Fracking?

WHAT is Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) is an industrial operation pumping large volumes (over 4 million gallons) of water mixed with thousands of tons of sand and chemicals at explosive pressure through shale rock, shattering the rock and releasing the gas.

A video, “Talk about Fracking”, was directed by Brigitta Varadi (GEAI), through Engage Artist Collective and produced using the original drawings and voices of Abbi and Leah Sweeney, young Leitrim people who wanted to get their message out. This video has been viewed globally and is used in schools when teachers want to introduce the subject of fracking:

 

“Shale rock” originally was just mud mixed with rotting vegetation but, during millions of years, it sank further and further underground, and now has methane gas trapped between the layers it formed.  It is found throughout Ireland but only shale deep underground – a mile or more below the surface – is suitable for fracking.

 

 HOW is hydraulic fracturing done?

 

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  • A concrete mining “pad” is constructed for up to 24 wells.
  • A well is drilled down to the shale rock layer.
  • A “casing” of steel pipe and cement around the bore is designed to keep fluids and gases from escaping and contaminating underground aquifers.
  • Once the well reaches the shale layer (a mile or more belowground), the drill travels horizontally along the shale layer another mile or two.
  • Hydraulic fracturing then takes place along the horizontal section, releasing the gas, which escapes up the pipe to the surface.

Impacts of a typical Fracking project – what was anticipated (but we stopped it!)

Land use

  • In Leitrim/Fermanagh, initial target area was 100,000 acres, 7-acre pad every square mile, up to 24 wells per pad.
  • 3,000 wells planned.
  • Access to land by industry permitted for “energy infrastructure” works.
  • 1,000 heavy vehicles needed to construct a pad and drill one well. Would cause huge traffic problems on country roads, impacts on tourism, farming and biodiversity.

Air pollution

  • Diesel fumes, dust, noise.
  • Emissions from wells – petroleum products – Benzene, Toluene, Xylene (BTEX) highly toxic.
  • Sand used during fracking causes silica dust, cause of silicosis in workers.
  • All wells leak over time, causing emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Water contamination

  • Thousands of tons of chemicals and sand are used during fracking and millions of gallons of water.
  • Many of those frack fluid chemicals are toxic, e.g. concentrated acids, bleaches and detergents, formaldehyde and other biocides.
  • 40% or more of the millions of gallons of frack fluids used come back to the surface. This “flowback” contains heavy metals (chromium, lead), radioactive elements (Radium, Uranium), salt (up to 30%) and BTEX petroleum products. There is NO acceptable disposal route for toxic flowback liquids in Ireland.
  • Accidents happen – spillages, vehicle accidents, leakages from tanks, ponds etc. Streams, rivers, lakes contaminated.
  • Undergrounds leakages happen. Methane gas can contaminate aquifers supplying domestic water (tap water on fire). Frack fluids can also leak into drinking water supplies, 243 recorded instances of water contamination in Pennsylvania

Health impacts

  • Health impacts in general are attributed to toxic emissions from well sites situated near houses. Include cancers (e.g., leukaemia), respiratory and dermal diseases.
  • Workers have increased risk of silicosis from the sand used.
  • Other impacts include cardiovascular, renal, immune system, mental health, injuries, endocrine disrupters that can impact future generations as well as mothers and babies.
  • Communities are also impacted – sudden influx of outsiders, crime, stress, mental illness, splits between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

 

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Fracking in Northern Ireland

 

Jobs and economic boom?

Yes, there would be jobs associated with the industry, especially in the initial phase. However, most would not be local – teams of experienced workers are brought in by the industry to do specialised jobs. Local jobs are mostly confined to non-specialist labour and construction. Such jobs are temporary. Long-term maintenance jobs are few – maybe three per 24 wells.

Gas produced locally does NOT result in cheaper bills for local people, any more than Scottish oil resulted in cheap oil for Scotland. The gas would go into the international grid and sold at market prices.
Royalties would be paid to central government on profits after development costs, etc. These would not be more than could be generated from alternative energy sources, e.g. solar, wind, water.

Fracking Myths

It is rather common for big corporations to pay people to publicise their “truth” about what they are selling. No matter if this truth is actually related to reality or not.

Thanks to them, a mythology has grown up around Fracking, propagated by the oil and gas industry. They spend billions of dollars on propaganda, controlling the media, lobbying at all levels of government, contributing to political campaigns and public relations. There is no separation between fact and fiction, as “Facts are increasingly irrelevant in public rhetoric in the United States” (Tyson Slocum, Public Citizen Energy Program).

Some of those myths are as follows:

  • “Regulation can make fracking safe”

You cannot know what is happening two miles down where the gas is extracted, every well is different and every drill is an experiment. 10 000 leaks and spills are reported each year.

  • “Fracking is a step towards renewable energies”

… What about actually investing in renewable energies to make a step towards them?

  • “Fracking does not damage health”

There was not a lot of research or evidence of health impacts until recently; now internationally, direct health effects are recognised to increase rates of hospitalisation, respiratory problems, lower birth rates, low weight babies, rashes and bloody noses.

  • “Fracking brings jobs and prosperity to the communities”

We have already mentioned how it would not.

  • “Natural gas gives us energy security”

The oil/gas industry main focus is on profit so it would be unrealistic to think they would not export the shale gas to other countries, and raise the prices in accordance with that, as we have already seen with other energy sources.

  • “Zoning makes fracking acceptable for communities”

It is not enough.  There must be a plan for wastewater, seismic surveys before and after, estimate of structural damage to roads and buildings, emergency services must be trained – the types of fires experienced at a well-pad are different from the norm.

  • “There are no proven case of drinking water being contaminated by fracking”

In Pennsylvania alone, 245 water wells are now contaminated and that contamination is documented (we need to have a link to the documentation in). No matter which state of the shale gas exploitation is responsible for it – fracking, drilling, accidents, wells losing their integrity…  – the result is the same.

  • “Natural gas is clean energy”

Natural gas is mainly carbon. When it is burned, it releases carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is most implicated in global warming. Extracting and transporting it releases a lot of methane into the atmosphere. With regard to greenhouse gas emissions, shale gas is actually worse than coal. What is more, the fuel used in equipment is mainly diesel and the dust from the traffic contains elevated levels of heavy metals.

Besides, the problem of wastewater disposal has never been solved satisfactorily and many billions of gallons of toxic wastewater is dispersed throughout the environment, spread over land and roads, dumped into rivers and lakes, raising levels of radioactive compounds.

Not to mention the accidents.

In Pennsylvania, 10% of wells are leaking and there are 8,000 of those wells in the state.  As well age and cement decays, the rate of leakage rises. 30% leak after five years. As a result, the greenhouse gas emissions of natural gas are higher than coal. Methane concentration in the atmosphere above US increased between 2003 and 2012, mainly due to the natural gas industry.

How credible are our “facts”?

As some people will have opposing views to ours, there may be doubt about the facts we displayed. “The Compendium” is a fully referenced compilation of significant scientific, medical, and journalistic key studies and other findings about the risks and harms of fracking, organized to be accessible by anyone who wants answers.  Reports from or commissioned by government agencies are also included.

It addresses the public health, safety concerns and the economic realities of fracking.



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