Fracking

Page - June 24, 2011
An extreme new approach to oil and gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing—or fracking— is wreaking havoc on communities and the environment across the country.

Greenpeace opposes fracking because it diverts from real solutions (including energy efficiency and renewables), and the full effects on the environment and health has not been fully investigated or addressed.

 



What is fracking?Map of North American Shale Plays

Large shale rock formations lie deep underground throughout much of the U.S. and in many other parts of the planet. These areas, called “shale plays” by the industry, contain a range of hydrocarbons, including methane, natural gas liquids like ethane, and crude oil.  Some of these deep shale deposits, including the Marcellus Shale Formation in the Eastern U.S., contain large reserves of natural gas. Advances in drilling technologies in the last decade have made it possible to extract these reserves, which conventional drilling methods could not reach. As a result, U.S. natural gas production has soared to the highest level since the early 1970s.  Shale gas now supplies over 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to the U.S, one quarter of all U.S. natural gas production.

Hydraulic fracturing,  – or “fracking” – has made the recent gas boom possible.  Fracking is a technique used to break apart the dense shale rock, releasing the hydrocarbons (like gas and oil) contained inside. A combination of sand, water and chemicals are mixed together to create a gel called “frack fluid,” which is then injected under high pressure into the shale rock layer deep underground, creating “fractures” in the shale that allow the gas to seep out. These cracks can extend up to 2,500 feet from the injection well. (See the "Cracks in the Façade" report by the Environmental Working Group for more information)

Though the oil and gas industry claims that fracking has been used safely for decades, there has been little actual study of the environmental effects of the process. In fact, companies engaged in fracking have consistently warned their investors that drilling operations, which include fracking, involve inherent risks including leaks, spills, explosions, blowouts, environmental damage, injury and death. In addition, the scope and scale of today’s hydraulic fracturing has no precedent. Recent advances in technology allow drillers to change the angle of a well underground to drill horizontally and to drill multiple bores from one well pad. This technique, called horizontal multi-directional drilling, has fundamentally changed how fracking is used, giving the gas industry the ability to fracture more of the shale from a single well. Because of the combination of horizontal drilling and fracking, drillers have been able to access formations that were previously inaccessible [fracking allows wells to produce more gas than they otherwise would, but the average gas well today produces less gas than the average well did two decades ago; while per well production has increased recently, it’s not clear whether that’s because wells will produce more over the long term or because so many wells have been drilled recently and production tends to increase in the first few years of a well’s life] – which has led to the rapid proliferation of drilling the U.S. is currently experiencing.  These changes have also created unprecedented demands for water, chemical additives and drilling pressure.


View this diagram which illustrates how fracking works:

fracking diagram

The recent explosive growth of shale drilling due to fracking has major significance for the environment, energy policy and electricity markets.  The industry estimates it will drill almost 100 new wells per day in 2012, on top of the 1.2 million wells already in existence.  The heavy industrial growth of gas drilling has already led to plummeting natural gas prices, which have fallen to a 10-year low.
Barnett shale Wells 1997

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The graphics above show the exponential growth of fracking in the Barnett Shale, in and around Dallas, Texas.  The same growth is occuring in shale plays throughout the country.

According to industry analysts, the current abundance of cheap shale gas has convinced some utilities to convert their coal-fired power plants to burn gas instead. But the long-term environmental impacts of doing so are unclear:  As one study points out, lower electricity prices from the widespread use of gas threatens to stimulate enough overall additional electricity demand to offset any significant greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions made by substituting gas for coal. Moreover the recent surge in renewable energy investments could slow down significantly if shale gas prices continue to exclude GHG costs. (Henry D. Jacoby et al., “The Influence of Shale Gas on U.S. Energy and Environmental Policy,” Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2012).

Furthermore, many experts believe there is far less shale gas than the gas industry claims. This means that a large scale conversion to natural gas could be a waste of time and investment capital, which could instead be used for renewable projects that do not rely on fossil fuel extraction.   

It is important to note that in addition to gas, the industry uses fracking to extract oil and natural gas liquids as well. As gas prices plummet, oil and other liquids remain extremely profitable.  Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest fracking companies in the United States, plans to get 50% of their profits from oil by 2013.

Fracking Resources:

Earthworks:

Environmental Protection Agency: "Hydraulic Fracturing Background Information"

Environmental Working Group: "Drilling and Fracking"

Environmental Working Group: “Drilling Around the Law

The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (Theo Colborn):

Food and Water Watch

Gasland (movie) and The Sky is Pink (short film) by Josh Fox.

National Resource Defense Council

Marten Law’s Legislative and Regulatory Trends Roundup

The Bipartisan Policy Center 

Fractracker

DeSmogBlog: “Fracking the Future

New York Times Drilling Down Series, Ian Urbina

Local and State Groups:

Colorado:

STRONGER (State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations):

 STRONGER was formed in 1999 to reinvigorate and carry forward the state review process begun cooperatively in 1988 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC). STRONGER is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization whose purpose is to assist states in documenting the environmental regulations associated with the exploration, development and production of crude oil and natural gas. 

Earthworks

Earthworks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of irresponsible mineral and energy development while seeking sustainable solutions.Earthworks stands for clean water, healthy communities and corporate accountability. 

