Hydraulic fracturing, commonly refereed to as fracking, is the process used to extract natural gas from the Fayetteville Shale. With 4,000 wells and counting, concerns have been raised about the safety and environmental impact of this process.
April Lane, co-founder of ArkansasFracking.org, an organization founded to address the negative impacts of the extraction of natural gas in the Fayetteville Shale are and the ripple effect it has throughout the state, said the process has negative environmental and health effects.
The fracking process consists of a mixture made mostly of water and sand being injected under extremely high pressure into rock formations to create tiny fractures allowing the natural gas to escape from the pores in the rock.
“For every million gallons of water they’re using, they’re using tens of thousands of pounds of chemicals,” Lane said.
The fluids injected into the well are 99.5 percent water and sand. The other 0.5 percent is made up of chemicals that improve fluidity. More than 10 chemicals are added to the mixture including hydrochloric acid to dissolve minerals and initiate cracks in the rock.
The industry likes to paint the picture that the chemicals they’re using are chemicals found under your kitchen sink, Lane said, but these chemicals are known to be carcinogens and cause cancer with many long and short term impacts.
Most wells are drilled thousands of feet below the aquifer level, far below any source of drinking water.
Lane said some of the wells in the Fayetteville Shale are drilled at 1,200 feet, and that’s an issue with aquifers and water tables at 500 to 800 feet.
“The methods for injection wells and fracking don’t need to be anywhere near our water supply,” said Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson.
To insure groundwater is not contaminated by chemicals or gas during the drilling process, steel pipe, known as surface casing, is cemented in place.
About 500 feet above the shale formation, the well angles horizontally to access the gas producing level of shale. In this horizontal chamber of the well, a perverting tool creates holes in the surfacing casing.
Then the water, sand and chemical mixture is injected into the shale creating tiny fractures where the sand gets trapped. The water is removed, but the sand remains leaving the fractures open for the natural gas to escape into the well.
“A lot of [chemical, sand and water mixture] is getting kicked up into the air during the drilling process and blowing on whoever’s there including the workers,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the fatality rate for the oil and gas extraction industry is seven times higher than any other industry in the U.S.
A 2003 report from Schlumberger, the industry’s top fracking company, and oil and gas corporation ConocoPhillips, said over a 20 to 30 year period 50 percent of oil casings fail and 6 percent fail immediately upon installation.
Water contamination by chemicals will come in the future, but what Arkansans need to worry about now is water contamination by methane migration, Lane said.
Methane migration occurs when the drilling process causes shallow pockets of methane gas to travel up into the water supply.
In 2001, a study by the US Geological Survey found no groundwater contaminations among 127 gas wells in Van Buren and Faulkner County.
Children, the elderly and pregnant women are at a higher risk of smaller doses and finer concentrations of methane gas emissions, Lane said.
Dodson said he relies on government agencies and scientific experts to ensure the natural gas industry is operating safely and environmentally sound, but he thinks it’s healthy for people to form their own opinions on the job they are doing.
“We have enough good corporate citizenship along with enough talented people in our regulating industries to make sure we don’t ruin our environment,” he said.
Dodson said as county judge, he doesn’t want any activities taking place that could have a negative impact on the environment, and he appreciates the Oil and Gas Commission and the Department of Environmental Quality addressing fracking as a process.
But Lane said after forming the Faulkner County Bucket Brigade, an air monitoring project founded last November to measure impact of air pollution on the community, she discovered their was a disconnect between the state and its citizens.
Since then her organization has worked to build a bridge between citizens and legislative officials as well as federal and state regulatory agencies.
“We have agencies who are overwhelmed, overburdened, understaffed, underfunded and we’re having to respond to this massive energy extraction technique that is above most of our heads, so it’s been a learning curve for a lot of the federal regulatory agencies to see what can we do legally to regulate it, and what do we need to inform the public about,” Lane said.
ArkansasFracking.org is asking for a six month moratorium on all fracking activity until a human impact study, an environmental study and a long term economic impact study, that will include environmental and health impacts, are completed and evaluated.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)