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Study Says Fracking is Safe In Theory But Often Not In Practice

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the are-you-sure-you're-using-that-right? dept.

Businesses 297

First time accepted submitter chadenright writes "A university study asserts that the problems caused by the gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking,' arise because drilling operations aren't doing it right. The process itself isn't to blame, according to the study, released today by the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin."

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297 comments

This story prompted me too... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39068903)

... start watching battlestar again.

Frak! (-1, Offtopic)

owenferguson (521762) | more than 2 years ago | (#39068911)

Damn those cylons!

Re:Frak! (5, Interesting)

owenferguson (521762) | more than 2 years ago | (#39068939)

In all seriousness, though, "safe in theory but not necessarily in practice" suggests that maybe the theory is wrong...

Re:Frak! (4, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069083)

In all seriousness, though, "safe in theory but not necessarily in practice" suggests that maybe the theory is wrong...

Or, horror of horrors, government isn't stepping up to the plate. This sort of thing is the poster child for why pure Libertarianism don't work. Over at the Oil Drum [theoildrum.com] there are many discussions on fracking - and from the couple of folks actually doing it, they would agree with TFA - it can be done safely, but often isn't.

Apparently Texas, who has been regulating fracking since the 1950's does a reasonable job of it. Significant fines for dumping wastewater, regulators that know what they're looking for. It shouldn't be rocket science to hire a couple of oil field guys (or some ex - Texas regulators) and come up with a best practices document.

Hell, the EPA might even be able to do it. But this is what really frosts me about the current state of affairs. Even if industry and government should have similar goals (keeping the screw ups and cheaters out of the game), they can't seem to get together and put up some fairly simple regulatory frameworks.

Maybe this is what Tainter [wikipedia.org] means by too much complexity causing our eventual downfall. Humans are just too stupid sometimes.

Re:Frak! (-1, Offtopic)

owenferguson (521762) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069197)

"Humans are just too stupid sometimes." Indeed. That's why the frakking cylons will see us to our early graves...

Re:Frak! (0)

anubi (640541) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070165)

Nah, we are not stupid.

We are greedy. Pure and simple, selfish greedy.

The ones in control are happy as long as they can privatize the gains and socialize the loss.

A handsome profit, and a mess, is made in the fracking process.

One wants the profit, but wants to leave the mess to the other.

The four boxes of liberty are dusted off for use.

Nah, not stupidity. Greed.

Its been going on longer than we have recorded history.

Its in our nature.

The Bible is full of it.

I am not proud of it. But its in all of us. Me included.

Re:Frak! (0, Flamebait)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069505)

Maybe this is what Tainter means by too much complexity causing our eventual downfall.

It is really disturbing to me that you seem to know who Tainter is, and to agree somewhat with what he's said. But you seem to be claiming that regulatory frameworks are somehow in need of expansion. One would think that you might be more concerned with stemming the tide of ever increasing government bureaucracy rather than expanding it. Perhaps it may be better to ask why the existing framework isn't accomplishing what it's supposed to, and looking for ways to improve it, rather than simply saying "lets draft yet another document and add it to our already absurd collection of government documents." But that's just me.

Re:Frak! (3, Insightful)

steveha (103154) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069581)

This sort of thing is the poster child for why pure Libertarianism don't work.

Pure libertarianism: somebody owns that underground water. Somebody else starts fracking and chemicals get into the water. The owner of the water then sues the fracker and 0wns him in court. (Possibly literally; if the damages are high enough, the fracker might wind up indentured to the party he wronged.)

Alternative scenario. The fracker and the water owner are the same person. Now he can eat the cost of the fracking (can't sell the water anymore; it's polluted); or he can keep selling the water to his customers, in which case his customers sue him for selling tainted water, and they 0wn him in court.

Now, if you are talking about not just a libertarian society but an anarchocapitalist one, then yeah I think you have found an example that probably won't work in practice. I'm told that even with no government to force people to go to court, that they will voluntarily show up for arbitrations and there is no need for government. I doubt you buy that; I don't either.

The role of government here is supposed to be that government imposes regulations, the industry follows the regulations, and then nobody sues anybody as long as everyone was following the regulations. Or if you are really a believer in big government, you might think that government inspectors prevent accidents. That works until it doesn't; BP leaked a bunch of oil into the gulf, and government inspectors didn't prevent it.

The libertarian alternative is you can do whatever you want, without permission, but as soon as you harm someone you are in big trouble. (Government currently provides lots of ways to diffuse the trouble; you don't hear of a CEO being held personally responsible for the company he/she heads, due to limited liability of corporation.)

Maybe you meant to say "anarchy" instead of "Libertarianism"?

steveha

Re:Frak! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069725)

How does someone "own ground water" in a libertarian society? I thought you had to improve land with labour to stake a claim to it.

Re:Frak! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069757)

Pure libertarianism: a rancher, town, or some other small business or public organization owns that underground water. A large corporation starts fracking and chemicals get into the water. The owner of the water then sues the fracker and gets outspent 100-1 in court. (Possibly, if the damage is bad enough and there's significant public interest, the fracker might wind actually paying the party he wronged a small fraction of his profits a decade or two later.) Alternative scenario. The fracker and the water owner are the same corporation. Now it can hide the cost of the fracking (unless it actually does cause earthquakes; they're harder to hide than pollution); or he can keep letting the water contaminate to his neighbors, in which case his customers sue him for selling tainted water, and get outspent 100-1 in court. Maybe there will actually be some sort of state payout to those damaged a generation or two later. FIFY

Re:Frak! (3, Insightful)

Raenex (947668) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070271)

Lawsuits are too late when people have been poisoned.

