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 in Favor
Why is fracking a good thing? Why is any other reliable and efficient method of extracting gas & oil a good thing? It creates high-paying jobs for Montanans and produces the energy we need for modern life.
One of these days, alternative energy will be cheap and ubiquitous – at least we hope it will. When the sun, wind, and waves are generating all of our power, we’ll be able to step away from the dirty work of digging holes in the ground to extract coal, oil, and gas. In the meantime, we need to use resources that Montana has in plenty. As we’re using them, we can make better lives for the residents of our beautiful state.
Opponents of fracking use a time-tested strategy for spreading propaganda; it’s called FUD, and it stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. They realize that most Montanans have no idea what fracking actually is, so they have orchestrated a campaign of misinformation. Here are its components:
“This is a new scary technology,” they cry. Actually, fracking has been around since the 1940s, and has been used in millions of wells around the world. As of 2012, over 40% of natural gas production in the U.S. came from fracking. But is it poisoning water? No. Fresh water aquifers hardly ever run below 2,500 feet, and fracking typically takes place at least twice that deep.
But isn’t there stuff leaking through the well casing? The well runs right through an aquifer, right? Sure it does, but remember the process. The well is drilled and then sealed with layers of steel and concrete BEFORE the fracking process ever begins.
When Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, testified before Congress and said, “I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water, although there are investigations ongoing.” And those investigations have turned up nothing so far.
Oil companies consider the exact composition of their fracking fluids to be a trade secret, because they want their techniques to be more efficient than their competition’s techniques – although fracking fluids are typically over 99% water and sand. Opponents interpret this as an attempt to keep secrets from the rest of us. “Yes, they’re fracking deep, but these unknown horrible chemicals will still seep through the rocks into our drinking water.” Think about this for a moment. The entire reason those rocks are being fracked is that they’re IMPERMEABLE! Water and chemicals can’t seep through them! The actual fractures are typically 100-200 feet long, so they don’t go anywhere near the aquifers.
In his book Time Enough for Love, Robert Heinlein said, “Never appeal to a man’s ‘better nature.’ He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage.” Let’s assume for a moment that the people running the oil companies have no better nature. Then what motivates them? Making money. And they can do that by keeping their fracking processes cheap (restitution for a ruined aquifer is pricey), efficient (short fracture lines are much more efficient), and safe (lawsuits can be ruinously expensive).
When there’s not enough evidence to convince someone with facts, make something up. Since opponents of fracking haven’t proven contamination of well water, they are sowing seeds of doubt about earthquakes. “When a fracture line starts a mile underground, what’s to stop it from continuing through the earth and starting an earthquake?” Now, THAT is some scary stuff.
And yes, it’s happened. There have been a couple of cases of tiny earthquakes attributed to fracking. Yes, I said “a couple.” As in two. Compared to the 300-400 every single year in Northern California caused by geothermal energy extraction.
We need to set aside the FUD and look at the facts. Fracking is a safe, well-developed technology that benefits Montana and benefits Carbon County.