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Random Fracking Fact Returns | Pamdemonium
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Random Fracking Fact Returns

August 15, 2010

Apologies to RF devotees for the lapse in weekly tidbits.  Random Fact is back with a word that combines contemporary science fiction, deep drilling for natural gas and ponderous EPA study.

The mining industry call is “frac’ing,” though news media typically use “fracking.” Gritty characters of the newer “Battlestar Gallatica,” or “BSG” to fans, also use fracking but in the show it is a curse word that takes the place of similar two-syllable expletive that starts with “F.” This is not to be confused with “frelling,” which was the expletive stand-in on “Farscape,” a great show with a blue female Zen-like alien and a smallish alien who floated through the air but farted when stressed. (In the good old days, before the SciFi Channel became the SyFy Channel and started making too many really bad movies of its own.)

Anyway, in mining fracking refers to hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting fluids at high pressures into underground formations to force oil or natural gas out. The process allows drilling at deeper levels – places that previously had been prohibitively expensive to mine. Fracking involves both vertical and horizontal drilling in coal beds, shale and other geological formations. At times the fluid injected is water; diesel fuel also is used, as are proprietary mixtures with chemical cocktails.

Hydraulic fracturing also is suspected of polluting drinking water, with questions about specific projects in Alabama, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming. One news report from Texas last summer blamed fracking for an earthquake.

This mining process has not faced much scrutiny and the U.S. Environmental Agency in March 2010 announced it would “conduct a comprehensive research study to investigate the potential adverse impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on water quality and public health.” This is a new study; a 2004 EPA review found hydraulic fracturing “poses little or no threat.”

The agency has been holding hearings around the country to get public input but had to cancel its last meeting, scheduled earlier this month in Binghamton, N.Y., because as many as 8,000 people were expected to show up. Colorado, Texas and Pennsylvania hosted previous meetings. More than 1,000 people attended the Pennsylvania hearing.

Fracking has fueled the current natural gas boom, starting with Barnett Shale in Texas. Another big target is the Marcellus Shale, a massive rock formation that runs under New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. It even reaches under Tennessee. Estimates range from 168 to 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas under that one formation, with 10 percent accessible by today’s technology.

Louisiana has the Haynesville Shale; Oklahoma has the Woodford Shale; and Arkansas has the Fayetteville Shale.

It is projected that shale gas will make up 20 percent of the total U.S. natural gas supply by 2020, and some experts estimate that hydraulic fracturing will give us a century’s supply of natural gas. Many eyes and more dollars are on this technique that taps the valuable resource. Figuring out what it the frack it really does makes sense, at least to me.

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