Re:Frak! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39070351)

Lawsuits are too late when people have been poisoned.

Current system: big company poisons people, lawyers wage a class-action lawsuit, company goes out of business, executives of company move on to new jobs.

Libertarian system: big company poisons people, executives are held personally liable and all their possessions are confiscated as part of the settlement.

Pure libertarianism may have problems (pure anything is likely to have problems) but I think the executives would be more careful in such a system than in the limited liability corporation system.

Re:Frak! (4, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070405)

The role of government here is supposed to be that government imposes regulations, the industry follows the regulations, and then nobody sues anybody as long as everyone was following the regulations.

Wrong. Regulations exist to try and minimize harm, not indemnify the regulated.
Following regulations is never a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Or if you are really a believer in big government, you might think that government inspectors prevent accidents.

I can't think of any historical examples where we've ever had enough Government inspectors to really provide a baseline.
historically, we've had no inspections, but never really gone to the other extreme of full inspections.

What the frack? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069875)

I was born because my parents liked to frack and no one wore a condom back then. But, now condoms are popular, so I'd say that fracking is a lot safer than it used to be.

I think that fining waste water when people frack is overkill. Does it hurt our drinking water when we flush a used condom down the toilet? How do regulators prove the improper disposal of fracking waste, anyway?

Re:Frak! (3, Insightful)

ozborn (161426) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070247)

Even if industry and government should have similar goals (keeping the screw ups and cheaters out of the game), they can't seem to get together and put up some fairly simple regulatory frameworks.

You're somewhat confused about what the "similar goals" are between industry and government actually are. It has nothing to do with stupidity and much more to do with corruption and money. Industry (including and particularly cheaters) pay people in government through campaign contributions plus the age old promise of high paying jobs in industry once their political career is over to produce a "favorable" business climate. This can mean passing favorable legislation or removing regulatory pressure. If that isn't possible the regulators can simply be de-funded, the options are endless. The politicians love it, they get campaign contributions, connections to powerful people in industry and maybe even a cushy jobs on the Board of Directors when they are done. Where I'm living (Alabama) this sadly explains the majority of political practice here, from both parties.

Maybe this is what Tainter [wikipedia.org] means by too much complexity causing our eventual downfall. Humans are just too stupid sometimes.

One possibility is that politicians are too stupid to establish a functional regulatory framework. However they somehow manage to construct a complicated taxation framework to collect trillions in taxes, build a massively complicated military and defense structure... I think a more reasonable explanation is that many (not all) politicians have no interest in building such a structure. The constituents are too diffuse and disorganized to make it worth their while except during election time, when they are at least give it lip service.

Re:Frak! (5, Informative)

pavon (30274) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069217)

The article stated that one of the main problems was bad cementing jobs, but from what I've gathered from reading and talking is that it is really hard to get a good cement job. There are things you can do to screw it up, but even if you do everything by the book, you can still end up with an imperfect seal. According to the US U.S. Minerals Management Service, cementing problems were associated with 18 of 39 blowouts between 1992 and 2006.

So, if doing fraking "right" requires you to have perfect cement jobs everytime, then it isn't possible to do fraking right.

Re:Frak! (3, Insightful)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069559)

You can do everything right and still get a bad seal. If you rush the job and ignore warning signs, you are pretty much guaranteed to get a bad seal. Which do you suppose causes more problems?

So, if doing fraking "right" requires you to have perfect cement jobs everytime, then it isn't possible to do fraking right.

You could say the same of any drilling. If you don't have a good seal, you haven't done it right. It is possible to check this kind of thing afterwards. Maybe they should.

Re:Frak! (2)

tomhath (637240) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069865)

So, if doing fraking "right" requires you to have perfect cement jobs everytime, then it isn't possible to do fraking right.

That's a pretty big "if". You could also say that the vast majority of gas wells are done perfectly, and a few had problems which needed to be fixed

Keep in mind that natural gas in water wells is very common throughout the Appalachians [usgs.gov]

Re:Frak! (3, Insightful)

z0idberg (888892) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069507)

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. **Attributed to Yogi B and others.

Re:Frak! (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069533)

We run into this ALL the time here at work. Since we're working with cutting edge software that even the developers don't entirely understand we can often say "It'll take an hour" and then it winds up taking 2 days. Or we'll say it'll take 2 days and we're done in an hour. Until something has been done for decades and experience is developed you find yourself constantly solving problems you didn't even know could exist.

If Plan A always worked perfectly everything would be done 8x faster. It's only through years of mistakes that I've learned to readjust my pride from "how long it would take if I made no 'mistakes'" to how long it'll take in the real world. I imagine without regulation there is a lot of that in the drilling industry. Pride or economic incentive pushes people to be optimistic about how perfectly any plan can be executed and then in order to meet their plan mistakes go uncorrected.

Re:Frak! (1)

PeanutButterBreath (1224570) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069931)

We run into this ALL the time here at work. Since we're working with cutting edge software that even the developers don't entirely understand we can often say "It'll take an hour" and then it winds up taking 2 days. Or we'll say it'll take 2 days and we're done in an hour.

