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Hydraulic Fracking

Meet the Frackers Scientific research

October 21st, 2013 Allison Bass, Jenna Hanks, Jimmy Crook, Joseph Upchurch Chung Science Museum G110 Dear Ms. Chung, I. Statement of Problem The process of extracting natural gas from shale rock, hydraulic fracturing, is a very controversial topic is today’s society, but is a process that could be very beneficial if the issues are properly addressed. The purpose of this study is to investigate damages such as, water pollution or aquifer depletion, caused by hydraulic fracturing and inform the public of its importance. II. Purpose of Study The goal of this study is to provide the public with an investigation of hydraulic fracturing. It is important study because hydraulic fracturing releases natural gas from rock formations. This gas is much more environmentally friendly than coal power plants (Carpenter). Carbon dioxide emission has become a very serious issue because it causes climate change which can have a serious effect on environments, and this is a process that can dramatically decrease it. This study will tell us if the side effects of methane release and water contamination are minimal enough to be negated by the rewards. This research will also help clear the confusion of how this process will affect the environment around the wells.

III. Research Questions / Hypothesis Do the benefits of hydraulic fracturing outweigh the harmful effects on the environment? Yes, the benefits will outweigh the risks of hydraulic fracturing because of the safety measures, advancements in technology, decreased carbon dioxide emissions and a cleaner burning energy source.

IV. Conclusion Our display deserves a spot in the museum because it is extremely informative on the topic of hydraulic fracturing and its benefits and risks. It will help people form their own opinion on the topic and realize the benefits of the process compared to burning coal. Hydraulic fracking can benefit the economy because it creates jobs, reduces the overall carbon footprint of the United States, and lowers the United States’ dependence on foreign countries.

111 Friendle Dr. Raleigh, NC 27614 919.526.3565 ph 555.543.5433 fax


Hydraulic Fracking

Meet the Frackers Scientific research

Enclosed please find the research proposal for the study, Meet The Frackers Sincerely,

Allison Bass Allison Bass Co-Principal Investigators

Jenna Hanks Jenna Hanks Co-Principal Investigators

Jimmy Crook Jimmy Crook Co-Principal Investigators

Joseph Upchurch Joseph Upchurch Co-Principal Investigators Meet the Frackers

111 Friendle Dr. Raleigh, NC 27614 919.526.3565 ph 555.543.5433 fax


Hydraulic Fracking


Hydraulic Fracking Allison Bass, Jenna Hanks, Jimmy Crook, Joseph Upchuck Meet the Frackers

Hydraulic Fracking


Literature Review

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a natural gas harvesting process that is a fairly new method in the field of renewable energy. Kenneth I. Eshiet, Yong Sheng, Jianqiao Ye discuss the fracking process in great detail to inform readers about what is actually involved and what is needed. They state that the first part of the process is finding a shale rock formation underground that is believed to contain pockets of natural gas (Eshiet, Sheng, and Ye, 2013). After a pocket has been located, the next step is to drill vertically until the drill is level with the shale. After the drill has reached the desired depth, it will turn 90 degrees and continue to drill horizontally until the shale is reached (Palliser, 2012, p. 20). In this process the drill generally takes thousands of feet to reach the shale (Palliser, 2012, p. 20). Eshiet, Sheng, and Ye argue that the next step is one of the most important steps. When the shale is reached a chemical solution is pumped through the pipes to puncture and create fissures for the natural gas to escape (Eshiet et. al. 2013). They further discuss how after the gas is released it flows up the pipe trying to reach pressure equilibrium (Eshiet et. al. 2013). Now that the gas it at the surface it can captured, processed and refined to be sold. Once the natural gas has been captured, the chemical solution will rise to the surface and will also be captured and stored (Palliser, 2012, p. 20). Hydraulic fracking allows access to a more environmentally friendly fuel. Janna Palliser points out that hydraulic fracking has recently become very popular. She believes that compared to coal and oil, natural gas is a much cleaner source of energy (Palliser, 2012, p. 21). However, Michael B. McElroy and Xi Lu argue that while natural gas is cleaner the fracking process possess other environmental risks. Much of the United States fossil fuels come from oil and coal, both of which emits sulfur dioxide which is incredibly damaging to the environment (McElroy and Lu, 2013). About two-thirds of sulfur dioxide, one-third of carbon dioxide emissions and one quarter of the nitrogen oxide emissions in the U.S. are produced by coal burning (McElroy and

