An Aerial View of Hydraulic Fracturing: From Mini Earthquakes to Airport Reserves

fracking photo

It’s called hydraulic fracturing or fracking for short and it consists of fracturing rocks with a pressurized liquid by injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into deep rock formations in order to allow gas reserves to migrate to a well.

As of 2013, at least 2 million gas wells in the U.S. had been fractured and these wells makeup 43 percent of oil and 67 percent of natural gas production in the U.S.

In the 1980s, environmental concerns emerged around ground water contamination caused by gas and fracturing chemicals making their way into deep aquifers. Recently two Stanford researchers, Dominic DiGuilio and Robert Jackson, discovered that fracking takes place dangerously close to aquifers thousands of miles below the surface. These aquifers have been categorized as safe for humans but what if they became contaminated with carcinogens and neurotoxic chemicals without us even knowing it?

Los Angeles Times reports:

DiGiulio and Jackson plotted the depths of fracked wells, as well as domestic drinking water wells in the Pavillion area. They found that companies used acid stimulation and hydraulic fracturing at depths of the deepest water wells near the Pavillion gas field, at 700 to 750 feet, far shallower than fracking was previously thought to occur in the area.

“It’s true that fracking often occurs miles below the surface,” said Jackson, professor of environment and energy at Stanford. “People don’t realize, though, that it’s sometimes happening less than a thousand feet underground in sources of drinking water.”

There’s also the concern that fracking chemicals injected into rocks will then mix with gas and once used may be released into the environment in the form of methane. Additionally, the heavy duty machinery used to fracture wells may cause destruction to eco-systems and landscapes. Like in Oklahoma, for example, where 2,500 earthquakes are being blamed on fracking and the destruction of rock formations.

What if these earthquakes happened in vulnerable places like the airport? Random, I know, but it could actually happen. Now Pittsburgh International Airport is diving into the fracking business. Consol Energy will set up right alongside the airport parking lot this month. The gas deposits are a mile directly below the airport. Is this the best place to be injecting and extracting volatile chemicals?

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Image: Mark