These problems are typical of software development and just about any other job I have had that didn't involve rote repetition.

I don't think this is the problem with fracking. They have dropped thousands of these wells, so the process is not "cutting edge". Granted, they are dealing with highly variable conditions, but again, there is plenty of history to go on.

The problems with fracking (two of them, anyway) are a) doing things incompetently that could theoretically be done in a safe manor and b) doing things that are so difficult that likely to result in failure even when done competently.

Re:Frak! (1)

Kagato (116051) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070225)

Water contamination and geological instability is thought to be an artifact of pumping the waste water back in the ground after the fraking is complete. Which doesn't have to happen, but is expensive to treat.

Re:Frak! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39070359)

More accurately when people don't adhere to the theory exactly including all the assumptions like how one contains and disposes of fluids the conclusions of the theory don't hold. Safe in theory not in practice most likely means the execution of the theory is flawed not the theory itself. Of course a flawed theory is a possibility if when executed properly and in accordance with all the assumptions the conclusions don't hold true of if the assumptions can not be satisfied in a practical real world environment. But again the more likely scenario is a flawed execution.

BSG (0)

kopo (890010) | more than 2 years ago | (#39068915)

Study Says Fracking is Safe In Theory But Often Not In Practice

Medical expert Doc. Cottle agrees.

Re:BSG (4, Funny)

msauve (701917) | more than 2 years ago | (#39068985)

"Fracking is Safe In Theory But Often Not In Practice"

The solution is obvious. Only do theoretical fracking.

On-Topic (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069591)

For those who my have missed the joke and modded this down for some reason, the quote could be better written:

Study Says Sex is Safe In Theory But Often Not In Practice

Which is not only certainly true (most people will do whatever they can to avoid using a condom), it also seems strangely appropriate and on-topic in this instance. Especially if you've ever known any drillers.

Re:BSG (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069889)

Study Says Fracking is Safe In Theory But Often Not In Practice

Medical expert Doc. Cottle agrees.

Hey, communism and "True Scotsmen" are safe too! (and I'm inclined to include the "free market" as well).

Study in texas.... (4, Insightful)

santax (1541065) | more than 2 years ago | (#39068925)

So, who payed for it? Are there any ties with the oil-industry? Via-via-ties do count. I ask this because every other investigation I have seen all have the same thing in common: Putting about 3000 different chemicals (mostly very toxic) into the ground is a mayor threat to drinkingwater and should never ever be repeated again. Except in Texas apparently. Only that is reason enough to just not continue this. The cost don't weight up to the benefits. (Not even on an economical scale)

Re:Study in texas.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39068969)

So, who payed for it?

Irrelevant, begone with your ad-hominem attacks.

Re:Study in texas.... (4, Interesting)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069059)

I am on a different side of it.

It *sounds* bad to be putting 3000 different chemicals into the ground until you actually start taking geology into account. Having been on-site and spoken with engineers, I am *EXTREMELY* dubious that when fraccing zones more than 10,000 feet underground that it can affect the water table thousands of feet above it.

Especially Texas where most of the wells I am aware of are deep wells.

Plus, fraccing is required when the permeability of your zone is low. That means, by definition, it would not be a water table or any other kind of zone in which those chemicals could be moving around. If it is that permeable already and connected to a water table you would be tasting the natural hydrocarbons already.

I have always brought this up when these types of articles appear that the very definition of the technology would seem to preclude these types of interactions with water tables.

This study only seems to confirm what I was already saying. Only wells that are improperly fracced have these kinds of results.

Now I can certainly see that horizontal shallow drilling accompanied by fraccing could possibly introduce the natural hydrocarbons (that were trapped in various formations) into water tables along with the fraccing fluid.

The mistake people make is thinking that the ground is the same the whole way down. Far from it. It's more complicated than that. If water tables are being affected it is because the engineers are idiots and not doing it right.

The study is entirely plausible. It says it works in theory (which it most certainly does) but in practice you can fuck up and contaminate the water tables. Doesn't tell me something I did not already know intuitively.

Re:Study in texas.... (3, Insightful)

santax (1541065) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069135)

Hmmm, ok, maybe you should download or rent the docu Gasland. Without a lot of words it shows us what all those other studies except this 1 (in texas, done under supervision by a guy who has on his cv: and my experience in private firms......) have to say. Until proven (!) in practice... like it should be... I will stay with my current and correct opinion. This method is not only dangerous, it's a scorched earth tactic. As all the wells that are currently in existence have proven. So now it's up those guys who did this research to provide us with proof they are right.Let us now hope they won't start a 'proof pit' near anyone you or me, loves.

Re:Study in texas.... (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069291)

Hmmm, ok, maybe you should download or rent the docu Gasland.

OMG! Gasland was made by a liberal! It's accurate of course, but the fact that it was made by a liberal means it should be ignored completely.

Seriously, Gasland was one of the best documentaries I watched last year. Whenever I hear a politician or a shill on TV talking about how great fracking is, I think about that movie.

It's really funny how the energy industry is spending hundreds of times what Gasland cost to make to try to discredit it. Plus, they just had the director of Gasland arrested for trying to film a public congressional hearing that he had all the proper credentials to be filming. The lobbyists had the Republicans on the committee make up a new rule on the spot about filming public hearings just for him. The entire arrest and the lobbyists telling the GOP congressmen what to do is all on video, by the way. That's how scared they are of this one guy with a camera. He's the first journalist ever to be arrested for openly filming a public congressional hearing. They really don't want you to know about fracking.

