CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Recently I got a call from some college students. They asked, "Can you tell us about fracking?" "Sure." I responded. "But why do you want to know?"
"They are going to frack under our college and we're scared," they answered. So I told them what I tell everyone: the truth.
There has been a lot of fear of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") due to all of the misinformation people have heard about it. Just like a recent op-ed in the Sunday Gazette-Mail. I have heard all of the "facts" it contained many times before, and they have been refuted countless times. Like many misinformed people, the author calls everything associated with an oil and gas well "fracking." That is like calling a coal truck driver a coal miner.
The author probably doesn't know that almost every oil and gas well on land in the United States requires fracking. Without fracking, we have no domestic natural gas and oil industry or the jobs that go with it. Maybe most important, we would be just like France depending on Russia for our energy at their prices.
Hydraulic fracturing is only one very small but very important part in the process of developing a natural gas or oil project. The natural gas and oil industry knows a lot about the hydraulic fractures we create. We know that a hydraulic fracture is a crack about one-eighth to one-fourth-inch wide made by pumping water, foam or nitrogen gas into a natural gas or oil reservoir. These fractures extend a few hundred feet in two directions from the well bore and they extend upward a few hundred feet at most.
We know this from observation and instrumentation. Wells in the Marcellus Shale are typically over a mile and a half deep. Water doesn't run uphill -- how do you feel about hiking up an 8,000-foot hill?
To believe we can frack into groundwater is senseless. There are also four to five cemented steel pipes to protect groundwater compared to one non-cemented pipe in a home water well. The unregulated home water well is far more dangerous to our groundwater. We have been fracturing coal in mines for over 25 years to remove the methane before the miners get there. Unfortunately, not all mines do this, but mines that do have had no fatalities from methane explosions. The miners and engineers observe these created fractures.
We fear what we don't understand. We have been fracturing wells for over 65 years. Fracturing is as old as television. Over 1 million wells in the United States have been hydraulically fractured since 1947.
We know that fracturing cannot contaminate groundwater or cause earthquakes or do many of the other bad things people believe. My greatest fear is that we end up not fracturing by putting unreasonable regulations on the process or banning it. You should fear this too.
My belief and hope is that the op-ed author is simply ignorant of the fact that in 2007 we had 16 liquid natural gas terminals being built so that we could bring natural gas to the United States from places like Russia, Iran and Venezuela. We did this because we believed we were running out of natural gas. Six years later, thanks to American creativity and ingenuity, we have combined the old technology of hydraulic fracturing and the new technology of horizontal drilling to make the Marcellus Shale the second-largest natural gas field on the planet!