Hydraulic Fracturing in the United States (2013)

From GEOG397 Topics
Jump to: navigation, search

There have not been any natural resource topics in the recent years in North America that have had as many enquiries and investigations as the “Shale Gas Revolution.” The abundant amount of methane in subterranean shale rock layers have long been recognised by geologists. Fracking first began in the USA in 1949 but has not been utilised to its full potential until 2000. Most of the conventional gases that have been extracted previously have been that of gases from pockets of shale that have migrated into zones of easy accessibility <ref>Ross, D.J.K and Bustin, R.M. 2008. ‘Characterizing the shale gas resource potential of Devonian–Mississippian strata in the Western Canada sedimentary basin: Application of an integrated formation evaluation,’ AAPG Bulletin. Vol 92, no. 1, pp 87-125</ref>.

Contents

Fracturing

History of Hydraulic Fracturing

A technological breakthrough which has been over three decades in the making is what has lead to the 'Shale Gas Revolution'. The great increase in shale gas produced since 2000 is due to this breakthrough. The technological advances in all areas such as the hydraulic fracking itself, horizontal wells and the advanced earth imaging devices have all contributed to the increase in shale gas production <ref>Trembath, A. 2011. The Breakthrough. Available: http://thebreakthrough.org/archive/history_of_the_shale_gas_revolution</ref>. During the 1970s energy crisis in which the major countries of the world faced a significant petroleum shortage, gas exploration became a priority by the current President at the time, President Gerald Ford. Although the shale gases were well recognised and known to be present, the Government agencies and large private industries didn’t have the imaging tools required or cheap ways to extract it. In 1976, the Eastern Gas Shales Project was developed by the Morgantown Energy Research Centre (MERC) <ref>Trembath, A. 2011. The Breakthrough. Available: http://thebreakthrough.org/archive/history_of_the_shale_gas_revolution</ref>. The project undertook geological mapping and gathered core samples from areas of unconventional deposits that would’ve usually been overlooked when prospecting for fuel.

From the late 1970s until the end of the century, the United States Department of Environment (DOE) and other agencies at federal and state level, began to greatly invest in natural gas recovery technologies including horizontal drilling techniques and seismic tools used for underground 3-dimensional imaging <ref>Ineson, R. 2009. ‘America’s Natural Gas Revolution,’ In the World of investment newsletters, Available at:http://relooney.fatcow.com/0_New_6008.pdf</ref>. The first major breakthrough was carried out by the DOE in 1977 when it was first to undertake massive hydraulic fracturing in Colorado. The National Petroleum Council believed that because the DOE was able to fund the project in Colorado when no other organisations were interested, it has lead to the shale gas revolution USA is experiencing today. It wasn’t until 1986 when the first multi-stage directional fracturing drill was used in the Devonian Shale <ref>Trembath, A. 2011. The Breakthrough. Available: http://thebreakthrough.org/archive/history_of_the_shale_gas_revolution</ref>. This was also established by the DOE which have proven to be an integral part in initiating and funding the early stages of the fracturing revolution. During the 1990s, shale gas exploration accounted for 10% of the total US production <ref>Boersma, T. 2012. ‘The Shale Gas Revolution: US and EU policy and Research agendas,’ Review of policy research. Vol 29, no. 4, pp 570-576</ref>. Since 2000, "The Shale Gas Revolution has taken off, becoming a large part of the US production. In 2013, it accounts for 60% of total oil and gas produced, a majority of it being shale gas. In 2008, reserves had increased to 245 trillion cubic feat, climbing from an estimated 177 trillion cubic feet in 2000 <ref>Boersma, T. 2012. ‘The Shale Gas Revolution: US and EU policy and Research agendas,’ Review of policy research. Vol 29, no. 4, pp 570-576</ref>. This value is also set to increase as technology advances.