Western Resource Advocates  

Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is a non-profit environmental law and policy organzation.Our mission is to protect the West’s land, air, and water. Our team of scientists, economists, policy experts and attorneys: 1) advance clean energy to reduce pollution and global climate change; 2) promote urban water conservation and river restoration; and 3) defend special public lands from energy development and unauthorized off-road vehicle travel. We collaborate with other conservation groups, hunters and fishermen, ranchers and others to ensure a sustainable future for the West. 

Eerie Rising:
Erie Rising is a grassroots, mom (parent) powered organization, dedicated to protecting our children, our health, our environment and our community, as well as those beyond our reach. Founded by accomplished women, mothers and business owners, Erie Rising is quickly becoming the an effective grassroots mom-powered organization bringing awareness to the issues related to hydraulic fracturing and concerns for children’s health in Colorado and beyond.

Longmont ROAR:
Our group of concerned citizens come from all over Longmont, and from its neighboring rural areas. We share the hope that the City of Longmont will assert its right to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of our urban community. We want to prevent the wasteful destruction of our environment, preserve our economic vitality and our home values, and conserve Longmont’s water, minerals, parks, wildlife, lakes, trails, streams, open space, and recreational areas for future generations.

Fracking Colorado:
This site will provides information about fracking, to raise awareness of what is happening in Aurora and Colorado, and anywhere else this method of gas and oil extraction is used.

New Mexico:

Earthworks:
Earthworks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of irresponsible mineral and energy development while seeking sustainable solutions.Earthworks stands for clean water, healthy communities and corporate accountability.

New York:

Last year, the state issued a draft plan that would allow shale gas drilling under certain conditions.  The state received more than 66,000 public comments on the plan that ran 10-1 in opposition to shale gas drilling according to Albany Times-Union columnist Fred LeBrun.  Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to decide this year whether to allow shale gas drilling in the state. 

The New York Times reported that after a two-year review, Gov. Cuomo intended to lift an effective state-wide moratorium on fracking with exemptions for the watersheds and underground sources used by New York and other cities. The state is revising its regulations.

Catskill Mountainkeeper  has an analysis of flaws in the DEC’s regulations.

Texas:

Earthworks, Texas

Pennsylvania:

StateImpact Pennsylvania :

StateImpact is a collaboration among NPR and local public radio stations in eight pilot states to examine public policy issues in-depth. The cross-platform reporting network seeks to inform and engage communities with explanatory, data-driven stories focused on how government decisions affect people’s lives.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Pipeline blog

Pilpeline is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's interactive website on news and issues surrounding development of the Marcellus Shale. The Post-Gazette launched Pipeline in February 2011 as a specialty news website that employs multimedia, social media and interactive maps and that curates daily coverage from the PG and other news organizations to provide an authoritative resource for Marcellus Shale news and information


Protecting our Waters

Protecting Our Waters is a Philadelphia-based grassroots nonprofit organization committed to protecting the Delaware, Susquehanna and Ohio River Basins — the state of Pennsylvania — and our region from unconventional gas drilling and other threats to our drinking water, environment, and public health.

Marcellus Protest

MarcellusProtest.org is an information clearing house about Marcellus Shale gas drilling and activism and related issues. Although this website's primary geographic focus is Western Pennsylvania, MarcellusProtest.org also includes content pertaining to the five states in which the Marcellus Shale is located - as well as other Shale gas formations across the U.S.
 

Ohio:

No Frack Ohio

The No Frack Ohio Coalition is composed of member organizations and individuals who signed on to a Statewide Moratorium letter in the Spring of 2011.  Since the original sign on campaign, these groups and individuals have worked across Ohio on outreach to Elected Officials at all levels of government, landowner education, and mobilizing members for activism.

Ohio Citizen Action

Ohio Citizen Action is 80,000 members who have joined together to prevent pollution. Non-profit and non-partisan, Ohio Citizen Action was founded in 1975.In the past fifteen years, Ohio Citizen Action has developed the ‘good neighbor campaign,’ which uses the power of community organizing to convince major industries to prevent pollution at their facilities. These campaigns have won changes far beyond what federal or state regulations would require at Eramet (Marietta), AK Steel (Middletown), Sunoco Refinery (Toledo), Brush Wellman (Elmore), Lanxess Plastics (Cincinnati), and many others.


Maryland: 

Maryland has a moratorium on shale gas development in the state’s portion of the Marcellus Shale while the state prepares an analysis of the issue scheduled to be completed in 2014.  See Martin O'Malley, Governor of Maryland, Executive Order 01.01.2011.11, The Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative, June 6, 2011. Accessed online February 20, 2012 at

Virginia:

Both Rockingham County and Washington County have successfully opposed shale gas drilling proposals under local zoning rules.  You can find stories from the Washington Post (Rockingham Co.) and Bristol Herald Courier (Washington Co.) about these decisions.

Shenandoah Valley Network

The Shenandoah Valley Network works to maintain healthy and productive rural landscapes and communities, to protect and restore natural resources, and to strengthen and sustain our region’s agricultural economy. We pursue this mission by supporting strong local citizens’ groups and promoting good local land use and transportation plans, compatible economic development strategies, and effective land protection programs. We serve community groups in six Virginia counties: Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah, Page, Rockingham and Augusta.

Southern Environmental Law Center

For over 25 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has leveraged the power of the law to protect the environment of the Southeast—the fastest growing region of the U.S. Working in all three branches of government and with more than 100 partner groups, this nonprofit organization shapes, implements, and enforces the laws and policies that determine the quality of the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the landscapes and communities you love.