Early drilling operations in Baldwin Hills (photo courtesy of L.A. Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2008/10/theres-been-muc.html)
I cannot pretend to be an expert on fracking. Not even close. Yet, I can’t help the feeling that drilling thousands of feet into the earth, pumping millions of gallons of chemical-laden water — with many of the chemicals being known carcinogens — multiple times over several days into the ground in earthquake fault zones can’t be great for the environment. Even if that makes me a silly person.
Thankfully, there are many that know much better than I, and they seem to be in agreement that, indeed, fracking is not all it is cracked up to be. A two-year study of earthquake activity triggered by drilling in Dallas by University of Texas researcher Cliff Frolich, for example, claimed its most significant finding to be “that all of the better-located [earthquake] epicenters were situated within a few kilometers of one or more injection wells.” And that “this is important because it suggests that small triggered earthquakes, magnitude about 2 and smaller, occur more often than reported previously. Most of these wells associated with earthquakes were not suspected of triggering earthquakes prior to this study.”
His findings confirmed those of a two-year study conducted in the Horn River Basin in Canada that found anomalous low-level seismic activity “were caused by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing in proximity to pre-existing [earthquake] faults.”*
While Frolich could not explain why some injection wells in the shale around Dallas triggered earthquakes and others did not, he made clear that better research is necessary to build a better understanding of the link between fracking and seismic activity. Currently, he wrote,
Most investigations of induced or triggered earthquakes take place only after an earthquake occurs that is severe enough to be felt by nearby residents and receive media attention. Such events usually have magnitudes of approximately 3 or greater and occur in populated areas. Limiting research only to these events [reported by the public or the National Earthquake Information Center] doesn’t help us understand why some injection wells trigger seismic activity and others do not. I am unaware of any previous investigation comparing the properties of injection wells that do and do not induce earthquakes.
Meanwhile, a 2011 draft report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indicated that synthetic chemicals, including glycols and alcohols used in gas production and fracking, concentrations of benzene that were well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards, and high levels of methane, had contaminated an aquifer in Wyoming. While the contaminants had not significantly affected public and private wells — contaminants were detected but in low enough levels to still meet safe standards — the EPA did express concern about the ability of the contaminants to migrate and eventually impact those wells.
Industry leaders, on the other hand, continue to deny that fracking is harmful.
PXP’s study of its own fracking activities in the Inglewood Oil Field concluded that — surprise! — fracking is totally safe. Air quality is not an issue and nor is ground movement, despite the number of residents from Baldwin Hills that have come forward to speak about how the foundations of their homes are cracking.
Furthermore, industry leaders claim, fracking has never once been proven to impact water supplies. According to the organizers at “Save Colorado From Fracking,” however, that may only be because the industry considers “fracking” to be limited to the injection of fluid alone, while the public considers “fracking” to entail the entire process of drilling a well for the purposes of hydraulic fracturing.
Despite the mounting evidence calling the practice into question, a few days ago, Governor Jerry Brown suggested that California should look at fracking as a way to develop its massive oil reserves, currently locked in the Monterey Shale, as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil. The U.S. Energy Department estimates the shale could contain more than 15 billion barrels of oil — the equivalent of approximately 64 percent of the U.S.’ total shale oil resources.
Fracking in the shale could also lead to a massive economic boom, a new report from USC and the Communications Institute, has found. By 2015, the study claims, oil-related tax revenues could top $4.5 billion and $24.6 billion by 2020, generating as many as 500,000 new jobs — both within the industry and because of the services the new workforce would require (food, clothing, housing, supplies, etc.) — in the next two years and 2.8 million jobs by 2020. Read more…