A fact-based conversation about fracking

Local columns in The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

Oct 31, 2020 Randi Pokladnik

Let’s have a fact-based conversation about fracking rather than attempt to “greenwash” the industry and completely ignore the externalities as Greg Kozera’s Oct. 17 op-ed did in The Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

Fracking has been around since the Civil War in 1865. Horizontal high-pressure hydraulic fracturing aka fracking, became popular in the 1990s. It employs fracking along with the drilling of long lateral wells to extract oil and gas.

Economics was the main driving force behind the fracking boom. Charts found at the Energy Information Agency show oil demands increasing at the same time production was dwindling in the USA. Therefore, oil prices climbed, reaching a peak of $140 a barrel in 2009. This increase meant more money was available for oil companies to invest in a capital-intensive process like fracking.

Horizontal high-pressure hydraulic fracking requires major investments in infrastructure such as pipelines, compressor stations and fractionators it also requires water, sand and chemicals. The U.S. EPA and Department of Energy said that an average of seven million gallons of fluid are used for each well. If one percent are chemical additives, that means upwards of over 70,000 gallons of chemicals including biocides, surfactants, and anti-corrosive agents are required for each well. Additionally, a study by Yale Public Health found that of these hundreds of chemicals, over 80 percent have never been reviewed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Of the 119 that have been reviewed by IARC, 55 were found to be carcinogenic. Among the chemicals most frequently used in fracking, 24 are known to block the hormone receptors in humans, according to a 2017 study published in Science Direct.

Fracking has contaminated water wells and a 2020 article in the Journal of Petroleum Technology stated “wellbore integrity cannot be taken for granted.” The XTO Energy well blowout in Belmont County in February 2018 was from a “failure of the gas well’s casing or internal lining.” This blowout released the equivalent of an entire year’s worth of methane by oil and gas industries in countries like France.

Methane gas is much more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas and according to a study in Biogeosciences, a significant portion of the anthropocentric methane emission increases are due to the fracking boom in North America.

The waste water left over after a well is fracked is known as “produced water.” In addition to brine, which is a result of the prehistoric conditions which formed the oil and gas reserves, the waste also contains radioactive materials (Radium -226 and Radium-228) and any chemicals initially injected with the fluid.

In 1978, the EPA exempted oil and gas wastes from exploration and production activities from the hazardous waste management program Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This includes produced water, drilling fluids and drill cuttings. Yet, in 2002 the EPA admitted that just because the wastes were exempt this did not mean that wastes could not present a hazard to human health and the environment.

The oil and gas industries are also exempt or excluded from certain sections of these federal environmental laws: Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to Know Act.

To claim that “millions of jobs” will go away if fracking is banned is misleading at best. The industry has been in decline for several years. An August 2020 article in OilPrice.com stated, “Driven by low prices not seen much in modern history, formerly high-flying shale drillers like Chesapeake Energy have gone bankrupt. The Service providers like Halliburton and Schlumberger have written off tens of billions worth of fracking-related equipment, closed facilities and laid off thousands of workers.”

Unlike oil and gas, solar and wind “feedstock” is free and as pointed out in a recent CleanTechnica article, “it takes years to design, build and activate any coal or gas-powered facility.” A 50 MW wind farm can be built in six months. Residential solar can be installed in a few days.

Internal reports show oil and gas industry scientists knew back in the 1980s about the negative effects their products would have on the earth’s climate. Yet, for nearly thirty years they spent millions of dollars promoting climate denial. They also realized clean renewable energy is quickly replacing dirty fossil fuels. In order to save their bottom line, they are now pushing plastics production as a use for fracked gas.

About 42 percent of the 300 million tons of plastic produced each year is used once and thrown away. This includes beverage bottles, take out containers and plastic wrap. Our planet is literally drowning in plastic, it is in the tap water, beer, fish, soil and air. Microplastics and toxic plasticizers permeate our bodies and we are paying for the convenience of plastic with our health.

Wind and solar energy development in the USA lags behind most developed nations. This is not because of a lack of technology or the ability of these sources to supply energy. It is simply a matter of politics and subsidies. HB 6 in Ohio is an example of how the energy industry pays politicians to thwart the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency. USA fossil fuel subsidies are $20 billion a year.

I suggest everyone take ten minutes to read the brief document called “The Green New Deal.” It calls for “achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers” and to ” eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible.” It does not say we will do away with all fossil fuels.

The fact is our planet is in trouble. A wise person would think twice before investing in plastic-making companies that squander a finite resource to make beverage bottles and take-out containers. A wise person would address climate change while there is still time to make a difference.