A fracking dilemma

Faithful readers of AkronDave, all three of you, probably know that I have written from time to time about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a drilling technique to release natural gas trapped in underground rock formations, particularly certain shale beds.

Generally, my posts have been framed in the context that fracking might not be a good thing, that there have been lots of anecdotal bits of evidence, if not much (if any) empirical evidence, to support claims that hydraulic fracturing poses a big threat to the environment. Complaints of fracking wells contaminating well water on neighboring properties have been around for years. Worries that sewage treatment plants can’t adequately treat fracking wastewater before it is released into streams where it can contaminate drinking water downstream have been around for a while.

And most recently, a series of low-grade earthquakes over the past year in the Youngstown (Ohio) area have been pretty convincingly traced to a wastewater injection well, culminating in a rather large (for here) 4.0 quake in December that prompted (oil-friendly Republican!!) Gov. John Kasich to shut down the well until further study.

So, just to sum up: Fracking wells themselves are seen by critics as threats to environment. The effluent from these wells are seen as a threat. And the injection wells, that is wells in which fracking wastewater is injected deep underground as a means of “safe” disposal, are now seen as potential threats.

Defenders of the injection wells say (correctly, apparently) that this is the first injection well among hundreds to have any such trouble.  Apparently there is some sort of undetected underground fault that may have been “lubed” by the injected brine. OK, fair enough. Let’s beef up geological surveys for these wells, take a little more cautious approach, and make sure this stuff stays in the well and doesn’t seep (or God forbid gush) out.

Defenders of the fracking wells have said (much less convincingly, in my well-reasoned and carefully thought out opinion) that the fracking techniques pose no threat to neighboring wells, that the chemicals (most of which they decline to specify, although that’s about to change) in the saline solutions they inject into the ground won’t harm farm animals, Bambi or your grandchildren.

Sorry, not buying it.

But … 

The Vallourec seamless pipe mill is going up in Youngstown.

The fracking boom is creating jobs.

There are so many fracking wells going into the ground in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia that demand for steel pipes for these wells has spawned plans to build a new steel plant in the Youngstown area. Real jobs. With good pay. Not some crap jobs schlepping pizzas or slinging burgers for minimum wage. You can’t live on that, and in your desperation to take those jobs you’re (by “you’re” I mean “I was”) stealing those crap jobs from teenagers, who end up without even a crap job.

How many jobs? Industry estimates claim 200,000 jobs will be generated by hydraulic fracturing wells. The Youngstown plant will employ about 35o workers. For an old Rust Belt city that has nearly disappeared altogether, that is some badly needed good news.

And 21,000 tons of steel is going in to build the pipe plant itself. So there’s that. More jobs.

So I’m pretty conflicted about this.

We sure could use the jobs. We could use the oil and natural gas, to reduce our dependence on imported oil even a little bit.

But …

There’s that contemptible But again – we can’t continue to frack if it’s going to poison the water hole or trigger more earthquakes, release a plague of locusts, etc.

And so I’m going to say it, even though it’s sure to send oil-industry types eye-rolling themselves dizzy:  We need better regulation of the whole hydraulic fracturing industry. And we need to restore home rule in places like Ohio, which took that away while the general public slept a few years back.

Let’s embrace what science — real science, not industry whitewash — finds and embrace it, one way or the other.

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3 thoughts on “A fracking dilemma

  1. Very informative post Dave. It’s hard to disagree with something these days especially when it is creating jobs. But again I agree that there needs to be more industry regulation for things like this. When I get woken up by slight vibrations in my waterbed, then find out its coming from Youngstown, I mumble under my breath and go back to sleep.

  2. Pingback: Issue of fracking seems to be gaining traction « AkronDave

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