Re:Study in texas.... (5, Insightful)

Gideon Wells (1412675) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069385)

I live in PA, but haven't watched it yet. We have local fracking wells up near our reservoir. W've had companies run their wells at high enough pressure to break the containment shells and keep running for three months till busted. Not one of those reservor wells, though. Oh, and truckers busted driving away from the site with the release valve on the tanks "accidentally" leaking.

I don't need to see Gasland. I can read the news. I see how the industry here is in full come in, drill and move on locust mode. The drilling could be safe if done with geology in mind and within standards. I just have no faith this will be done 100% of the time. Not that what I say or believe matters.

I can also look up our history. Pennsylvania was deforested in the lumber booms about a century ago, and only has its current forests thanks to FDR, the New Deal and the Civilian Conservation Corps. A large part of our economy is dependent on forest tourism. A third of all of our water is already contaminated from acid mine drainage from the coal booms.

Even if it were 100% no matter what, I'd still be leery based off of my state's track record.

Re:Study in texas.... (4, Insightful)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070221)

Fracking can never be done safe, at least not with today's technology. You are drilling russian roulette mode, sometimes it's safe but mostly it's not.

Companies are simply making guesstimates of what will happen when they pressurise formation and, where the fractures will go and how it will affect ground water at various depths.

Here's how it works for people looking for water. They drill down a bore into likely areas, and when water flows, they test the suitability of water derived from that formation, they keep drilling till they find a suitable formation to draw water from or the reach the depth level of the equipment or they run out of money or they give up and try at another location.

Eventually they mostly find a safe suitable source. Now along comes the fracking company, they purposefully introduce largely random (the lack the ability to 'accurately define where the fractures will occur) stress fractures in the rock, the purpose to specifically allow the mixing of fluid and gas materials to mix at various levels, basically turn rock formations into massive soda fountains. Will it affect nearby wells, they don't know and they don't give a fuck.

The law was written so that they could run off with the profits and tell those whose water they contaminate to piss off and laugh at their misery. The frackers rinse and repeat as long as governments allow them to do so. They know they are playing russian roulette with other peoples lives, seriously actual russian roulette people will get sick and die, there is absolutely no denying it. They paid their lobbyists to influence Darth Cheney to write laws to protect frackers from the frackers murderously greedy activities.

The reality is there is no technology currently available to forecast what will actually happen when you try to turn rock formations into massive soda fountains, none at all, it is a straight up guess. Pretty much a safe bet for the fracker they will likely get a big profit as for everyone else around that location, let's be honest, as far as the frackers are concerned luck of the draw 'Fuck Em'.

Re:Study in texas.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069435)

stupid fucks like you won't be happy until we are all living in caves and paying massive taxes for the privilege.

Re:Study in texas.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39070019)

I agree, none of us will be happy until you are living in a cave and paying for the privilege.

Re:Study in texas.... (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070211)

Sociopathic fucks like you won't be happy to every aquifer in North America is poisoned so every last ounce of natural gas is extracted, while you live on some nice South Pacific island counting your ill-gotten gain.

Re:Study in texas.... (3, Informative)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069355)

Would that be the same docu-drama which conveniently committed the fact that 'burning tap water' had been an on-going issue for nearly a century?

Re:Study in texas.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069371)

Would that be the same docu-drama which conveniently committed the fact that 'burning tap water' had been an on-going issue for nearly a century?

Yes sir, that's the one.

Re:Study in texas.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069729)

Oohhh...come on!

Don't spoil a good environmental wacko wank fest!

Re:Study in texas.... (4, Insightful)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069855)

How can you be correct when you don't even know how fraccing works? How is the method inherently a scorched earth tactic?

Remember, what I am saying, is that low permeability strata (meaning water does not flow through it) is cracked apart and those chemicals are introduced as a medium to leave proppant behind. The fluids themselves are largely reclaimed. Not left down below.

Most often, especially in Texas, those wells are so deep that it is not possible for the water table to interact with those formations that are being fracced. That's why you are not correct and just have no idea what you are talking about.

Ask a geologist some time if it is possible for a water table to interact with a low permeability formation that is 10,000 feet below it. He will say it is not possible. Guess why? It it was possible, that would mean the water table was that deep to begin with.

The very definitions of the terms being used mean you are incorrect and have no understanding of the process.

None, none, of what I am saying is condoning shallow fraccing in other areas of the country where it could interact with a water table.

It's not the fraccing, it is the people doing it.

Re:Study in texas.... (3, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069191)

It *sounds* bad to be putting 3000 different chemicals into the ground...

Yep, it does.

Having been on-site and spoken with engineers...

Who all owed their livings to the energy industry.

If water tables are being affected it is because the engineers are idiots and not doing it right.

Well, then the solution is simple: keep all the engineers away.

The study is entirely plausible. It says it works in theory (which it most certainly does) but in practice you can fuck up and contaminate the water tables.

So here's my idea: Let's only do fracking in theory. In practice, let's be more serious about looking for alternatives.

Re:Study in texas.... (3, Informative)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069807)

So.. on-site all of these engineers were engaged in a massive conspiracy to lie to me about how fraccing works?

