Fracking With Water Quality

There has been a lot of controversy lately about a procedure to extract oil and natural gas.  This procedure is called “Hydraulic Fracturing,” or “Fracking,” and it involves pumping water, sand, and sometimes other chemicals into the soil to improve the yield of these fossil fuels.  On March 14, the Los Angeles Times presented a scary picture of  fracking and its potential impact on water quality.  See Michael J. Mishak’s front page article here:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-oil-fracking-20120315,0,4631157.story

A few days later, buried on page 16, the Times published another fracking article.  See Neela Banerjee’s article here:

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-fracking-dimock-20120318,0,1300487.story

In the latter article, it was reported that the USEPA “confirmed earlier findings that Dimrock drinking water meets all regulatory standards.”  And this EPA is not considered by anyone to be cavalier about water quality or especially friendly to oil companies!  So if they say it’s safe, it’s really safe.

Two thoughts come to mind regarding this issue.  First, oil and gas deposits are generally far below the reach of drinking water wells.  How far?  These articles describe pumping the fracking materials to depths of 10,000 feet below ground.  An exceptionally deep water well would not get within a mile of this.  Could the fracking materials make their way into the water wells?

The highest single lift of water in the world is still, I believe, accomplished by the Edmonston Pump Station on the California Aqueduct.  How high does it lift water?  Less than one-half mile.  From a hydraulic basis, it seems quite unlikely that fracking materials could migrate up so very far to contaminate drinking water wells.

However, we don’t know everything, and unexplained things occur all the time.  Often, we find out after we’ve done something that we should have been more careful.  According to the former article, “Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) introduced a bill that would require oil companies to disclose where they employ the process, what chemicals they use and how much water they pump.”  That seems like a reasonable, prudent approach to me.  Water companies could then monitor their water supplies for all of the fracking chemicals and get an early warning of any potential contamination.  The oil companies would then need to pay the water providers for any costs incurred to remove the fracking chemicals from the water supply.

With the quest for energy being the most dominant geopolitical force in our world today and for the foreseeable future, it makes good sense to me to explore every conceivable technology to harvest the Earth’s energy resources.  In what I see as extremely unfortunate, Assemblyman Wieckowski’s bill was stalled in committee, apparently through lobbying efforts by oil companies.

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