Hydraulic Fracking


Lu, 2013). Palliser points out that these popular methods are damaging the environment while hydraulic fracking emits significantly lower levels of carbon dioxides, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxides (Palliser, 2012, p. 21). Therefore, the surrounding environments and the air will have a lower risk of being negatively affected by sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. McElroy and Lu argue that the hydraulic fracking process is highly efficient because very low amounts of natural gas are wasted or lost as it is being drawn out (McElroy and Lu, 2013). “Risks are common to the oil and gas exploration industry, and some of them are unique to fracking operations” Thomas Swartz states in “Hydraulic Fracturing: Risks and Risk Management.” (Swartz, 2011) The risks that are relevant to the hydraulic fracturing process must be handled with extreme care. One major concern is the storage of the used pressurized fluid or “flowback” water which contains sand and numerous added chemicals (Swartz, 2011). Generally after the water mixture has been pumped through the wells it is kept on site (McElroy and Lu, 2013). The mixture is stored in large ponds or lagoons dubbed as “frack tanks” (Palliser, 2012, p. 21). Swartz, Palliser, McElroy and Lu are all concerned on the potential impact of the flowback water on drinking water aquifers. Swartz points out that nature itself could cause problems for the frack tanks (Swartz, 2011). An event like a storm or tornado could spread the flowback water to surrounding areas (Swartz, 2011). Pallier points out that the added chemicals could potentially contaminate the surrounding area’s drinking water (Palliser, 2012, p.21). There are precautions taken in the actual process such as the casing of the pipes in cement (McElroy and Lu, 2013). Due to the importance of these issues the government has created committees to help make hydraulic fracturing a more effective and eco-friendly process. One of the main issues with hydraulic fracturing, as Swartz points out, is that not only is there natural gas trapped in the rock but also large quantities of methane (Swartz, 2011). The

Hydraulic Fracking


whole purpose of using this natural gas is to help the environment. If methane gets into the air it could nullify all of the benefits of natural that natural gas. McElroy concurs with this conclusion saying that methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas and cannot be exposed to the open air (McElroy and Lu, 2013). Not only is Swartz concerned about the air but also the water. Stories have surfaced that around fracking sites the water has turned flammable (Swartz, 2011). If this is the case fracking sites should be thoroughly examined as surrounding people and environments may be damaged. The article “Fracking Fury� as well as McElroy agree that the water sources must be protected, and if not then the side effects can be extremely detrimental. Hydraulic Fracturing is an ongoing process that has been very controversial in today’s media. While there are many potential benefits to this process there are also potential issues. It is important to stay informed so that an educated opinion can be formed.