The solution is to do fraccing only where appropriate. This means proper surveys and considering how it might impact the environment. Which is exactly what the study says. It was improper in the areas that have had water tables affected. In some cases, it should have never been done in the first place, and I am the first to agree with that.

I have no reason to believe they are lying to me, and certainly not years and years before this became a big deal. Most people just have no idea how it actually works. If you did, you would know how absolutely ludicrous it is for a formation 15,000 feet below ground, that is trapping hydrocarbons, in a low permeability strata, to have any affect on a water table 10,000 feet or more above it.

It is not possible for large scale effects in such a situation. At most, if the well casing is damaged near the surface you might have some leakage into the water table. However, that will happen with or without fraccing. You can detect and repair that, which is in the best interests of the operators, regardless of environmental concerns.

There are no alternatives to fraccing whatsoever. The whole idea is to crack the formations apart, pump in proppant (sand like material), and remove the fluids to increase permeability. You cannot increase permeability any other way, which is what allows you to get the hydrocarbons out the ground fast enough to make it economically viable to produce.

You would be better off finding alternatives to fossil fuels. However, the only reasonable alternative at the moment for large scale power production is nuclear, but we can't have that either.

I just find it a little ridiculous to be railing against the technology, when it is impossible for the technology to cause the problems, when properly used.

It's not the technology. It's the people. Fraccing does not damage water tables every single time in every single case, which is what people love to say.

Re:Study in texas.... (1)

marnues (906739) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070231)

It's not the technology. It's the people. Fraccing does not damage water tables every single time in every single case, which is what people love to say.

You had such a reasonable argument until here. You can ignore the crazy enviro-types. I belong to several organizations filled with them. They have their story and they're sticking to it. Just go ahead and leave them out of the entire equation. Those of us who are skeptical of fracking need to know how it can be done responsibly and why it isn't. Hopefully this can end in oil for everyone AND bad engineers in jail.

Re:Study in texas.... (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070337)

Those of us who are skeptical of fracking need to know how it can be done responsibly and why it isn't.

I know the answers to both questions. Being done responsibly is easy. Just involve competent people and have the moral resolve to not frac the formation if there is more than a 1% chance it could affect the water table. The rest is quality control.

Why it isn't is very simple. Greed and quality control.

Hopefully this can end in oil for everyone AND bad engineers in jail.

That will be more effective than anything else by far. Send the fraccing engineers to jail along with the executives of the fraccing company if it is proved that any reasonable study would have shown it was dangerous.

Do that, and you don't need to worry about the executives pushing it. Those engineers will walk away.

Re:Study in texas.... (3, Interesting)

eldorel (828471) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070419)

If you did, you would know how absolutely ludicrous it is for a formation 15,000 feet below ground, that is trapping hydrocarbons, in a low permeability strata, to have any affect on a water table 10,000 feet or more above it.

I would like to simple add a few thoughts to the discussion.

If the area they are frakking is 10,000 feet "Below" the water table, then they probably have to go through the water table in order to reach it.

So there is at least one path for contamination.

Additionally, frakking is the process of breaking geological formations in order to allow for the collection and extraction of liquid petroleum and gasses, AND a direct correlation has been show between frakking and increased geological activity.

So, they are intentionally breaking the layers of rock separating pockets of gas and oil, and causing small earthquakes.

Meanwhile you are arguing that "it is impossible for the technology to cause the problems", and that there is no way that during all of the intentional layer breaking they might cause something to change in the layers that are sitting on top of the work area

I'm not sure that "impossible" is the right term to use. I'd have chosen "marginally unlikely", but that's just me.

Re:Study in texas.... (1)

jmeboi (1199389) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069219)

If that's the argument then I'm down with suspending this practice until such time as it has been "idiotproofed" and no longer poses serious risks to the environment and water tables.

Re:Study in texas.... (2)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069907)

It does not have to be suspended completely though. That is an over reaction.

Fraccing does not occur everywhere under the ground. It is in fact a highly targeted and precise operation when done correctly.

As long as all the engineers can show that the water table could not interact with the fracced formation to a very high confidence, it should be allowed to proceed.

I said some of these fracced formations were more than 10,000 feet below the water table. Believe me when I tell you that there are thousands upon thousands of feet of low permeability strata that have prevented anything from mixing with that water table for geological time periods (tens of thousands or millions of years).

The energies required are enormous. Those cracks they create below ground get filled in with proppant (which is a type of sand and chemically inert) and don't travel all the way back up to surface. We are not talking about something that create a visible crack on the surface or cause an earth quake. Fraccing is just not that high energy.

Re:Study in texas.... (1)

eldorel (828471) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070431)

Fraccing is just not that high energy

And a single straw doesn't weigh enough to cause any noticeable harm to a camel.

Re:Study in texas.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069405)

"It *sounds* bad to be putting 3000 different chemicals into the ground until you actually start taking geology into account."

That sound great, until you realise that by frac'ing and drilling into the rock, they've changed the permeability of the rock (ie: the point of frac'ing).

Many of the chemicals are water soluble and/or are lighter than the ground water, why wouldn't the ground water seep down in the now permeable rock and mix with the chemicals?

Re:Study in texas.... (4, Informative)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070045)

That sound great, until you realise that by frac'ing and drilling into the rock, they've changed the permeability of the rock (ie: the point of frac'ing).

