Lot's of people are discussing the HBO movie "Gasland" which has aired on HBO. I encourage everyone to watch it, if, for no other reason than as a starting point towards developing critical thinking skills.
When I was an undergraduate, I was taught to learn what was in textbooks. In graduate school, I was taught to question what was in textbooks. I was exposed at that point to the ugly, ugly world of humans in science. We all have egos, and we all have self interests. These combine to color our perspectives. We discard as "bad science" the information that challenges our beliefs, and we accept whole-heartedly the data or someone elses comments or conclusions that supports our core beliefs or worldview. It is the human condition, I guess.
One of the things that you hear about in these sorts of political debates (make no mistake, they are political, even if they try to use the sheep clothing of 'science') is that any data or conclusion put out by or funded by the hydrocarbon industry is meaningless and suspect, because it is just protecting its business. That is an interesting perspective.
Here is a link to a factual counter to many of the claims made in Gasland. The comments made by readers at the bottom highlight how ridiculous and hysterical the debate has become. When you see this sort of hysterical response, it means you are challenging some deeply held and core beliefs. Religious, actually.
Here is my take on the dangers of fracking ...
1. If someone is trying large fracs within 1000' of an aquifer, we need to be cognizant, and extra effort should be applied to insure that it doesn't frac into the aquifer. I would support regulation of fracs and wells within this 1000' zone.
2. Wells that are frac'ed several thousand feet away from an aquifer can't directly frac into an aquifer. To illustrate, how hard would you have to shoot a hose of water at the ground outside your office to create cracks in the ground all the way from downtown Houston to Rice University (around 10,000' to W Gray, and 12,000' to Discovery Green)? An atomic bomb could impart that kind of energy. A pressurized stream of water? That is physically non-sensical.
3. I think we should regulate some things we put into the ground. For instance, I think we should REQUIRE operators to inject biocide along with water so that we don't introduce bacteria to the subsurface anoxic environments. They can create H2S and create a real health and economic hazard. It seems the new registry of compounds that are introduced should suffice.
4. If there are old, unplugged and abandoned wells in an area that extend to the same formation that is being fractured. I think that the operator should insure that the old abandoned well is plugged or otherwise protected from interacting with the aquifer. I would support regulation to do that because it also cleans up an ongoing pre-existing environmental liability.
5. Just because water catches fire at the faucet doesn't mean that a frac job damaged an aquifer. Many US aquifers are actual natural gas reservoirs. This was the case for the 'flaming water' segment in Gasland in Colorado, and for the recent accusation of Range Resources that they damaged an aquifer near Fort Worth. Both were natural biogenic gas reservoirs. It was definitely proven by regulatory agencies and independent scientists using chemical signature testing.
6. I do think that aquifer base line studies should be carried out in areas where fracking has not yet occurred but is planned. The best outcome is real, incontrovertible evidence of prior damage, so that future damage can be quantified and liability allocated appropriately.
7. Oil and gas companies should be and are responsible for the damage that they cause.
We need cool heads, scientific methods, and a lot less politics and heated discussion in order to craft regulations that address the REAL issues, and avoid creating regulations that don't accomplish anything other than impede progress. Good regulations are costs imposed on society for a tangible and quantifiable benefit, Bad regulation latter is a cost imposed on society for no or negative benefit. It's like paying someone $5 bucks to hit you in the face with a shovel. That would be ridiculous. Unless you are into being hit in the face with a shovel.
By. Allen Gilmer