natural for people with lots of money to hire PR flacks to spread lies to attack anyone who threatens their power.

            that has been happening for at least a few hundred years.

          • by radtea (464814)

            It's a natural process that was happening for at least few hundred years.

            Show me the data.

            That is, show me the rate of gas leakage into the water in the affected houses over the last thirty years. Even one data point from a decade ago, before fracking began, would be sufficient. Find a home-owner from the 80's or 90's who says, "Yeah, I used have to be careful 'cause I was a smoker and I didn't want to blow the place up."

            Otherwise your claim is just hot air.

            • by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7&cornell,edu> on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:37AM (#37068104) Homepage

              This is why no one trusts the gas industry.

              They keep claiming biogenic methane was the cause.

              1) In the case of some of the Colorado incidents, the state EPA was apparently receiving funds from the oil companies. Eventually the federal EPA came in and tested - the conclusion was that the methane was NOT biogenic in nature but matched the shale gas in isotopic content.
              2) Do you really expect me to believe that multiple wells which have provided clean water for decades suddenly become contaminated with biogenic methane within a year or to, if not only months, after drilling commences?

      • No, it wasn’t naturally occurring. People who lived by fracked wells had FINE water. Post fracking, animals lost hair and died, the local EPA told them to stop drinking water and their water LIGHTS ON FIRE!!. SO SOMEHOW the “component chemicals’ of Haliburtons frack mixture shows up in water sources??? You have a agenda to fool the public. Truth tells the opposite of what you write. YOu're just another energy lobbyist.
        • by ZonkerWilliam (953437) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:29AM (#37067492) Journal

          No, it wasn’t naturally occurring. People who lived by fracked wells had FINE water. Post fracking, animals lost hair and died, the local EPA told them to stop drinking water and their water LIGHTS ON FIRE!!. SO SOMEHOW the “component chemicals’ of Haliburtons frack mixture shows up in water sources??? You have a agenda to fool the public. Truth tells the opposite of what you write. YOu're just another energy lobbyist.

          I wish I was an energy lobbyist, could use the money, just a mild mannered physicist. You don't have to take what I said, look here;

          http://www.energyindepth.org/2010/06/debunking-gasland/ [energyindepth.org]

          quoted passage;

          From GASLAND; “In 2004, the EPA was investigating a water contamination incident due to hydraulic fracturing in Alabama. But a panel rejected the inquiry, stating that although hazard materials were being injected underground, EPA did not need to investigate.”

          * No record of the investigation described by Fox exists, so EID reached out to Dr. Dave Bolin, deputy director of Alabama’s State Oil & Gas Board and the man who heads up oversight of hydraulic fracturing in that state. In an email, he said he had “no recollection” of such an investigation taking place.

          * That said, it’s possible that Fox is referring to EPA’s study of the McMillian well in Alabama, which spanned several years in the early- to mid-1990s. In 1989, Alabama regulators conducted four separate water quality tests on the McMillian well. The results indicated no water quality problems existed. In 1990, EPA conducted its own water quality tests, and found nothing.

          * In a letter sent in 1995, then-EPA administrator Carol Browner (currently, President Obama’s top energy and environmental policy advisor) characterized EPA’s involvement with the McMillian case in the following way: “Repeated testing, conducted between May of 1989 and March of 1993, of the drinking water well which was the subject of this petition [McMillian] failed to show any chemicals that would indicate the presence of fracturing fluids. The well was also sampled for drinking water quality, and no constituents exceeding drinking water standards were detected.”

          * For information on what actually did happen in Alabama during this time, and how it’s relevant to the current conversation about the Safe Drinking Water Act, please download the fact sheet produced last year by the Coalbed Methane Association of Alabama.

          • by Andy Dodd (701)

            1) The light-your-water-on-fire incidents were in Colorado and PA. In both cases they were proven to be connected to drilling. In the case of Colorado, the state-level EPA (which has multiple high-level employees with financial ties to the gas industry) ruled that it was biogenic. The federal-level EPA reviewed this and concluded that the methane was NOT biogenic and matched shale gas in isotopic content.

            2) They reached out to a member of the gas industry and he said he had "no recollection" - it's jus

            • 1) The light-your-water-on-fire incidents were in Colorado and PA. In both cases they were proven to be connected to drilling. In the case of Colorado, the state-level EPA (which has multiple high-level employees with financial ties to the gas industry) ruled that it was biogenic. The federal-level EPA reviewed this and concluded that the methane was NOT biogenic and matched shale gas in isotopic content.

              2) They reached out to a member of the gas industry and he said he had "no recollection" - it's just more gas industry "sweep it under the rug" tactics.

              Actually that was the state office, not a oil & gas company.

    • Gasland was pretty good, I also recommend a recent This American Life episode on fracking: Game Changer [thisamericanlife.org].

