The Dried Up Legacy of Fossil Fuels: Part 2

Aerial view of fracking operations in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bianca-jagger/fracking-must-be-banned_b_3933571.html

Aerial view of fracking operations in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bianca-jagger/fracking-must-be-banned_b_3933571.html

From Bradford County we see the path many communities throughout the United States and Canada have been spiraling towards over the past 65 years of fracking activity. However, the effects of fracking are not confined to the level of county, state or even nation. The fracking process heavily contributes to global climate change, particularly due to the frequency of incidences of methane leaks, a greenhouse gas that has 86 times the warming potential of CO2 (Kelly, 2014). The effects of fracking exist on both an individual and transboundary level, signifying the necessity for action to overturn the dire legacy of fossil fuels.

Various solutions to fracking have been proposed with regards to water treatment in an attempt to minimize risks associated with waste water fluids. Among these solutions are systems such as mobile integrated treatments (ITS) that utilize dissolved air flotation to separate solids from waste streams. Another proposal involves an absorbent form of silica engineered to remove nearly all petro chemicals from water produced by hydraulic fracturing in shale gas wells (McMahon, 2011).

A different approach taken to mitigating the destructive trail left by fracking is the employment of plasma pulse technology (PPT), a new technology that omits the use of harmful chemicals (Burgess, 2014). Plasma pulse technology is described as an environmentally friendly way to clear sedimentation from well drainage areas to allow the oil and gas within the rock to flow. This is achieved through the use of electrically generated plasma impulses to reduce the viscosity of the oil, increase permeability and improve the flow of gas and oil to the surface (Burgess, 2014). Tests conducted on this new technology have been successful so far, and it appears PPT is ready to be applied as a mediator between the oil and gas industry and environmentalists in resolving issues associated with fracking.

In response to concerns surrounding air pollution, the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued a new set of rules regarding the monitoring of unregulated fracking sites in 2012. Mandatory compliance among oil and gas companies with these new regulations is intended to result in a major reduction of emissions in methane and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) from newly fracked wells (Focus, 2012).Progress has been slow, and has taken 3 years to phase in control measures. However, the new regulations have made “green completion” of wells mandatory for the oil and gas industry as a primary tool for controlling the emissions produced by newly fractured wells. Green completion requires a reduction in emissions from equipment such as processing plants, storage tanks and pipeline compressors. Industry compliance is essential to the success of this program and as such various reporting is required of the industry on a frequent basis. This project is estimated to cut 95% of VOCs emitted from 11,400 newly fracked and 1400 re-fracked wells in the United States (Focus, 2012). However, many environmentalists remain unsatisfied, for example climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians Jeremy Nichols, who states that the work is not close to being done (Focus, 2012). According to Nichols, these new regulations will not fully protect people against hazardous air pollutants, and more stringent requirements for monitoring and repairing pipeline leaks and defects must be implemented in order to make positive change (Focus. 2012).

We have seen advances in technology and regulation as a means of reigning in the destructive effects of fracking, yet many still remain dissatisfied and the state of the environment and health continues to decline. What else can be done? An obstacle in ensuring the health of residents of highly fracked regions is a lack of awareness of the associated risks. In areas such as Pavilion, Wyoming, and Dimock, Pennsylvania, many residents were not aware of the risks posed by fracking operations until their water ran black or their drinking water wells exploded. This is entirely the fault of the oil and gas industry and false press regarding the danger of fracking. For example, in Dimock, PA., where residents have discovered their tap water can be lit on fire, spokesperson of oil company Cabot George Stark states “from the fracking standpoint, we don’t believe the process is contaminating the groundwater. As a technology, it’s proven and safe” (Lustgarten, 2011). False assertions such as this are commonly issued by oil and gas companies in an attempt to protect their operations. In fact, many drilling operations refuse to disclose all of the dangerous chemicals used in the fracking fluid  under the excuse that it is a “trade secret” (Bamberger and Oswald, 2012). What is needed is transparency among oil and gas companies and the public. People need to know the risks associated with the process, and major industries must disclose fracking chemicals used in order to avoid irreversible damage to health.

The oil giants are a force to be reckoned with, particularly from the standpoint of local communities who’s lives have been turned upside down by the fracking boom. However, action can be taken at the community level to fight fracking, as seen in the province of New Brunswick where town action has served to create a model that provides other communities with guidelines to stand up for themselves. Community level tools include counter campaigns and town hall meetings to discuss plans with residents and ensure awareness among all, public education campaigns, the building of a resistance network, gathering of reinforcements, strategic court participation, documenting of the conflict and improving voter turn out (Deveau, 2104). With these tools, communities can have their voices heard and take an active stance in securing a future more sustainable than that of Bradford County.

Map showing current and prospective shale gas drilling operations in North America. http://euanmearns.com/what-is-the-real-cost-of-shale-gas/

Map showing current and prospective shale gas drilling operations in North America. http://euanmearns.com/what-is-the-real-cost-of-shale-gas/

Sources and Further Reading:

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