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Fracking isn't bad for you?

hyperpolarizer's picture
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The New York Times reports a study (recently published in the prestigious 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences'), claiming that hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' is not per se a cause of contaminated water. Instead, contamination is said to arise from leaks in the wells used to recover the gas, which has been liberated by the fracking process.

Here is the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/16/science/study-points-to-well-leaks-not....

Of course the Times scrupulously avoids any countervailing opinion. They do nonetheless include some comments by Scott Anderson, of the Environmental Defense Fund, to the effect that many steps could be taken to avoid leaky wells.

My sense here (as a scientist and engineer with over 50 publications in peer reviewed journals) is that we are not getting the full story. Would anyone care to further enlighten me (and other readers at this site) ?

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okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

It's the falling stuff.

I think this is actually pretty fair and pretty good reporting. For one thing, they are acknowledging that the drilling process is having an impact, so it isn't all whitewash. For another, this really is a quite logical and believable dynamic. The most difficult part of well construction is sealing the borehole, and the amount of pressure/energy available to hydrofracture the subsurface formations, while sufficient to relieve pressure enough to mobilize gases towards the borehole, is highly unlikely to shatter confining rock formations that may be hundreds of feet thick. So this is a case of following the path of least resistance and highest likelihood.

Which is not to say that regardless of the actual mechanism of contamination, that it isn't a serious, serious problem.

And yeah, I'm a scientist too, although without 50 publications, this just happens to be a field that is very related to my specialty. I think the research was done well and the reporting is surprisingly good for a technical topic and hot-button issue.

Submitted by lambert on

In short form (and with a totally layman's understanding) "it's the cement."

1) If the industry is optimized for drilling down and getting oil up and out, and that's the glamorous part of the trade, it makes sense that engineers who are sealing the well are second-class citizens, After all, drilling is a profit center. Preventing externalities is a cost center.

2) IIRC, BP had issues in the same general area with Macando. Wasn't the issue there the well casing, also? (I know it's a different technology, but it could be the same sociology).

3) Also, as long as I can remember, there have stories about corruption on construction sites involving cement. I would think it's not hard to have one composition specified, and another delivered, with the cement company pocketing the differnence, and with the supervisor at the wellhead taking a cut. Just saying....