Thursday, April 12, 2012

On Earthquakes and Fracking

People who know me know that I spent a couple of decades of my life, and change, in the oil and gas exploration industry. I have little to recommend this industry to my fellow man, but it puts octane in the gas tanks and mostly no one is willing to talk back against the industry that gives us the freedom of mobility.

But after I left the industry, another industry practice emerged. Hydraulic fracturing.
Alias, fracking.
Now this was a common practice while I was engaged in the biz, but it has taken on a life of its own in the new millennium. Before we “fracked” oil-bearing formations that could not give up their treasure because they were not, as we say, porous. But now we “frack” gas-bearing shale formations.  Shale is considered to be “tight” as in not allowing hydrocarbons to flow through them easily. Typically shale forms the trap that creates subsurface oil and gas accumulations. Now, in this century, shales are considered to be gas reservoirs.
What this whole process involves is introducing fluids to a very resistant rock formation. One that bears hydrocarbons, but can’t give them up because of an issue we call porosity. If fluids cannot flow through a rock it is impossible to produce them. Hydraulic fracturing solves this problem nicely.
There is a downside, though.  To effect a fracture, we must inject water and chemicals into the rock formation we want to break apart and harvest the gas within it. This happens, and the fluids come rushing back to the surface along with the produced natural gas.
And industry must find a place to dispose of this fluid. Toxic, toxic fluid.
Their solution has been to inject these toxic fluids back into the rock layers of Earth. And in that we have a problem.
Don’t take my word for it. The data supports it nicely. In Oklahoma, for instance, in the middle of the continent, away from any real seismic activity, they have had 25 earthquakes per year at recent count. This, by the way, is up from 1.2 earthquakes per year in the half century before fluid injection became a common practice in the oil industry.
Now why am I on this?
People suffer in earthquakes, even low level events. Especially when the local building codes don’t take into account that the area is seismically active.
Oil companies are responsible for the loss of property and land value, and have skated unchallenged to this point.
My point is, this needs to stop, and oil companies need to compensate property owners for their business practices.
It is the fair thing.
That’s why it will never happen.

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