As with any hot-button issue, it is generally easy to find opinions on hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” It’s harder to find unbiased information, and most of us don’t really want to seek out opinions we disagree with. This leads to reinforcing our own view, just as the people we disagree with are having their views reinforced as well.
We all understand that fracking consists of pumping a slurry of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to crack rock substrates and let trapped oil and gas escape. Most of us know that there’s fracking going on in Carbon County now and there are plans for more of it. We’d like to help everyone develop a better understanding of what that actually means.
This is a three-part article:
Fracking: The Argument Against
by Deb Muth, Chair of Carbon County Resource Council
When I was asked to write about why so many of us in Carbon County Resource Council are concerned about hydraulic fracturing I was happy to be able to explain what we’ve learned and seen for ourselves. And it’s important to note that while we are concerned with “fracking” it is merely one step in the oil development process that threatens landowner rights; damages water, land, and wildlife; overwhelms local governments; and harms communities with strained public services. Fracking is only part of the problem.
I also know that the pro-fracking argument states that the technique has existed since 1947, and that it is safer than a napping kitten.
Yet, if fracking is so safe, why are communities across the nation taking action to ban it? Why do communities that have lived with fracking now face irreparable damages to their water supplies and overall quality of life?
And how much are we willing to risk so out-of state-corporations can bring fracking here?
Do Montana’s fracking standards ensure our safety? I haven’t seen much in the state’s response that gives me faith in its capacity to protect our community and prevent the degradation of our natural resources.
One example – due to the high pressures needed in fracking, well casings are an essential part of a well’s construction, and crucial for the protection of groundwater in a drilling operation. The well casing is one of the most important protections for landowners, but Montana’s standards are terribly lacking. Montana doesn’t even meet the American Petroleum Institute’s own standards for oil and gas casings. The API suggests minimum standards that Montana would be smart to adopt:
- Conductor Casing: Designed to hold back soil and to protect shallow aquifers. Not required in Montana.
- Surface, Intermediate, Production Casings: Intended to isolate all aquifers. Pressure tests should be performed to determine if casing leakage occurs. Pressure tests not required in Montana.
- Cement Integrity Testing: Ensures the concrete bonds properly. Not required in Montana.
- Centralizers: Designed to remove mud during drilling and ensure that cement completely surrounds the casing after completion. Not required in Montana.
I find it telling that the regulations in place to protect Montanans are far below the industry’s own standards.
It is also worth noting the millions of gallons of water needed to fracture a well. Once mixed with the chemical cocktail, the frack water must then be injected thousands of feet underground. The water, therefore, is completely removed from the useable water cycle. Each time a well is fracked, around 400 semi-loads of water are trucked to the well site (along with more semi-loads of sand and chemicals). Picture that kind of traffic on our rural roads.
So why do I oppose fracking? At the very least, our rights as landowners will be threatened and our quality of life will be altered. A bigger worry is that we are playing Russian roulette with our water because of Montana’s deficient standards.
My family and I moved to the Beartooth Front because it’s a good place to live and make a home. Most others who live here aren’t aiming to get rich quick and then leave, as the oil industry does. This is why we’re fighting to prevent the kind of damages that have plagued residents of other places such as the Bakken; Pavillion, Wyoming; Dimock, Pennsylvania; or the west slope of Colorado.
This is why I am a member of Northern Plains Resource Council and Carbon County Resource Council. We believe it’s better to prevent a disaster than try to clean one up after it happens. We work for laws to ensure responsible development and protect our water. Our community should have the ability to decide how and where oil development occurs.