What is hydraulic fracturing

Hydraulic Fracturing is a process used to make areas of had to reach shale rock, more accessible. This is done by increasing the permeability of the rock and therefore making the reservoir for the gas larger and allowing it to migrate <ref>Renzo, D., Joseph, k. 2012. Shale Gas development in recent years: A focus on US Shale. Available:http://www.ipt.ntnu.no/~jsg/undervisning/naturgass/oppgaver/Oppgaver2012/12DiRenzo.pdf</ref>. Drilling companies use a number of small explosions within the rock to increase the permeability of the area they are drilling. The explosion sends a variety of materials such as water, sand and lubricating fluids into the small fractures in the rock in order to increase them so the gases can migrate to the extraction drill <ref>Boersma, T. 2012. ‘The Shale Gas Revolution: US and EU policy and Research agendas,’ Review of policy research. Vol 29, no. 4, pp 570-576</ref>. In initial stages before fracking can commence, the drilling site is cleared of mud and other unwanted material using a rock acid which generally consists of hydrochloric acid <ref>Renzo, D., Joseph, k. 2012. Shale Gas development in recent years: A focus on US Shale. Available:http://www.ipt.ntnu.no/~jsg/undervisning/naturgass/oppgaver/Oppgaver2012/12DiRenzo.pdf</ref>. A lubricating fluid is then poured down the drill hole to reduce friction in the reservoir. The stages of the lubricating fluid is not yet fracturing the rock. This process begins when the highly pressurised water to initially fracture the shale and then proppant which is designed to keep the induced fracture in the rock open. The next stage of the process is what most of the speculations are about involving hydraulic fracturing. Once the water and proppant have been injected into the rock and increased its permeability, all of the chemicals and water are supposedly removed from the reservoir and surrounding rocks <ref>Renzo, D., Joseph, k. 2012. Shale Gas development in recent years: A focus on US Shale. Available:http://www.ipt.ntnu.no/~jsg/undervisning/naturgass/oppgaver/Oppgaver2012/12DiRenzo.pdf</ref>. The proppant remains behind as it creates and holds the fractures open for the gas to migrate to the drill. There is more than just the initial fracture of the shale when drilling into shale so the process is repeated continuously until the rock is completely fractured and all of the gas has been recovered. Among all of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, some are non-toxic and consist of chemicals used in everyday household items such as salt, citric acid and instant coffee. Although these substances are not at all harmful, there are some highly dangerous chemicals used such as benezene and lead. Benezene is a highly flammable liquid and due to having a high octane number, is an important element in petroleum. Lead is extremely poisonous to humans and if ingested, can damage the nervous system and cause brain disorders.

Geological Formation

The difficult accessibility of shale gases are due to the environment in which they form. Shale is a rock type located beneath the earth’s surface at depths between 500m – 200m <ref>Curtis, J.B., 2002. ‘Fractured Shale-Gas systems,’ AAPG Bulletin. Vol 11, no. 86, pp 1921 – 1938</ref>. In the USA, it is largely associated with coal beds, shale flats and tight sand. Shale gas formations are formed from organic rich material which has been deposited close to deposits of sandstones and carbonates. The sandstones and carbonates are representative of a marine shelf environment as the carbonates are materials such as foraminifera and other dead sea creatures with calcareous shells that have become lithofied on the sea floor. The sandstone is transported and deposited by storm wave base currents which cause sand grains to be deposited at greater depths of the shelf. The composition of shale is largely clay particles which are representative of areas with low-energy such as tidal flats or deep marine basins <ref>Ross, D.J.K and Bustin, R.M. 2008. ‘Characterizing the shale gas resource potential of Devonian–Mississippian strata in the Western Canada sedimentary basin: Application of an integrated formation evaluation,’ AAPG Bulletin. Vol 92, no. 1, pp 87-125</ref>. The low energy areas are described as having no current; therefore clay particles can fall out of suspension and be deposited on the ocean floor. The clays mix with other organic substances which provide carbon <ref>Ross, D.J.K and Bustin, R.M. 2008. ‘Characterizing the shale gas resource potential of Devonian–Mississippian strata in the Western Canada sedimentary basin: Application of an integrated formation evaluation,’ AAPG Bulletin. Vol 92, no. 1, pp 87-125</ref>. Shale rocks have a very consistent structure across the entire formation which is perfect for trapping natural pockets of gas <ref>Curtis, J.B., 2002. ‘Fractured Shale-Gas systems,’ AAPG Bulletin. Vol 11, no. 86, pp 1921 – 1938</ref>. The overall permeability of the rock is very low so once gas has settled in a particular zone; it will not migrate or leach through the rock. This is where the gas remains trapped over long periods of time <ref>Curtis, J.B., 2002. ‘Fractured Shale-Gas systems,’ AAPG Bulletin. Vol 11, no. 86, pp 1921 – 1938</ref>.

Economic Effects

The practice of hydraulic fracturing in the United States has caused much debate and opinion from many parts of American society. These debates and opinions have lead to studies and research on the many effects of fracking in the United States. One of these effects studied at has been the significant economic affects of fracking has on the U.S. This has led research which focuses on the effects of fracking economically at national level and the effects at a localised level of the counties and states of the U.S

National Level General Effects

Fracking in the United States although a new phenomena has since the early 2000's become the dominant natural gas extraction method in the United States. This has caused a trend of shale gas fracking becoming increasing a critical part of the country’s economic growth <ref>Considine,T, J. Watson,R. and Blumsack, S. (2011) ' The pennsylvania Marcellus Natural Gas Industry: Status, Economic Impacts and Future Potential' Penn State, pp 79-103.</ref>

Indications of this trend is shown is how shale gas production has become a major part of the U.S energy portfolio with natural gas now providing over 25 percent of electricity generation in the U.S due to natural gas production increases due to fracking over the past five years. That saw consumption move from a historically from about 23 quadrillion Btu per year to 24.256 in 2010 and 24.757 in 2011, according to data from the EIA. Has plants switched some input from coal to natural gas as natural gas prices have dropped in the wake of its increased supply. <ref>IHS, America’s New Energy Future Vol 1: The Unconventional Oil and Gas Revolution and the US Economy</ref>

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/US_Natural_Gas_Production_1990-2040.jpg <ref>U.S Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook. </ref>