Hydraulic Fracking


Body Copy Fracking, sounds like one of the words you would get your mouth washed out as a child for saying. In reality it’s not a curse word, but a slang term for hydraulic fracturing, which in the future could be a major bandage for our needs of fossil fuel. Hydraulic fracturing is a process which is used to extract natural gas, which the article “Fracking Fury” says is a mixture of hydrocarbon gases but is mostly methane (Palliser, 2012, p. 20). Natural gas can then be captured and sent around the globe. It can be burned similarly to coal and oil to make energy. Not only is it just as effective as the two but it is more environmentally friendly than coal, and as a bonus for companies around the world it’s significantly cheaper (Palliser, 2012, p. 20). Sounds like this is the answer to our prayers right? Coal plants will start shutting down, the air will be cleaner, power will be abundant, and jobs and money will flourish. Hydraulic Fracturing could lead us to a major energy revolution so what’s holding us back from this potential godsend? First let us look at what it takes to set up and run one of these natural gas wells. It’s not like Beverly Hillbillies where you can just shoot the ground and it starts bubbling forth. The shale rock that holds this useful gas is around one and a half to two miles down in the ground (Carpenter, 2013, p. 58). This depth is equivalent to almost three empire state buildings, and if you haven’t seen that building well then take my words that it’s deep. To reach it a hole must be drilled all the way down. The well will then take a right angle, parallel to the surface. In the article “Hydraulic Fracturing,” it says a perforated gun is inserted into the hole and it blasts into the sides of the shaft (Swartz, 2011). The blast will make some initial cracks. To widen these cracks Swartz says that they pump high pressure water, sand, and possibly some chemical additives down the shaft (Swartz, 2011). The high pressure water is meant to extend and create cracks deep into the rock. The plan is for these cracks to hit pockets of the gas unleashing

Hydraulic Fracking


everything inside of them. The sand is to maintain these cracks, as the pressure of rocks above them may slam them shut (Palliser, 2012, p. 20). The last component being blasted down the hole is the chemical additives. “Hydraulic Fracturing” states that these chemicals “suspend the sand evenly throughout the fluid, ensure the fluid flows evenly and with limited friction, and reduce bacterial growth in the wellbore.”(Swartz, 2011). Once the cracks have reached the pockets retrieving the gas is fairly simple. It is simple physics, the high pressure pockets will want to equal the pressure of the surface. So the gas will be forced out of the pockets and up the shaft (Palliser, 2012, p. 21). Once at the surface the gas is collected and stored.

(Figure 1: Model of Fracking well site made of cake) Above is a representation of a hydraulic fracturing well made out of a cake. The white line is the main shaft of the well. The shale rock where the natural gas can be found is the brown layer of icing. Once it hits that specific layer of rock it takes a 90 degree to increase the amount of rock that one well can reach. This in turn may give the pipe access to more and maybe larger pockets of the natural gas. As you can see below the well runs straight through a layer of permeable rock that holds water. This causes one of the multiple concerns that arise from

Hydraulic Fracking


fracking. This in turn may give the pipe access to more and maybe larger pockets of the natural gas. As you can see below the well runs straight through a layer of permeable rock that holds water. This causes one of the multiple concerns that arise from fracking. The setbacks of spraying water into the ground are more numerous than you think. First off there is a monster lurking inside those shale formations. Not the kind of monster that hides in your closet, but to environmentalist it might as well be. This monster is a greenhouse gas that if it isn’t properly managed would reek havoc upon the world by heating it up. That monster just happens to be the natural gas itself. It contains methane molecules which are much more powerful than the predominantly known gas carbon dioxide. Scientist are worried that if the fracturing wells aren’t properly managed or have an accident that large amounts of methane may be sent into the air (Palliser, 2012, p. 21). If this happens often then all the good that this burnable gas is doing would be for nothing. The air isn’t the only destination we don’t want this stuff going. In certain scenarios the gas could find itself interacting with water supplies. Aquifers near the rock formations could be contaminated with the methane and then would be undrinkable (Carpenter, 2013, p. 59). Stories have arisen from areas surrounding hydraulic fracturing wells saying that the water in their taps has been tainted and are now flammable (Palliser, 2012, p. 21). These people tend to draw water from wells which mean the aquifer underneath them is polluted as well. Now the only use for it would be to sell it to a circus for a fire breather to use. This water is not just for humans but is used for all of the surrounding environment. The water could seriously harm surrounding wildlife and may be irreversible. Remember that water that is getting pumped down the shaft. Once this water has been used to remove the natural gas it resurfaces (Palliser, 2012, p. 21). This water can’t just be dumped somewhere because it has chemicals in it. According to Swartz “The frack water is

