Saturday, April 11, 2015

What a Fracking Waste

Floyd Farris invented the process that is known as hydraulic fracturing, aka Fracking, in the 1940s. This Texas man started a boom in the ability of energy companies to extract more gas and oil from their wells than could be had without this process. Since the first commercially viable well in 1950 , the popularity has skyrocketed. By 2010 there are nearly 500,000 wells drilled in the USA.

Before the wild shale Boom years that started in 2008 Engineers, Drillers, speculators and the entrepreneurs knew about the realities of drilling and hydraulically fracturing the bedrock. They knew that there was going to be huge amounts of water needed to process the wells. They knew that there would be huge quantities of waste water produced from the wells that would be highly toxic. They knew that there would be hundreds of thousands of tons of cuttings that needed to be processed and permanently stored somewhere. While the Geologic Engineers suspected that what they were doing to the underlying rocks could produce seismic instabilities, there was no manifest incidents to prove that damage would be done.

On paper every well drilling site looks fabulous. It is neat and clean and meets all the specifications as determined by the Engineers. However, time, nature and entropy have a way of turning the best laid plans... astray. While the drill casings are new and pressurized they typically hold up as designed. But 5 years later the whole story has changed. The materials age the ground shifts, the production process concentrates on getting the gas and oil out of the ground at a cost that is below the selling price of their commodity.

Even with highly Engineered procedures in place, the nature of hydraulic fracturing makes it a dangerous industrial land use. Because the hazards were not stoppable the monied supporters of the fracking industry acted to exempt their activities from the Clean Water Act, clean air provisions, and sought to strip the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) of its authority to regulate the hydraulic fracturing industry.

The basis of not having the EPA provide regulations of hydraulic fracture drilling operations was that each drill site within a single state. State oversight was deemed to be sufficient to protect the rights of the state. The driller speculators exploited that concept while convincing state level auditors that they were acting in the best interests of the state so no one needed to be too diligent in checking up on the activities. Drillers made wastes "go away" by spraying it on highways, using it for irrigation, and re-injecting it deep underground. None of these methods actually solve the issue of toxic materials. They are only spread over larger and larger areas under the principle that "Dilution is the solution to pollution."

The bottom line is that if a driller was required to properly handle their wastes and remediate their sites after they are done, the cost of their gas and oil would be far too expensive for the market. The only way for them to make a profit and create shareholder value is to cut all the corners and not care about the damage they do to people who are not sharing in their prosperity.