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "In our judgment, they should disclose the entire suite of chemicals," except in "very rare" instances in which chemicals are judged to be truly proprietary, John Deutch, chairman of the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, told The Associated Press.

    Always giving them a loophole.

    But the panel also said the industry's stock reply that fracking has been performed safely for more than 60 years won't succeed in convincing a skeptical public.

    Of course the public is skeptical. I'm a cynic - industry will always lie to protect their profits even if it harms public health. There are no exceptions.

    And continuing with my cynicism:

    The panel said it "shares the prevailing view" that fracking poses a low risk to drinking water supplies because thousands of feet of earth separate fracking chemicals from groundwater.

    The panel was "lobbied" by industry and was "pressured" by the politicians to say that - to put it nicely.

  • Magic Formula (Score:5, Insightful)

    by atheos (192468) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:23AM (#37066924) Homepage
    "Drillers say they would like to keep the exact formula of the chemicals they use secret because it represents a competitive advantage" Good luck with that. Food and beverage manufactures were required to list their "ingredients", and they sky didn't fall.
    • by rilian4 (591569)
      You're mixing up formula w/ ingredients. No food or beverage manufacturer has to put their recipe out for the world to see...only the ingredients list. These drillers are asking not to have to reveal their "exact formula". Emphasis on FORMULA.
  • by The_mad_linguist (1019680) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:26AM (#37066940)

    Here's the complete list of the things the US Energy Panel has Cautiously Endorsed this week
            * Shooting for oil
            * Bristols for oil
            * Peeving for oil
            * Fracking for oil
            * Berkeley Hunting for oil
            * Cork-sinking for oil
            * Motherfracking for oil

  • by Zocalo (252965) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:28AM (#37066968) Homepage
    It didn't last for very long though. The process was halted back in June after multiple earthquakes, and the UK is pretty stable geologically - earthquakes strong enough to be felt usually make the national news - so a connection seems highly likely. Coverage at the BBC [bbc.co.uk], FT [ft.com] and Independent [independent.co.uk].

    Still, it is good for a chuckle every now and again if you are a Galactica fan since journos keep using headlines starting with "Fracking Protesters..." until someone gets it changed. :)
    • by Talderas (1212466)

      Now all we need is a process called "Frelling" and I'll be happy. Preferably have frelling be somewhat related to fracking so I can see both words used in the same sentence.

    • by slyrat (1143997)

      It didn't last for very long though. The process was halted back in June after multiple earthquakes, and the UK is pretty stable geologically - earthquakes strong enough to be felt usually make the national news - so a connection seems highly likely. Coverage at the BBC [bbc.co.uk], FT [ft.com] and Independent [independent.co.uk].

      NPR reported on the same sort of thing happening in Faulkner County, Ark [npr.org]. I think they later stopped the drills for a period to see if it stopped the small quakes and found that the quakes did stop.

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:29AM (#37066974)
    I personally tend to agree with this cautious endorsement, but because I live right on top of the Marcellus shale, my otherwise sane friends are freaking about about hydrofracking. I'd love to have an independent and evidence-based source to help me make sense of this. Don't tell me about Gasland and other anecdotal accounts. I'm finding that even I and other educated people don't have much of an idea just how typical Gasland-style anecdotes are, how much gas is won for each such case of methane leakage, and just how bad it is to get methane in your well water? Is this the sort of thing for which we have a filter?
    • by decora (1710862) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:18AM (#37067360) Journal

      the national association for the advancement of civilization,

      the companies who love birds and squirrels and bunnies alliance

      the patriotic america loving job creation coalition

      the brilliant people who hate losers organization

      the anti-baby-killing league of mothers committee

      and many many other independent groups, none of whom receive 100% of their funding from the oil and gas companies

    • by Rayonic (462789)

      and just how bad it is to get methane in your well water? Is this the sort of thing for which we have a filter?

      According to Wikipedia methane is non-toxic, colorless, and odorless.

      So clearly Wikipedia is in the pocket of Big Methane. Someone should make a documentary about how Wikipedia has sold out. For citations they can cite this post, and I'm sure you can find enough anecdotes to fill a movie.

    • by Teun (17872)

      and just how bad it is to get methane in your well water? Is this the sort of thing for which we have a filter?

      You ask a very dangerous and stupid question.

      It's more prudent to ask "why should there be methane be released into our water?

      Because when proper engineering practises are employed there is no need what so ever for such a release.
      As someone working in the industry I say a frac that causes/ allows gas seeping/leaking into an aquifer is a horribly failed project that's probably going to cost more in clean up than the well's production could ever make up for.

