The abundance of low cost fossil fuels keeps gas guzzling cars on the road and greenhouse generating power plants producing electricity. Industries related to our dependence upon fossil fuels continue to fight all attempts to reduce the consumption of these fuels with all the legal and political clout that money can buy in spite the alarm of concerned scientists regarding global warming.
Scientists have been sounding the alarm about global warming for the last decade. Some people have taken notice and have been trying to put on the breaks to our insatiable appetites for all that requires the use of fossil fuels. The news media has even taken up the call of drawing the public’s attention to the increasing devastation in abnormal weather events around the world.
In spite of all that science, the media, and our government has said about global warming more than half of congress and much of our population remains un-alarmed or in denial about global warming. We are so in love with our carbon consuming lifestyles that many disbelieve any information that may threaten their way of life. Even those who do believe are unwilling to reduce their consumption of energy but instead emphasize the use of alternative energy sources and energy saving technologies. But it will require both significant reductions in the consumption of energy as well as the use of alternative technologies to curb global warming.
Now there is relatively new technology called fracking which allows huge domestic oil and gas reserves trapped in shale rich region to be tapped. Shale consists of layers of sandstone embedded with oil and natural gas (primarily methane). It is impossible to remove these fossil fuels by conventional means. However if these shale layers could be broken up, oil and natural gas could seep out along cracks and collected. Engineers and scientist have devised a technology call fracking (from the word fracturing) whereby fresh water is injected into these shale layers under enormous pressures to crack or fracture the shale around the areas of injection. This is accomplished by drilling down into the shale layer and inserting a pipe perforated with thousands of small injection hole into the shale layer then pumping huge amounts of water under enormous pressure into this pipe which is injected into the shale through the perforated injection holes causing it to fracture extensively for some distance around the pipe. The more water that is injected into the shale the more extensive it becomes fractured. Often millions of gallons are used at a single wellhead site. To prevent the cracks from closing up a small amount of sand is injected along with the water. Lubricants are also added to allow the sand grains to penetrate deeper into the fractures. Other chemicals are added to control the properties and surface tension of the water and to weaken the shale. Since shale exists in extensive horizontal layers a technique has been developed to drill horizontally to follow the shale layers horizontally for several miles deep underground.
Upon the completion of fracturing or fracking the water pressure is removed. Each fracture gives up a slow continuous trickle of fossil fuel or methane gas and chemical laced water that flows down progressively larger fractured layers like tributaries feeding into a river which flows stronger as it travels down stream and back into the perforated pipe. Initially most of the injected water is pushed back up the pipe to the surface and is stored in huge pools near the wellhead. Then for years afterwards fossil fuel is pumped out of this well. Hundreds if not thousands of these fracking wells can populate a single shale rich area.
Fracking is quite an amazing piece of engineering technology. But it is fraught with real and potential problems. Aquifers often run above and below these shale layers. Well water from these aquifers is frequently used by nearby populations and farmers. When the shale and nearby rock is fractured, chemical laced water injected into the shale together with oil and natural gas can leak into these aquifers contaminating the well water. The oil companies refuse to divulge the chemicals used in the injected water for fracking claiming them trade secrets, so we have no idea what chemicals are getting into these ground water supplies. They may be highly toxic and carcinogenic for all we know. There is little government oversight at present. Naturally occurring chemicals in the shale as will as oil and natural gas have also been reported to have contaminated well water from fracking. People living in areas near fracking sites have reported high amounts of mysterious illnesses and unusual cancer outbreaks. It has even been reported that the well water is sometimes flammable. Another problem is that the injection water coming back out of the well is so contaminated that it cannot be disposed of. So it remains in huge pools indefinitely or is disposed of illegally. Offshore sites along California dump this highly contaminated waste water directly into the ocean.
There have also been reports of earth quacks occurring near fracking sites where earthquake were previously unheard of. Methane gas sometimes seep out of the ground into the atmosphere near fracking sites. Methane is 35 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So little of it is produced naturally that it is not a problem. But if significant numbers of fracking wells are drilled this methane may become significant compounding the greenhouse gas problem and accelerating global warming. All the harmful fall outs of this new technology have yet to be realized or revealed.
But the greatest and most sinister threat fracking poses is an abundant source of domestic fossil fuels which can keep the price of these fuels affordable and available for decades. Simple economic will encourage the continued use of this source of fossil fuel in spite of scientific warnings to decrease its use. Even the current presidential administration is not opposing the exploration and use of this new source of domestic fossil fuel.
If we as a nation do not take heed of all the warning signs and alarm signals from scientists then we may be endangering the survival of future generations and dooming our children to suffer the vengeance and devastation of nature as weather events worsen. There are those who believe that science will eventually find solution to global warming. But what is science can’t?
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