Fracking (Hydraulic Fracturing) 1 of 7

Last spring I did a pretty thorough look into fracking so here a copy. Necessarily due to the length it is broken into multiple parts. Here are the links for all parts: Fracking: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Citations.

The $65,000,000,000,000 Secret Debate

Currently, a barrel of oil costs $99.74 and 1000 cubic feet of natural gas is priced on the commodities markets at $4.37. The United States Energy Information Administration (U.S. EIA) estimated in their most recent report that there are about 7,299 trillion cubic feet of shale gas and 345 billion barrels of shale/tight oil worldwide. If the math is calculated using the aforementioned numbers, then there is approximately $31,896,630,000,000 of natural gas and $34,410,300,000,000 of shale / tight oil for a combined value of over $65 trillion U.S. dollars. The only way currently to economically obtain this energy source is through a process called fracking.

Fracking is a controversial process. There is a huge international debate going on between private corporations (oil companies), public health and environmental groups and politicians (The three P’s). Hopefully, after reading this, it will be quite clear what the debate is about and the benefits and risks associated with fracking. A debate of this magnitude doesn’t seem very secret at initial observation for people involved in one of the three P’s. However, what seems a fairly obvious large debate started with the very first fracking well in 1947. Just recently (2009-2010) the debate became something that the general public has become aware exists. This was discovered as part of an informal survey of my coworkers. About 40 people were sent an email asking a fairly simple question. “Have you heard about ‘fracking’ and if so provide a brief description telling what you know about fracking (just 2-3 sentences).” The 40 people consisted of individuals aged 18-65, all individuals had obtained at least a high school diploma, some had bachelor’s degrees, other were retired military. Approximately 60-70% are female and some have kids and or spouses but others do not. Only a handful of people responded and as such, this should not be considered a definitive survey. Even though it did provide somewhat surprising results.

Responses:

1) Fracking is a way of drilling sideways

2) It is referring to drilling and it is also a slang term though I’ve only heard it used as slang.

3) Saw on Dallas where John Ross was wanting to frack Southfork

4) It is a slang term, He fracked him.

5) Practice of drilling into shale oil fields, directing microwave energy to release the crude oil and natural gas from shale. Currently it is used in North Dakota and is responsible for their oil boom. It is as safe as any other drilling method for extracting crude oil. It’s wide spread use in states like PA and NY would replace all our imported crude for at least 50 years. Also fracking is a colorful metaphor on the Battlestar Galatica series.

What seemed to be common knowledge, to a graduate student working on a Masters in Environmental Science degree, was oddly not very common. Let’s examine the responses a little more thoroughly:

  • Drilling sideways is termed horizontal drilling, it often occurs concurrently with fracking but it is different.
  • Well again, it is related to drilling but not exactly correct, and it’s a slang term? After further examination (urbandictionary.com) it was found-that indeed there was slang use for the term. One use was vulgar (and apparently originated in the TV show Battlestar Galactica in 1978) and can logically be deduced with some thought (hint: it was a clever way of censoring for TV), there were several other uses of the term as well:
  1. To mess up or destroy an electronic device while doing hardware or cosmetic modifications.
  2. Not a successful hack or crack.
  3. Bad at soldering.
  • This is a reference to a quote that occurred in the popular TV series Dallas where a character (John Ross) vowed to Frack Southfork (a city) dry. (Season 3, Episode 4) and seems to be a legit reference to the oil industry version of fracking.
  • Again, apparently this is true
  • This response has been saved for last, The first four in the list, while not exactly accurate did not refer to the intended meaning, they were fairly harmless responses. This fifth response was an attempt to explain fracking as best the person was able. It reads like a technical detailed description of fracking. However, it’s not accurate at all. These responses demonstrate a misinformation among the public and confusion of the topic.
  • There was a sixth person who responded, though their definition was largely accurate though not extremely detailed.

The take away message from this informal survey  is that the general knowledge on this topic is very limited. The people involved in the debate need to be very careful when talking with people outside the debate to make sure they have an accurate understanding of the topic. This revelation means that to understand the secret debate first it is essential to understand the process of fracking.