Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking) is the use of fluid and material to create or restore small fractures in a formation in order to stimulate production from new and existing oil and gas wells. This creates paths that increase the rate at which fluids can be produced from the reservoir formations, in some cases by many hundreds of percent.
Definition taken from FracFocus
Clean Energy Action’s Position
To the extent that hydraulic fracturing is pursued, it is CEA’s position that a moratorium shall be imposed and remain until the practice is regulated by the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and all other relevant federal, state, and local regulations; sufficient evidence is provided showing the practice to be harmless; and all external costs are incorporated into the price of the fuel. Additionally, the State of Colorado should have the authority to set minimum standards for the development of these resources and local governments should have the authority to exceed those standards.
On August 5, 2013, Clean Energy Action was one of 206 who signed a letter to our Congress asking for support to close oil and gas drilling loopholes in four of our bedrock environmental laws: the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. You can read the letter here, and please consider sending one yourself.
In 2010, Dr. Theo Colborn, et al, performed a study to determine the health effects of specific chemicals used during the natural gas extraction process, “Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective”. The results of the study determined that “more than 75% of the chemicals on the list can affect the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system and the liver. Over half the chemicals show effects in the brain and nervous system”.
Several organizations are currently performing studies to determine the full impact of the health effects.
- Center for Energy and Climate Economics (CEEP) – In 2011, RFF’s Center for Energy Economics and Policy (CEEP) launched an initiative to identify the priority risks associated with development of shale gas in the United States and to recommend strategies for responsible exploration and production. This analysis, made possible by a $1.2 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is one of the first independent, broad assessments of the key risks associated with the shale gas development process.
- National Science Foundation (NSF) – $12 million 4 to 5-year study with multiple academic and research institutions being led by University of Colorado at Boulder with Patty Limerick as Chair.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – At the request of U.S. Congress, the EPA is conducting a study on any potential impacts on drinking and ground water. The scope of the research includes a full life span of water in hydraulic fracturing. A final draft report is expected to be released for public comment and peer review in 2014.
- Geisinger Health Systems Study – major multi-year study the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania re fracking and health impacts. The study is particularly important as it will include the review of 10 years of medical records of patients in the Geisinger Health System based in Danville, PA where there are five years of records before fracking started and five years afterwards. Geisinger operates hospitals and clinics in 44 PA counties and serves 2.6 million patients. The study includes over 40 researchers from more than 60 organizations and will initially focus on fracking and ozone in relation to asthma.
- Colorado State University – CSU in Fort Collins is conducting a state-wide study on air quality due to be complete in 2014. Eugene Kelly, director of the department that includes the development of air quality mobile monitoring devices.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Methane and Greenhouse-Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations, a study performed by Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University, found that “Natural gas is composed largely of methane, and 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production (hydraulic fracturing) escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the life-time of a well. [Hydraulic Fracturing] methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas.”
In a press release on the study by Cornell University, an interview was conducted with one of the authors, Robert W. Howarth, on why methane is such a concern, “Natural gas is mostly methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas, especially in the short term, with 105 times more warming impact, pound for pound, than carbon dioxide (CO2), Howarth said, adding that even small leaks make a big difference. He estimated that as much as 8 percent of the methane in shale gas leaks into the air during the lifetime of a hydraulic shale gas well — up to twice what escapes from conventional gas production.”
Depleting Natural Resources
In May 2013, Ceres released the report, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Growing Competitive Pressures for Water”. The report used data from FracFocus to calculate the amount of water used in tight (shale) oil and shale gas wells from January 2011 through September 2012. It was determined that 65.8 million gallons of water were used, and 47% of the wells were developed in high or extremely high water stressed areas, particularly Colorado and Texas. The Ceres reported concluded that, “given projected sharp increases in (shale) production in the coming years and the potentially intense nature of local water demands, competition and conflicts over water should be a growing concern for companies, policymakers, and investors”. Press coverage from the NY Times and EcoWatch can be found at the links.
From February through May, 2013, The Center for the American West at the University of Colorado at Boulder held FrackingSENSE, a weekly speaker series to begin the discussion around fracking from all view points. Visit the Center of the American West for topic and speaker information and listen to the podcasts of the events.