Drilling does not change the permeability of the surrounding rock. Keep in mind there is something called well casing which essentially protects the hole all the way to the surface.

If you drill a hole in concrete and fill it with water, did it make all of the concrete more permeable? Nope.

Many of the chemicals are water soluble and/or are lighter than the ground water, why wouldn't the ground water seep down in the now permeable rock and mix with the chemicals?

The ground water would not seep down because all of the rock formation did not have a uniform increase in permeability. It was like a bunch of cracks in a concrete wall that was further separated from the water table (we will just say a layer of dirt) by another layer of concrete that was unaffected by the frac.

Imagine this.

You have a mix of concrete in which you suspended bubbles of Coke. It is 100 feet thick. You then have a layer of normal concrete that is 1000 feet thick. On top of that you have a 100 foot layer of dirt that has a bunch of water in it.

The water table is only going to extend to the concrete itself, and not all the way to the bottom. That's the way they work, otherwise water could just fall all the way to the core of the Earth.

You then drill a hole through the whole thing. Before you frac, or do anything else after drilling the hole, you make a nice reinforced straw. That is called casing. All of the dirt does not directly interact with any fluid in the hole. It can't. The casing is there.

The water table is protected by the casing.

Now you perforate the casing all the way at the bottom with shaped explosives. This allows the Coke to flow into the hole under pressure and go to the surface. However, since the permeability is so low... you are not getting a lot. The Coke does not interact with the water table due to the casing.

That's where fraccing comes in. You create thousands of small fractures (hence the name) in the bottom layer with that nasty fluid everyone hates. Pump in proppant (which is like sand) and remove the fluid.

Now what you have is a bunch of fractures that allow the trapped Coke to travel to the hole faster. That's why it is done.

The fractures themselves extend out horizontally some distance, and vertically, but they they simply don't make it all the way through that 1000 foot thick layer of concrete to get to the water table above it.

That is why ground water does not seep into fractured formations thousands of feet below it. A path does not exist.

So now that you understand that, the only way the water table can be affected is with damaged casing (has nothing to do with fraccing) or a fraccing process that put the water table at risk because it was too close.

That's why the technology is perfectly fine in theory. Any dickhead that decides to do something like that too close to water table is the real problem.

Re:Study in texas.... (2)

compro01 (777531) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070309)

Keep in mind there is something called well casing which essentially protects the hole all the way to the surface.

Which have this annoying habit of failing horribly according to the TFA.

Re:Study in texas.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069439)

I've felt for a long time that the fraccing opponents might be on to something.

First of all, where are the systematic follow-up studies after a fraccing program? One that could prove or disprove a connection between well contamination and fraccing activity in the area? There has been no interest at all from the oil companies on this. Hmm, wonder why that would be?

Second, yeah, fraccing is done on impermeable rock formations. The whole point of fraccing is to make them permeable. And then to move the hydrocarbons to the surface, which incidentally means through any groundwater zones. Is every well perfect, with no cracks in the casing, no leaks in the pipe sections, including at the joints, and there is never any corrosion or any other flaw?

Making the tight gas mobile is the whole point. That's the reason for the pumping, the water, the additives, the sand and all the rest. And once the formation is shattered, there is nothing but "thousands of feet" of overlyning rock to stop it. And we all know rock never breaks, right? Oops, actually that happens all the time, and fraccing is designed to increase the effect by exploiting the tensile weakness of rock.

Re:Study in texas.... (3, Interesting)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069877)

At a recent convention, I attended a presentation by a man involved in fracking regulation (though I now forget his exact role, it was on the government side). He said it wasn't really the big drilling companies that caused the most severe problems with fracking, but rather the small mom-and-pop ones that aren't used to handling environmental concerns. The bigger companies have the benefit of scale, making the cost of compliance lower. They can process their waste water correctly, use higher-quality cement, and hire better nerds to do the job right. Of course that doesn't fit the conspiracy theory, so you won't find such statements in Gasland.

Re:Study in texas.... (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070189)

Does it matter at the end of the day if peoples' water supply is poisoned because water several thousand feet below is leaching to the surface, or whether it's screwy concrete closer to the surface, or it's just incompetent assholes spilling the chemicals on the ground. About the only thing that wouldn't be the company's fault would be naturally occurring natural gas in wells and aquifers, and maybe the sensible thing to do before developing a new natural gas field is to take six month's or a year's worth of samples. But other than the latter option, it boils down to fracking causing harm to water, and that being the case if a reasonable level of safety and security of groundwater cannot be guaranteed than they shouldn't be allowed to do it.

Either that, or the CEO, the board of directors and the chief engineers are forced to live with bombs strapped to their heads and as soon as evidence of contamination is seen, the townsfolk get to press the button. Methinks that would probably see an extraordinary decrease in contamination.

Re:Study in texas.... (1)

Trax3001BBS (2368736) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069403)

Study in Texas is the first thing that caught my attention.
It's not fracking's fault they claim, then the disclaimer of them lacking of any baseline information.

My Dad being in the Air Force and liking to travel; I spent a lot of my life overseas.
I'm used to not drinking the local water always having potable water brought home to drink.
But never have I been worried about bursting into flames while showering.

No, something is very wrong. and I imagine if they quit fracking tomorrow the problems
it created will still be around for generations.

