What the frack??*
That might be what well-water users ask when, without warning, water starts jetting out of toilet bowls and showers emit foul odors and horses won’t drink the water. Or if your house explodes. The chief suspect: “Fracking,” the natural gas industry’s slang for hydraulic fracturing.
Hydraulic fracturing helps gas wells maximize their productivity, squeezing every last “gasp” of gas out the rock below.
NPR describes the process: “Hydraulic fracturing allows drillers to dramatically increase production. The chemicals pumped underground with the water help drillers bore through the hard rock. The pressure used is tremendous — about 300 times a typical garden hose. That creates small cracks in the rock that allow gas to escape.”
A few years back, certain White House friends of the energy industry managed to loosen up a few regulations, including the use or even disclosure of use of certain chemicals in extracting fossil fuels from the earth below. Now, gas drilling operations aren’t even required to tell what chemicals are used to pump underground to help drillers bore through the rock to force natural gas out of the rock.
Scientific American with Pro Publica writes about a well that yielded benzene, a chemical contaminant that forced Perrier water off store shelves a decade or so ago.
The drillers pump this chemical-laced water at pressures much higher than that of a garden hose (household pressure is typically 60 pounds per square inch [psi]; municipal fire hydrants are typically more like 200 psi). Imagine a power washer on steroids pumping chemically altered water into your house’s plumbing. Sounds like fun, huh?
This of course was the result of getting government off small business’s backs and helping regular Joes help reduce our energy dependence on foreign oil, etc. Which is great. Except when there are side-effects such as abdominal bloating, rashes or exploding houses.
A house exploded in 2007 in Northeast Ohio, and the ensuing investigation by the Ohio EPA (ohio_methane_report_080901) found quantities of methane in the water, pointing to a nearby gas well as the likely source. Problems have cropped up around the country from Pennsylvania and Ohio to Texas.
Welcome to the World of Unintended Consequences — or maybe more appropriately, the Theater of “So What?”
A fight in Congress is brewing over whether – or how – to protect aquifers and their users from the threat of contamination from fracking or other mining and drilling techniques.
This should be fun — pitting real Texas ranchers against Texas ranchers. Until then, take advice from the Dave Matthews Band: Don’t Drink the Water.
* “Frack” is also a euphemism made famous, more or less, by the recently concluded Sci-Fi series Battlestar Galactica to skirt censorship with a sanitized version of a better-known “f”-word.