Oh Frack!By Mark W. Law (Apr 20th, 2012)
When the white man conquered the Wild Wild West he brought with him ‘firewater’ – low quality, rot gut grain alcohol that decimated Indian nations across North America and remains a major problem to this day.
Who would have thought that a decade into the 21st century we are once again talking about ‘firewater’, only this time not from a bottle or crock but from your kitchen sink? And not just in remote native communities!
As the world’s supply of readily available fossil fuels dries up (pun intended) more creative methods of extracting oil and natural gas have been implemented on a grand scale. In the Tar Sands, steam is injected into the bedrock to loosen and melt hard bitumen so that it can be pumped to the surface. In the natural gas industry high pressure water is pumped into fissures in the rock to release the gas. This is called Hydraulic Fracturing or Fracking.
A fairly simple process you would think, and certainly safer than dynamite or nasty chemicals. What could be more natural than water, a sort of ‘pressure washer’ for natural gas?
But water is a funny thing. Under pressure and gravity it tends to go wherever it finds a path of least resistance. And whatever is dissolved in the water goes with it. And as fracking becomes ‘mainstream’ (25% of extractions now use fracking) we are hearing more and more Armageddon stories surfacing in the oddest places. The flammable tap water stories were thought to be urban legends until frustrated homeowners turned to Youtube. Now a simple search for ‘flammable tapwater’ on the site reveals pages of videos!
This morning on Reuters online is a story about the U.S. Geological Service seeing major increases in earthquake activity in the Midwest, where fracking is commonplace.
From 1970 through 2000, the rate of magnitude 3 or greater quakes was 21 plus or minus 7.6 each year, according to USGS figures. Between 2001 and 2008, that increased to 29 plus or minus 3.5.
But the next three years saw the numbers increase “much more spectacularly,” said Arthur McGarr, of the geologic survey’s Earthquake Science Center in California: 2009 had 50, 2010 had 87 and 2011 had 134 such events.
“We don’t know why, but we doubt that it’s a natural process, because in nature, the only time you see such a big increase is during an aftershock sequence (with a series of quakes) or in a volcanic setting where you often get swarms of earthquakes due to magmatic activity,” McGarr said.
It is going to take years for us to get off our fossil fuel dependency but in the meantime there has to be safer ways to take black gold out of the soil.
Imagine going into your local pizza parlour and watching them make crusts using balls of frozen dough and a pile driver! Hardly the kind of meal you want to share with your children.
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For the doubting Thomases here is one such video from Youtube:
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