  • Horizontal drilling is a lot easier now than it used to be so fracking isn't the cheap and nasty option any more - merely the nasty option that isn't really needed.
    In most parts of the world pretending it's a secret mix of chemicals will not get you anywhere near a drilling permit. Parts of the USA are of course special and business can do whatever it likes so long as the words "trade secret" are used, but this method is no longer the vastly cheaper option so expect it to die out even where environmental p
  • Too fracking bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by calzones (890942) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:36AM (#37067024)

    "Drillers say they would like to keep the exact formula of the chemicals they use secret because it represents a competitive advantage."

    Too fracking bad.

    Besides, there's no need for secret competitive advantage when it comes to energy. They all rake in billions regardless. It's a natural resource and it's up to us to monitor how it's used. If you don't want to be in the lucrative energy business because you dislike the transparency that needs to accompany it, then you need to find another business to be in.

  • by mcelrath (8027) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:39AM (#37067042) Homepage

    Here's an easy solution: require oil companies to put trace additives that are uniquely identifiable into the chemicals they inject. (e.g. custom molecules that identify the oil company/well). Then if these chemicals are found in drinking water, lakes or streams, you know where they came from, and can issue a massive fine to the oil company and well owner. This way they can keep their fracking formula secret, and will self-police themselves to some extent as long as the fines are sufficiently large that it destroys any profit from breaking the rules.

    There have to be a few chemists, oil guys, and political wonks reading. Do it.

    • by omglolbah (731566)

      A significant portion of the pollution is not caused by the injected material though. It is caused by the hydrocarbons being released in the wrong place.

      Some of the components of the underground deposits are fairly nasty... benzene, hexane, heptane and various other things.

      • by mcelrath (8027)
        And the released hydrocarbons wouldn't mix with the fracking material?
        • by omglolbah (731566) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:17AM (#37067338)

          That depends entirely on the trace material used to 'tag' the well.
          The trace molecules would also have to be stable under high pressure, high temperature and in the presence of all the OTHER chemicals used in the fracking process.

          I like the idea of tagging the chemicals like this but calling it an 'easy solution' is a bit misleading. It is an easy concept, but not that easy to implement in practice :(

          • by mcelrath (8027)

            I'm not a chemist, so I can't evaluate how "easy" this is. But yes, one would need to identify a compound (or more likely a set of related compounds) that is biologically inactive, soluble in both water and hydrocarbons, and not naturally occuring. Perhaps some organic molecules with strong bonds and something odd, like a metal bound to it. Or hell, buckyballs with some metal inside and some OH groups on the outside.

            This idea should probably apply universally to all industries releasing materials into

          • by deimtee (762122)
            The obvious answer is to tag them with specific isotopes, rather than chemicals. You start getting significant quantities of C14 in your methane, you know something is leaking.
    • by Teun (17872)
      This is similar to 'Fingerprinting' what has been around for years without the need for additional chemicals, it's the reservoir fluid that gets fingerprinted and the prints are kept by the regulating authority who pulls them out when a spill needs to be traced.
  • While I understand the issue with other chemicals, why should it be bad if water is contamined with methane? Wouldn't it just "precipitate" (in a gaseous form) when the water gets to the surface?.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      It boils out at atmospheric pressure, leaving you with water + an explosive gas.

    • So you're smoking a cigarette near the sink and pour yourself a glass of water. Next thing you know you're 300 yards away sitting in a huge pile of rubble that used to be your house!

    • According to Wikipedia, Methane has a solubility of 35mg/L in water at 17C. Back of the envelope calculation tells me that's about 5% in volume.
      That is a whole lot of methane that you would be ingesting day after day of drinking contaminated water.
      And probably wouldn't simply make for more spectacular farts.

    • There are some videos out there of what happens when a Fracking operation messes up. Your water faucet might as well be pumping out gasoline, you can ignite what comes out. Some of the fireballs coming out are quite impressive.

      Think "Carbonated Water" only instead of caron dioxide it's a flamable gas.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday August 12, 2011 @07:40AM (#37067052) Journal
    While transparency in public policy(and the contents of one's water supply) is generally better than the alternative, there is a very, very, important caveat:

    Without accountability, and without means of redress(at least sufficient to be useful in practice, ie. typically not civil court for anybody who doesn't have substantial resources, and ideally sufficient to restrain, rather than merely punish, wrongdoing), transparency is basically just a PR stunt.

    If it is wholly legal, or de-facto legal because nobody can afford to sue and wait a decade while the lawyers hash it out, to expose my water supply to fracking chemicals, it barely matters whether I get to know what is in them or not. If I do, writing that retrospective paper for the Journal of Epidemiological Toxicology will be a lot easier for some researcher. If I don't, I'll just have to live with the suspicion that my water's observable properties are alarming, and the local cancer rates seem high.

    Short form: Impunity renders transparency irrelevant.
  • In the world of BSG, fracking is always a good thing.
    • Just like RL, it depends on who you're fracking, how they feel about it, and what the side-effects are.... :-)
    • by slyrat (1143997)

      In the world of BSG, fracking is always a good thing.