Re:Study in texas.... (1)

tomhath (637240) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069611)

The Energy Institute said its report was conducted using general university funds, rather than specific grants from energy-industry companies or environmental groups. However, the institute said the Environmental Defense Fund assisted in developing the scope of work and the methodology for the study.

Apparently the ties are to an environmental group which wasn't at all happy with the conclusion. This group appears to believe scientists who suggest global warming is man made, but doesn't want to believe scientists who say hydraulic fracturing is safe. Hmm...

RTFA? (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069643)

I know you can't be bothered to read the article because you've already made up your mind, but it says:

The Energy Institute said its report was conducted using general university funds, rather than specific grants from energy-industry companies or environmental groups. However, the institute said the Environmental Defense Fund assisted in developing the scope of work and the methodology for the study. The EDF said it reviewed drafts of the report during the course of the project but did not contribute to its conclusions.

So, just in case your question was not rhetorical (and I'm pretty sure it was) there's your answer.

Re:Study in texas.... (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070381)

RTFA. it was funded entirely by the university (this was a deliberate attempt to avoid politics, it seems), however it received some non financial support from an environmental group. they stressed that that group had no editorial control.

the air you breathe has thousands of chemicals in it. the word "chemical" doesn't necessarily mean "bad".

look at the list of compounds in common foods and be horrified.

that said, like nuclear power, i support the concept, but i have little faith that it'll ever be done properly so long as there's money involved.

money, like power, corrupts.

And in theory ... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39068933)

nuclear power plants are also safe.

Re:And in theory ... (1, Informative)

reub2000 (705806) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069433)

And in practice has killed fewer people than have died mining coal. Your point?

Re:And in theory ... (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069595)

That that's a depressingly low bar? I don't think most anti-nuclear people are pro-coal. How many people have died producing solar?

Re:And in theory ... (3, Insightful)

bsane (148894) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069727)

How many people have died producing solar?

I don't know, but if/when there is even a single death from a construction accident, its death per megawatt will suddenly be worse than coal...

Re:And in theory ... (1)

reub2000 (705806) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069899)

Okay, the use of nuclear power in places like the US and France have proved to be safe. No 3 eye fish yet. It's being compared to coal because coal has proved to be an economical way to create electricity.

Blame the Cement (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39068955)

I only work as an MWD Engineer in the industry, so take my comment with a grain of salt. As far as I can tell the problem is likely due to improper cementing in 99.99% of cases. They almost always rush it, and drill ASAP afterwards, if not sooner. I wouldn't doubt they are fracking their cement job, leaving a nice path to the surface water table.

Re:Blame the Cement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069053)

"I only work as an MWD Engineer"

Mega-Watt Dick?

it can be safe (5, Funny)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069031)

There is nothing intrinsically unsafe about it in most cases, but if you frack a stranger without a condom, you can get cooties.

Re:it can be safe (2)

Tyrannosaur (2485772) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069357)

You should also make sure the rock is at least 18 years old before shooting liquids in it, or there could be other legal repercussions besides.

Humanity should be ashamed by 'Fracking' (0)

adosch (1397357) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069041)

This is going to be a pretty strong opinion without a lot of facts (but a lot of feelings towards humanity, morality and nature) but why, as a nation, are we even letting 'fracking' exist to fatten pockets of Oil companies and politicians to piggy bag loop holes onto ? I don't need to be a 'fracking' expert to know a handful of things:

A) Pumping unknown chemicals into the ground that pollute water sources is a bad idea, B) Causing earthquakes in the mid-west where should not be feel-able earthquakes is not a good thing at all, what-so-ever, C) The uncanny health deterioration and after-effects of water pollution on animals and humans, not to mention 'poisoning the well' with natural gas so you can start potable and stream water on fire is (there's a theme here) not good at all, period. D) Contamination from fracking water just being dumped out on the land and seeps back into our habitats, bad. E) The pollutants from the refining process that has makes places in Wyoming have worse air pollution than L.A., horrible. May the list go on...

Why do we all need a 'study' to come out to tell this is bad? I'm ashamed of the greed that our country has consumed itself in that we'll destroy anything, for what? The Almighty Dollar.

Re:Humanity should be ashamed by 'Fracking' (5, Insightful)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069333)

I live in one of the most geologically stable places on the planet. And we still have earthquakes here. It's called the Canadian shield [wikipedia.org] . But hey, you know if you frack properly, you don't get any problems. And I'm sure you're also going on about that BS movie where people were lighting their taps on fire, but guess what, people were doing that before. Hell there's places around me where that's possible from naturally occurring methane in the water. Mostly well water, and you need to back pressure it in your well.

Really though, next I'm sure you'll go on a rant about how the tar sands are evil. But gloss over the fact that oil has been leeching into the rivers in Canada for thousands of years. Hell, there's enough oil leeching naturally that people used to(and still do) patch their boats with it.

Re:Humanity should be ashamed by 'Fracking' (1)

manaway (53637) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070143)

And I'm sure you're also going on about that BS movie where people were lighting their taps on fire, but guess what, people were doing that before. Hell there's places around me where that's possible from naturally occurring methane in the water. Mostly well water, and you need to back pressure it in your well. Really though, next I'm sure you'll go on a rant about how the tar sands are evil. But gloss over the fact that oil has been leeching into the rivers in Canada for thousands of years. Hell, there's enough oil leeching naturally that people used to(and still do) patch their boats with it.

