"Fracking" - A New Word with New Questions - August 24, 2011

"Fracking!" What is it? I was introduced to the word "fracking," "fracing," or specifically "hydraulic fracturing" in my efforts to protect and preserve the water in the Ogallala aquifer, which lies beneath two-thirds of the state of Nebraska. It is the largest fresh water aquifer in the world and sustains one-fourth of the nation's agricultural production. It is renewable only by rain and snow run-off.

TransCanada Oil Company has been in the process of building a second oil line (XL Pipeline) to transport crude (tar sand) oil from Canada's boreal forest area to the United States through the fragile geological land form called the "Sandhills" in Nebraska to oil refineries in Texas. Then, quite by accident I saw the award-winning documentary, GASLAND, and saw exactly what was entailed in this process and its consequences.

In general terms, fracking is a process used to extract gas and oil from deep within the earth, usually between 6,000 and 9,000 feet below the surface. It is taken from the Marcellus shale layer. In a new well, a steel pipe is vertically drilled, encased in layers of soil and cement to the shale area and then turned horizontally. A perforating gun is then inserted and holes are made in the horizontal pipe about 50 feet apart. The perforating gun is pulled out and then pressurized water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into the well to enlarge the existing fissures in the shale. The exact "recipe" of chemicals is not known because gas and oil companies are not required to disclose what chemicals they use. Some I found in research were benzene, hydrochloric acid, scale inhibitors, friction reducers, and sulfides. It takes approximately 5,000,000 gallons of water to frack one well. Chemicals are said to be .44% (a small amount) but .44% of 2 million gallons of water is 880,000 parts of chemicals. One well can be fracked up to eighteen times. The contaminated water, "flowback," is pumped into open pits and then stored in tanks. The gas is then harvested and sent to market.

The documentary, GASLAND, gives the whole picture of the well drilling, and more importantly the consequences experienced by the soil, air, water, and health of animals, plants and humans across the country. Thirty-one states are currently involved in fracking. There has been a big "boom" of fracking gas in the past 20 years. In 2005, gas and oil companies were exempted from the Clean Water Act.

Technology has brought us a long way in our civilization, but we must ask the question, should we use technologies that result in destroying the life of the earth, plants, animals, and humanity?"Fracking" raises questions for us as stewards of the earth.

  • What effect will these chemicals have on our water supplies?
  • Where do these companies get the enormous amounts of water and what happens to the water sources?
  • How will fracking impact earth substructures? Land forms? Eco-systems on the land? Air quality?
  • How will leaks be handled? Gas and chemical leaks are highly probable, as evidenced in the Gulf oil explosion and  the Yellowstone River pipeline break.
  • Where does the sand to mix with the water and chemicals come from? I personally know a man who trucks sand 871 miles from Wyoming to the Texas oil refineries for a living.
  • Are “fracked” lands later reclaimed and how well?
  • Do we need to do deep earth drilling for gas? Do we want to do deep earth drilling for gas and for what reason?
  • What local, state and federal policies do we need in place and how will we see that these policies are enforced honestly and with integrity? Who is inspecting oil and gas lines dug years ago to be sure they are still safe?
  • Are there ways other than deep earth drilling to gain "clean energy" for our needs, not wants?
  • What will happen to agricultural land from fracking?

In other words, how is our safety as human beings and the health of the earth being compromised with this fracking processfor gathering gas and oil?

Water is the source of life. We begin life in the amniotic fluid in our mother's womb. The earth sustains our life physically and spiritually, with its diversity and beauty. We can get along without gas and oil but we can't live without clean water and clean air.  Maybe we need to take a second look at “fracking.”

By:  Sister. Charlene Vogel, OP

Note:  Sister Charlene, a Nebraska native, lives at St. Catharine Motherhouse near Springfield and teaches at St. Catharine College.


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