      Interesting, I always associated it with Netrunner [wikipedia.org]. It was in the flavor text of a few cards and in the names of a few too.

    • by TeknoHog (164938)
      But this is not BSG, this is fracking boring.
  • One key recommendation by the panel is a call for transparency regarding the use of chemicals in the extraction process. Drillers say they would like to keep the exact formula of the chemicals they use secret because it represents a competitive advantage.

    Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the ability to grant time-limited monopolies on technologies to advance the public good. Congress could easily pass a law granting them a monopoly for 5 years on the use of the technique if they will open it up to public

    • something that has been going on for something like 10 years already?

    • by Sloppy (14984)

      The industry might not like that. Two big risks:

      1. What if analysis of the problem leads to the conclusion that it's unsafe? The practice might get banned, or they might have to pay for the externality instead of getting the subsidy they're currently getting. Shifting water-cleanup costs to people who drink water is a damn sweet deal.
      2. What if all the competing companies are basically all using the same trade secret? Turn it into more of a patent thing, and then There Can Be Only One. And that's great it yo
    • 1) Economics is much closer to religion than to science.

      2) Libertarian economics is the Scientology of economic theory.

      3) Zombie Mandelbrot thinks y'all are a bunch of dumbasses.

  • by mmcuh (1088773)
    Just leave the gas down there. Do these people never learn from their mistakes?
  • by rbrander (73222) on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:19AM (#37067942) Homepage

    This is not just crusading journalists and panicking farmers. The (peer-reviewed) journal of the American Waterworks Association, September 2010, which mostly has articles like "Characterization of filter media MnOx(s) surfaces and Mn removal capability", also has an article on "The Threat From Hydrofracking" by Paul Rush, the deputy commissioner for water supply for New York City. It's an opinion article, not a scientific paper, but he lays out his case as if it were.

    The industry's largest concern is that everybody has been forbidden to get involved in the regulation or permitting of these businesses - talk about your big-government incursion into (very) local concerns, like what's in your water source. Normally, water supply utilities are also charged by the state with protecting the watershed, and can do things like bring suit against hog farms that would let in e. coli. Not here.

    As Rush puts it, "...the technical assessment indicated that migration of methane or fluids through natural fractures in the bedrock, some extending for miles, could compromise the city's aqueducts and shafts...Additionally, given the New York State regulatory infrastructure and the rules governing compulsory integration, drillers could potentially receive a permit authorizing horizontal drilling directly below a water supply tunnel without city authorization".

    Being the guy responsible for the water quality, and then having any power to challenge a threat to it removed because Dick Cheney wanted to make sure no NIMBYs got in his friend's way, is fairly frightening.

    The thing is, this stuff won't go away. At least if it were nuclear waste, it would naturally decay. But once they fill up a network of cracks with this stuff, in the exact geology where you know there's pressure from below, could result in a slow steady feed of it up through cracks and into the water, for decades. Or centuries. And you can inject it in, but you can't suck it out; no way to clean.

    It's not unreasonable to study it further before using this technology near much-used watersheds like, well, all through densely-populated New York and Pennsylvania; part of the industry strategy has very, very clearly been to NOT study this issue so far.

  • Doesn't most of Deer Park's spring water come from Pennsylvania nowadays? And aren't there also huge profits to be had from selling people bottled water? And isn't Deer Park a division of Nestle, the largest food and nutrition corporation in the world?

    It would appear that there's a big business versus big business feud brewing. I'm pretty sure Nestle isn't going to stand for methane and carcinogens getting into their profits.
  • by hesaigo999ca (786966) on Friday August 12, 2011 @10:32AM (#37068870) Homepage Journal

    >Drillers say they would like to keep the exact formula of the chemicals they use secret because it represents a competitive advantage."
    When i read this, the only thing i think of is the BP disaster and how because of such subterfuge, all was hidden until it was too late, then everything was reviewed, and now seems to be swept under the rug, but we never got anywhere , no trials, nothing happened.....no one was hung for the spill.

    This to me will just allow them to do the same with this industry.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday August 12, 2011 @10:32AM (#37068878)
    Natural gas has half the carbon footprint of coal or petroleum. A massive shift away from these to to natural gas will reduce US carbon emissions. Plus there s an economic incentive to use gas. Bio fuels and solar require huge government subsidies which may not survive in this era of government cutting.

    The main scientific caveat is methane is a strong greenhouse gas in its own right- twenty times more power per pound than CO2. Its half life-time in the atmosphere is 20 years compared to millennia for CO2. I've seen calculations that if six percent of the natural leaks at production or shipping, then it will cancel its greenhouse effectiveness. There isnt very good data as to current industry leakage rates. Some of the pessimists put at least six percent.

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