So you're saying that hydraulically fracturing the ground around oil and pumping in proprietary chemical mixtures, in addition to the natural leeching, can't increase the methane and chemical pollutants in your drinking water over time?

The toasters are behind it! (0, Troll)

gapagos (1264716) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069103)

Those fracking toasters are trying to trap us! It's a fracking trap, I tell ya. I for one, will not welcome those new Cylon overlords.

'Gasland' Journalists Arrested At Fracking Hearing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069189)

Unknown/Unnamed College does Study....
Fuck your rigged study. Oh yeah Fuck MSNBC too.

"Josh Fox, whose HBO documentary "Gasland" raised questions about the safety of the natural gas drilling technique known as horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was handcuffed and led away on Wednesday as he tried to film a House Science Committee hearing on the topic.

(For bonus points: How many cops did it take to arrest one man?)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLys0MvDxuo

for even more fracking horrors. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCA1ypq_9mQ&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PL951372EA49D09D50

But ya all just keep your fucking bullshit playing like some democrats or motherfucking republicans are gonna fix jack shit.
Ya all can kiss your asses goodbye soon. America is going over the cliff, and it's stupid motherfuckers like all of you who let it happen.

But what about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069227)

Good to know fraking is safe. Any news on frelling?

Did anyone else (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069415)

think that this article was going to be about sex, from the rss feed title?

Nothing to see... (1)

iive (721743) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069471)

Groat said the report was based on a review of previously published data rather than fresh field observations. "We did not go out and measure things," he acknowledged.

Well, your result are only as good as your sources.

Ob. Einstein. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069525)

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not

A Texas University... (3, Informative)

forkfail (228161) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069545)

... funded by Big Oil [utexas.edu] comes out with what is basically pro-fracking study that basically says, "We're doing it in a dangerous manner; it's the process, not what we're doing, even though everyone is doing it wrong."

And peer review? Nope. But it was reviewed by the pro-corporation sham of an environmental watch-group, the Environmental Defense Fund [wikipedia.org] :

In addition to university faculty, the Environmental Defense Fund was actively involved in developing the scope of work and methodology for this study, and reviewed final work products.

(source [utexas.edu] )

Not buyin' it.

Re:A Texas University... (1)

poity (465672) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070249)

Even the wikipedia page paints a portrait of them that's more or less neutral and less biased than what you seem to want us to believe (i.e. a "sham" group). In any case, unless you can point to specific flaws in their methodology, this appears to be a legitimate contribution to the debate.

Re:A Texas University... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39070435)

Shell Oil is also funding UT Austin's research. I'm sure it's about as objective as the fracking research at PSU.

http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/news/2012/02/15/shell-oil-invests-39m-in-ut.html

In theory... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069553)

In theory, practice and theory are the same. In practice, they are not.

Didn't read summary or TFA, but ... (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069665)

... I can tell you that's spot on. I mean it seems great, everyone feels good - no great - but then there's the heat, moisture (either sticky or slimy) and runoff ... sometimes exhaustion from all the activity and close proximity, but you go on - drill baby drill, right?. Then... oh, wait - "fracking"? Never mind.

in related news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069707)

"according to the study, released today by the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin."

In related news, Eskimo University says Ice is the new health food!

Can say the same thing about lots of things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069721)

You can say that about lots of things. Communism is great in theory. Agile is great in theory. Unfortunately those people with contaminated well water don't care that it's say in theory.

in my case (1)

nimbius (983462) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069765)

im a sysadmin with no social life, so i cant remember the last time i fracked.
although i keep condoms just in the event.

Re:in my case (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069879)

I use them (condoms) to fix leaks around my car, since I am to cheap to by latext gloves. All the rest the same tough.

Just plain stupid. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069837)

Fracking is one of the most idiot, hair brained schemes I have ever come across. When the CSG option was raised I thought it might be a good thing. A means of cheap energy freeing up oil for manufacturing - so long as there is carbon-capture good practice ramping up also - to tide us all over until we get to zero carbon power sources across the board.

Then I read how they were planning to do it. Only a corrupt government could have accepted this scheme, ONLY a corrupt government.

HA! You have it easy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39069911)

In Oregon they want to frack VOLCANOS! http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/12/01/15/1253233/pouring-water-into-a-volcano-to-generate-power

Energy Industry says "Energy Industry OK" (1)

Strange Ranger (454494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39069917)

I see plenty of the Energy Industry, a drilling company, Big Oil, and even an Investment Professional on the Advisory Board [utexas.edu]
 
I couldn't quickly find where the bulk of the department's funding comes from. But I bet it's no surprise.
 
They sure seem to be good friends to fracking. [utexas.edu]

The Difference Between Theory and Practice. (1)

scruffy (29773) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070203)

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

- Albert Einstein -

Industry rarely does things right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39070301)

Is this any real surprise? Many companies will take shortcuts if it can save them some money. Even fining them will not work if taking shortcuts to save money will save them more money than compliance (or the fines for non-compliance). To make any regulation meaningful, you have to make the penalty severe enough that those companies will do it right. Not enough companies do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do. The good companies should not fear regulation if they are doing things right.

Implementation is a part of the process (2)

Rix (54095) | more than 2 years ago | (#39070315)

If it isn't implemented safely, then it isn't safe.

Communism works great in theory.

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