There has been a lot of chat in the news lately about “hydraulic fracturing,” also known as fracking, but the process isn’t exactly new.
According to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, for the past 60 years, the fracking process has been used to boost production at 90 percent of all oil and gas wells in the United States.
Fracking is a process in which millions of gallons of a water, sand, salts and chemical mixture are pumped at high pressure into shale and other underground rock formations. The fluid creates fissures in the layers of rock, thus releasing oil and natural gas for extraction.
While not new, the process is coming under increased fire from environmentalists. Opponents say the process leaves behind a “chemical sludge” that companies and communities must dispose of safely. Opponents go on to state that between 20 and 40 percent of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fluid stay behind after the oil and natural gas has been pumped out and that methane from fractured rock can leak into drinking water.
Water contaminated with methane can be combustible but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t regulate methane as a drinking water contaminant.
Another worry is that fracking can increase the number of earthquakes in seismically active areas. According to the Southern California Earthquake Data Center, the phenomenon was noted in 1962 near Denver at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. When the Army began pumping wastewater into a deep borehole at high pressure, “the seismicity rate in the area near this borehole began to skyrocket!”
When pumping was stopped, the earthquakes stopped as well. In 1969 the U.S. Geological Survey resumed controlled pumping and the seismicity rate increased again.
Proponents, including EnergyFromShale.org, say fracking is safe for drinking water and the land if certain precautions are taken. The website states: “Many of these (environmental) concerns are genuine and the oil and natural gas industry recognizes that there needs to be a bigger conversation about the development process and the steps being taken to ensure safe operations...”
As a part of this “bigger conversation,” the Western Museum of Mining & Industry at Northgate Boulevard in Colorado Springs is hosting a panel discussion on hydraulic fracturing. Industry, environmental concerns and the media will be represented. The lecture is free and open to the public.
Museum doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the 7-8:30 p.m. discussion on Feb. 23. Call 488-0880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a seat.