waterless fracking

If We Can't Make Fracking Unnecessary, Can We At Least Make It Safer?

(3Bl Media/Justmeans) - Russell Gold’s pragmatic piece about fracking in the Wall Street Journal makes a number of excellent points. First, our economy has such an enormous appetite for energy, that there is no way we can simultaneously give up coal, oil, nuclear and natural gas, as much as the environment would like us to, without bringing things to a screeching halt. So pick your poison.

Conventional wisdom has been that gas is the lesser of the four evils, especially after Fukushima, where nuclear lost most of whatever remaining luster it had. Even the esteemed Rocky Mountain Institute said we could wean ourselves off the other three, while growing the economy, so long as we had natural gas as a “bridge fuel.” That was before the precipitous drop in gas prices due to the discovery of Marcellus Shale and before the realization of the many issues associated with fracking.

Gold mentions several of them: the leaks, the lack of water testing or understanding as to what constitutes a safe and suitable site, and the lack of quality control throughout the process.

He does not mention several other issues including the question of earthquakes triggered by fracking, and the presence of radon in the gas. Radon has a radioactive half-life of 2-3 days. The means that by the time it reaches New York from places like Louisiana, it is no longer radioactive. But it can get to New York a lot faster from Pennsylvania.

Mr. Gold focuses more on pre-testing water before drilling in order to protect companies from “abusive false claims” of water contamination, than he does on legitimate claims.

As to the question of leaks, which the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently found were serious enough to make natural gas less climate-friendly than diesel fuel (though still more benign than coal), he says it’s just a matter of finding the leaks and fixing them. That could be easier said than done, considering the shoddy state of much of our infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines. There is also the fact that some of the leakage is intentional. Many natural gas wells operating in remote areas without electricity use pneumatic controllers that are powered by a flow of gas that spins a turbine before being released into the atmosphere. Annual releases of as much as 50 billion cubic feet have been recorded in recent years. The EPA has begun regulating these releases under the Clean Air Act, which has led to newer designs with lower emissions that are now being deployed. But these emissions could be cut to zero if solar powered electric units with backup batteries were used instead.

But perhaps the biggest omission is any discussion of any of the work that is currently taking place to actually make fracking safer.

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