Stewart said the U.S. will be an exporter of energy in the future and “fracking” is changing the way that will happen. Induced hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” is a technique used to release petroleum, natural gas (including shale gas, tight gas, and coal seam gas), or other substances for extraction.
Natural gas is clean burning and produces lower levels of potentially harmful emissions than oil and coal. Natural gas is also more abundant than oil and goes deeper into the earth. As early as the 1820s, scientists were aware of large deposits of natural gas embedded in shale. Commercial drilling has been tried in the past with limited success.
The first use of hydraulic fracturing was in 1947. Improvements have been made over the years and in 1970 the modern gas boom was started. The modern fracturing technique, called horizontal slick-water fracturing, making the extraction of shale gas economical, was first used in 1998 in Texas.
Slick-water fracking added friction-reducing chemicals to water increasing the fluid flow. Now, high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “hydrofracking,” is the preferred method of extraction.
“Fracking” is applied to limestone, sandstone, and shale to extract natural gas. A combination of sand, water, and chemicals is injected into a borehole at very high pressure, which fractures the rock and opens millions of cracks. This allows the gas to seep into a pipeline, which is then pumped to the surface and into tanker trucks to be transported to distributors.
There are tremendous surpluses of liquid gas being stored and oil pipelines are being converted to carry it to the necessary facilities. Stewart said 60% of the liquid gas produced goes into the manufacture of plastics and other consumer products, while only 40% is used by companies like Blue Star Gas.
Environmental concerns regarding the use of “fracking” have been widespread over the years. The use of chemicals in the process has led to questions about polluting the groundwater in these wells. Stewart said that only one percent of the liquid put down these boreholes is chemical. The other 99% is water and sand.
Wastewater from these wells has been known to contain fracturing-fluid additives and chemicals including the carcinogen benzene. These chemicals are found in everyday items including cleaning products and deodorant. Stewart said some of the other chemical byproducts are found naturally in these deposits and are not manmade.
Other big concerns regarding “fracking” are the large amounts of fresh water it takes to obtain this process. And, once the liquid is pumped back out of the borehole it must be contained and disposed of safely. There has been some discussion regarding how to possibly reuse it in other wells.
Unfortunately, fresh water is a necessary element to our survival and its use in “fracking” is a big issue with those opposed to this practice.
The boreholes used in this process are commonly drilled 1.5 miles down, which is equivalent to five Sears Towers, or 7,700 feet. When the liquid is pumped down the pipe it causes fissures in the shale. These open fissures allow the gas to be extracted and pumped to the surface.
Proponents of “fracking” say there are many benefits to the process including:
- less reliance on foreign oil
- reduction in emissions
- a carbon-light environment
- economic benefit with the creation of jobs
- meets increased energy needs
- lowers energy costs
- enough supply of natural gas to last 100 years
- allows U.S. to be energy independent
Blue Star Gas has been working to establish propane stations to provide fuel for vehicle use on a broader public and commercial scale. Unfortunately, California’s legislation and permit fees have made that economically unfeasible at this time. But Canada, Australia, and some European countries have expanded their use of propane vehicles.
Stewart said, “The cost of natural gas and propane is so low that companies with large fleets of vehicles are moving in that direction.”
Blue Star currently has a vehicle propane station at SeaTac Airport near Seattle and it is doing quite well. He said the Seattle area has been very positive and he is encouraged there will be more stations soon. Many of the city’s buses and other vehicles are now propane-powered.
As of 2009, the U.S. had 493,000 active natural gas wells across 31 states. Around 90% used “fracking” to increase production. The Environmental Protection Agency supervises regulations for underground drinking water, but the states set their own regulations for drilling. In 2010, the EPA announced a $1.9 million peer review study on the effects of “fracking” on water quality and public health.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY SUSAN GARDNER
Garberville Rotarian and Blue Star Gas owner Bill Stewart gave a presentation on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” at last week’s meeting.