The Truth About Fracking

CleanTekTV Commentary / The Truth About Fracking

By Sidney Wildesmith: CEO and Founder / CleanTekTV

December 1 , 2011

Maybe you’ve got the same problem I do with the Internet. When I do a Google search on background on an issue, I am able to find very persuasive arguments on both or even many perspectives. Of course that is also the power of the Internet, giving unfiltered voice to diverse opinions and views. But as a mere mortal decision maker seeking bankable info, I’d need a month-long sabbatical just to get caught up and keep up with my current quest.

To make my point. . . fracking, the process used to unleash the underground resources for natural gas and geothermal, is a hotly debated issue and of particular interest to me, as a player in the world of sustainability.

Those in the extractive industry make the case that natural gas development brings hundreds of thousands of jobs and a cleaner and abundant source of energy to our large-scale power plants. That is true and a powerful message with broad appeal.

On the other hand, there are powerful voices with deep concerns about fracking’s role in earthquakes. The recent 5.6 Oklahoma quake is a case in point. There are lots of questions being raised about fracking’s role in this sudden unexpected aberration of seismic proportions in the heartland, a land being plotted, probed and punctured with thousands of fracking wells, many within screaming distance of the epicenter of the quake.

Add to that the horror stories of fire-breathing faucets in kitchen sinks and foul-tasting well water that make sensational stories on the evening news and fodder for YouTube success. But, according to myriads of reports and stories in smalltown papers, not to mention mainstream media, many of these incidents are true as well.

You can verify this yourself by doing your own Google searches, if you have the time.

So what is the truth about fracking?

The truth is that fracking, by its very nature, generates plenty of measurable seismic events, albeit thousands of very small ones associated with the high-pressure cracking of our foundational rocks thousands of feet below the surface. The extractive industries readily admit this to be the obvious, but assuredly inconsequential, byproduct of their processes. And they state boldly that such could never contribute to a seismic event of any consequence. That is true as long as you brush off stories from Blackpoll, England, San Antonio and Dallas/Ft. Worth. There’s hours of reading waiting to be had.

And then there’s the saturation ad campaigns promoting natural gas as the new energy god who has come in time to save us. Watch TV these days and you’re bombarded by ads touting the safety of natural gas . . . because the industry drills deep below water tables. True again, as long as you ignore the settlements to homeowners whose wells and water tables are contaminated, the result of well casings which were designed to isolate the drilling from water tables, failed and fouled drinking water with the hydrochloric acid, glycerol and the other 400 plus undisclosable chemicals, many of which are highly toxic, that make up the slurry that is pumped under high pressure into these underground shale deposits to cause the fractures.

The truth about fracking is that we need to tell the truth and discuss whether the dangers are worth the payoff, not just to the industry, but to us all. Creating hundreds of thousands of jobs is a giant incentive. Providing a cleaner alternative to coal is in fact a demonstrable factor what drives the natural gas campaign as it does clean technologies such as wind and solar, the good clean energy sources.

The truth also must contain the realization that we really cannot know the degree to which fracking can be responsible for a significant seismic event, until it happens. But rest assured that if and when a US town or city lies in shambles with people trapped and dead with broken fingers pointing at a nearby fracking field, that town and those people will have made the ultimate sacrifice in this war for energy independence. And that is the truth that must be told, that fracking could cause a disaster, sometime in our future. Let us always remember the assurances of the impossibility of a major catastrophe from offshore deep-water oil production. In the case of the BP disaster, thank god only billions of sea creatures were destroyed. A fracking disaster in New York, New Jersey, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and perhaps recently in Oklahoma, where seismic activity has grown from 2-6 earthquakes per year between 1972 and 2008, suddenly jumping to 50 in 2009 and over a hundred in 2010, seems a reasonable bet. Yes, people and communities now live with yet another fear that forces beyond their control could trash their hopes and dreams of security.

As a fairly advanced culture, we have a long record of tolerating death, injury and disaster as acceptable to a point in our society. We justify 75,000 deaths a year so that we can drink alcohol. We tolerate 443,000 deaths per year as a direct result of smoking. And it would be hard to make the case that these habits serve the betterment of our society. And yet we factor them in. The truth may feel more like “how many people would likely die from a serious fracking-related earthquake that drops homes and buildings on innocent people.” And the truth needs to be told that those who die in these disasters can be you, your father, sister or friend. That’s bringing it home. It’s easy for me to accept the collateral damage of this quest for better energy, until I’m lying trapped under rubble for two days.

There are dangers and downsides, some of which indeed could be deadly from fracking, as there are as a direct result of the auto industry, workplace injuries and fighting to maintain our nation’s security.

The truth about fracking will be revealed in time. Now is the time to have a very serious discussion about its appropriate advance into our backyards and outback.

The truth is, we need the truth. That’s the truth.