Hydraulic Fracking


typically stored in purpose-built ponds or “frack tanks” at the drilling location.” (Swartz, 2011). These tanks must be properly maintained to protect the surrounding environment. If theses tanks being to leak then the contaminated water could get into the groundwater which would negatively affect the area around the fracking site (Carpenter, 2013, p. 59). The amount of water required to run a fracking site is quite significant according to both Swartz and McElroy. This presents quite an issue as such an amount of water cannot be transported. So the only solution is to use whatever water can be found nearby. By doing this, it can seriously deplete surrounding aquifers which will possibly have a negative on the surrounding environment (Palliser, 2012, p. 22). These are some serious problems that need solutions. Hopefully this hasn’t turned you into a complete anti fracker, because the benefits can be more than one can possibly imagine. There are many benefits of using the process of hydraulic fracking as the method used to obtain natural gas especially compared to the other alternatives. The burning of natural gas emits lower CO2 levels into the atmosphere compared to other methods of obtaining energy (McElroy and Lu, 2013). For example, the coal burning process, which is the most popular and widely used method of producing electricity, emits millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air (Palliser, 2012, p. 21). The hydraulic fracking process, if widely used, will help to reduce the United States’ carbon footprint. The transition from coal burning to hydraulic fracking will also mean that the United States will rely less on a resource that is not renewable and that is being depleted at a very rapid rate (Carpenter, 2013, p. 58). Hydraulic fracking is a much more efficient and cleaner option compared to other natural gas wells. Other conventional wells produce as much if not more waste as hydraulic fracking, however, hydraulic fracking usually generates more than double the amount of natural gas making it the more efficient method (McElroy and Lu, 2013). If hydraulic fracking becomes the standard method in the U.S. that is used for the obtaining natural

Hydraulic Fracking


gas then the United States will have a much lower dependency on foreign oil. Currently the U.S. is having to buy fuel from other areas of the world and as a result must rely on other governments and other people (Swartz, 2011). This can cause the process of coal burning for example to become much more expensive because the source is not in the U.S. However, if the United States begins to use hydraulic fracking, which can be done all over the United States, as the method for obtaining natural gas then the United States dependency on other countries will decrease. Currently Americans are using large amounts of energy in their everyday activities. That energy is being made from oil and coal, which both are very damaging to the environment and our air. Natural gas, although it’s not a long term solution, can be a great help in trying to slow down global warming. America has a large amount of this natural gas in its soil. If this resource is tapped and dependency will go down, and as Americans this will make the people proud about how they produced that product instead of ordering it from someone else. America could use this boost right now, and this may prove to be an example to the world. As the author I would like to urge readers to make a decision about how they feel about such a process, hopefully you can see the possibilities that may emerge from perfecting Hydraulic Fracturing. If you do think that fracturing can be helpful to America and even the world, speak up. Change needs to happen, and if completely green energy is out of reach we at least need to step in the right direction with natural gas. The technology to use this gas needs to be developed and distributed. All the responsibility that this resource is put to good use is on the people, as they are the ones who are supposed to be served by the government. Hopefully you have developed some sort of opinion from the facts that have been laid out before you. It will be important to be informed and have a stance on hydraulic fracking as it becomes more prominent in society.

Hydraulic Fracking


Reference List

Carpenter, A. (2013) Water and hydraulic fracturing. American Water Works Association, 105(3) 56-59. Retrieved from

Eshiet,K., Sheng, Y., & Ye, J. (2013) Microscopic Modelling of the Hydraulic Fracturing Process. 68(4), 1169-1186, Retrieved from

Hydraulic Fracturing. (2013). Canadian Mining Journal, 134(4), 40-41. Retrieved from

Janna, P. (2012). Fracking fury. Science Scope, 35(7), 20-24. Retrieved from McElroy, M., & Lu, X. (2013). Fracking’s Future. Harvard Magazine. pp 24-27. Retrieved from

Swartz, T. (2011) Hydraulic Fracturing: Risks and Risk Management, Retrieved from

Hydraulic fracking