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Fossil Fuels water risks from fracking

Published on April 2nd, 2014 | by Tina Casey

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There They Go Again: Heritage Says Frack Your Backyard To Thwart Russia

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April 2nd, 2014 by  

Now here’s an Onion-worthy headline from The Heritage Foundation, topping a press release issued just a few hours ago: “How America’s Shale Revolution Could Loosen Russia’s Grip on Europe.” We’re dragging The Onion into this because the article focuses on one angle of the domestic shale gas market while completely ignoring the main point, namely, that US shale gas drillers are looking for Russia to rescue them from a deep dive.

water risks from fracking

Water by Elitatt.

Fracking And The Clean Water Act

For those of you familiar with the impacts of shale drilling, aka fracking (short for hydrofracturing), you may be wondering why there is so little regulation of the practice.

That’s because fracking only became widespread after it won an exemption from Clean Water Act under the Bush/Cheney administration, even though modern fracking is a water-intensive process that can involve millions of gallons for a single well.

Despite the obvious potential risk to water resources, the Clean Water Act exemption has handcuffed federal regulators, and state regulations vary according to the influence of the drilling lobby.

That leaves local communities to their own devices when it comes to regulating fracking.

The Obama Administration has been playing catch-up by executive means through the EPA, despite heavy pushback from the usual suspects.

In the mean time, the epic drought in California is underscoring what the future could look like when fracking, farming, and people all compete for increasingly vulnerable water resources.

Given the surge in wind power and more water-friendly energy sources, the pressure is on the fracking industry to survive an increasingly rough ride.

Fracking on Shaky Ground

The water supply issue is only one pin that’s being knocked out from under the US fracking industry.

Along with our sister site PlanetSave we’ve been taking note of the impacts of  fracking, which has become notorious for potential and realized risks including water contamination, earthquakes, negative pressure on property values, and financial risks to investors.

As mentioned previously, local communities have been left to their own devices and a growing number of them, including Los Angeles, have taken steps to limit fracking within their borders.

In Pennsylvania, one of the epicenters of modern shale gas development, anti-fracking communities just won an important State Supreme Court victory in support of local control over drilling permits rather than enabling a more relaxed state law to supersede.

Another thing to consider is that global oil companies are already exploring Ukraine and other sites in Europe for shale drilling, which could leave US sources holding the bag sooner rather than later.

To top it all off, shale gas wells have earned a reputation for tapping out quickly, meaning that thousands of new wells must be drilled in the US every year just to keep up with current productivity levels, which means no let-up in store for the NIMBY factor.

The Heritage Foundation And Fracking: Russia To The Rescue

No, we didn’t forget all about Heritage. If you don’t want to visit their site you can find a summary of “How America’s Shale Revolution Could Loosen Russia’s Grip on Europe“in their press release at prnewswire.com, which details why this lobbying organization feels that exporting more US gas will make Russian back down.

For now let’s just say that the author, Nick Loris, is also the pen behind a March 1 Heritage blog post titled “How the Media Misrepresents What Scientists Really Think About Climate Change,” in which he characterized the climate denial lobby as “climate realists.”

However, let’s not pick on Heritage for something that’s built into their DNA. Instead, let’s pick on the New York Times for a similarly misleading March 5 article by Coral Davenport and Steven Erlanger.

The headline is “U.S. Hopes Boom in Natural Gas Can Curb Putin” and up front in the second paragraph is this statement: “The crisis has escalated a State Department initiative to use a new boom in American natural gas supplies as a lever against Russia…”

So, you’d assume that increasing gas exports to thwart Russia is an official Obama Administration position, right?

Not so fast, if you read the whole article. No current State Department officials are referenced, but you get this far down the page:

Over the past week, Congressional Republicans have joined major oil and gas producers like ExxonMobil in urging the administration to speed up oil and natural gas exports.

Okay, so now we’re talking Russia to the rescue.

Why not just say that in the first place?

For the record, according to a recent CNN report Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that the US is working on increasing its natural gas exports, but that is a long term, slow-moving process that far predates the Russia crisis and will far outlast it.

Kerry also first noted that State is working with Poland and Hungary to develop an alternate route through Slovakia, so we’re going with the line that an increase in US natural gas exports will not now, and will not in the future, play a significant role in helping Ukraine to shake loose its energy ties from Russia.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Will E

    Solar Power and Wind Power Hydro Power.
    speed up Solar Power and Wind Power in the EU. endless supply
    build a capacity of lets say 500 % or two times 500 % for the EU.
    sun and wind from Greece Italy Spain and Portugal.
    wind from the Scotland Islands UK Northsea, hydro from Norway.
    interconnected and export electricity from the EU to Russia.
    and stop gas madness imports from Russia.
    Europe can get rich again
    cheap, clean and easy
    and make a lot of money.
    Whats the problem????
    Sun and wind send no bill and is everywhere.
    and forget fossil all together.

  • Michael Berndtson

    Excellent work.

    Here’s some thoughts:

    1) shale oil and gas production is transport (i.e. diffusion, et al) limited at many orders of magnitude greater than conventional oil and gas production. Think laws of diminishing returns or “you can’t get blood from a stone.” To produce shale oil and gas at the sales and marketing “estimates,” we’ll have to mine shale, crush it at the surface, and collect what off gases in giant laboratory hoods.

    2) Horizontal wells and fracking simply increases well sink area, shortens the pathway a hydrocarbon molecule has to travel from rock to sink, and intercepts natural shale fractures. This takes effort and money. Lots of it. More wells will have to be drilled and existing wells will have to be re-fracked. No new “ground breaking” technology here. Just standard flow of fluids in porous media and petroleum engineering stuff, but with more bells and whistles. And more money.

    3) US shale gas and natural gas in general is expensive to produce. With more LNG sales and alternative uses like transportation fuel, the price will go up. There’s also closer to ten years of good supply – not 100 years that was being sold.

    3) Africa and the Middle East are silly with conventional (easily recoverable) oil and gas. Iraq and Iran freak Saudi Arabia out should they get back to anywhere near full production. Even Israel, Cyprus and Lebanon are sitting next to a giant oil and gas field called the Leviathan, which sits along the eastern Mediterranean. Ukraine and Europe could be able to do their own deals.

    4) The world flares and vents natural gas equal to about one third of all of Europe’s needs on an annual basis. Russia is the biggest flarer and venter of natural gas.

    5) US majors just spent a load of money on developing Ukraine shale fields. Like this past February. And something around $10 to $20 billion. Russia could submarine this project just by turning a valve. Or start collecting the gas it flares and vents.

    6) I may not have my facts right here (or any facts at all), but I believe petroleum engineers stop learning anything about geology or reservoir engineering after junior year in college. Senior year students focus on: how to lobby congress, how to get an internship at conservative think tanks, like Heritage, and the importance of political instability to a long and successful career in the oil and gas business. That’s not true. I hope.

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