Further fracking effects on U.S economic growth is through the re energizing of the natural gas sector. A 2012 study by IHS Global Insight made an attempt to model both the direct and indirect effects, employing a macroeconomic model. the study, which was funded by America's Natural Gas Alliance, is the most exhaustive study available to date. It concluded that the shale gas industry supported 600,000 jobs in 2010, a number which at current trends could increase to 870,000 by 2015.<ref>Considine,T, J. Watson,R. and Blumsack, S. (2011) ' The pennsylvania Marcellus Natural Gas Industry: Status, Economic Impacts and Future Potential' Penn State, pp 79-103.</ref>

Fracking as well as contributing directly to employment, also supports and contributes to a variety of other industries such as in the manufacturing and production of feedstock for fertilizers,industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, waste treatment, food processing and fueling industrial boilers. These indirect effects on other industries were also studied by IHS global and it was found that three indirect jobs were created for each energy sector job, suggesting that the employment effects could be enormous.<ref>Considine, T. J, and Rose, (2001) “The future role of natural gas in the world energy market: An overview,” in The future role of natural gas in the world energy market, Markaz, ed. 17-28.</ref>

A final clear indication of the trend of fracking being a critical part of U.S growth is the effects on the average American household in terms of financial gain from the U.S adopting fracking in gas extraction. Reports by IHS, says cheaper oil and gas will transform the fortunes of many companies and has already boosted the income of the average American household by $1,200 a year. This will rise to $2,000 a year by 2015 and $3,500 a year by 2025 because of lower energy bills and reduced prices for everyday goods. <ref>Considine,T, J. Watson,R. and Blumsack, S. (2011) ' The pennsylvania Marcellus Natural Gas Industry: Status, Economic Impacts and Future Potential' Penn State, pp 79-103.</ref>

This general positive trend for U.S economic growth due to fracking is summarised in how 2011 from the direct use of the hydraulic fracking method, the U.S produced 8,500,983 million cubic feet of natural gas from shale gas wells.Making the shale gas contribution to GDP $76.9 billion.Something predicated to increase if the sector keeps developing, to $118 billion by 2015, and nearly triple to $231 billion by 2035.<ref> UTSA, Eagle Ford Shale Economic impact study, (2012)</ref>

The Localised Effects of Fracking

The economic effects of fracking in the U.S also effects significantly the particular areas where the actual fracking takes place. These localised effects on employment and businesses in short term and long term are often wide reaching and long lasting.

The effects of fracking on employment in towns and states where fracking is used on employment needs to be addressed in two parts.Firstly fracking in the short term produces a significant boost to local employment . A 2010 study by Considine, Watson, and Blumsack of Pennsylvania State University used an input-output model to estimate that investment into natural gas extraction in the Marcellus shale region contributed 44,000 jobs to the economy.<ref>Considine,T, J. Watson,R. and Blumsack, S. (2011) ' The pennsylvania Marcellus Natural Gas Industry: Status, Economic Impacts and Future Potential' Penn State, pp 79-103.</ref> While in areas where fracking was not used positive indirect employment effects were felt. In Illinois, it was found that ripple effects from fracking in other states had already created 38,652 jobs in Illinois – almost as many as Ohio, where fracking is well underway. <ref>http://blogs.worldbank.org/category/tags/natural-gas-prices</ref> Leading to many calling for fracking to begin in Illinois itself www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20121214/NEWS05/121219868/fracking-could-have-billion-dollar-impact-on-illinois-study <ref>https://geog397.wiki.otago.ac.nz/index.php?title=Www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20121214/NEWS05/121219868/fracking-could-have-billion-dollar-impact-on-illinois-study&action=edit</ref>

However in other studies these kinds of employment numbers are further analyised, looking into if the number being employed are from the area. A survey of gas industries by the Marcellus Shale Education and Training revealed that 70 to 80% of workers were from out-of-stat. This leads the complexity of the employment issue of fracking, of the long term effects.<ref>Considine,T, J. Watson,R. and Blumsack, S. (2011) ' The pennsylvania Marcellus Natural Gas Industry: Status, Economic Impacts and Future Potential' Penn State, pp 79-103.</ref>

A University of Michigan study on the effects of fracking in Michigan, that while the gas industry states fracking creates numerous jobs. They neglect to publicize the long-term result of widespread job losses in non-gas related sectors that are incompatible with shale gas development such as tourism and agriculture. The study further concluded while some jobs are created during the initial drilling and construction stages, including hospitality, construction and retail through indirect effects. These were only short term and the employment effects of fracking were only modest compared with other industries like agriculture and tourism and are not large enough to “make or break” the state’s economy. <ref>8.www.ns.umich.edu/new/releases/21666-u-m-technical-reports-examine-hydraulic-fracturing-in-michigan</ref>

http://www-tc.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/files/2013/04/Hydraulic-fracking-revised.docx_-515x363.jpg <ref>Jump up to: a b c "Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan Draft 2011". Environmental Protection Agency's Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan Draft 2011. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved May 3, 2011.</ref>


This has created in areas like Michigan a resistance to further increases in fracking with many advocacy groups forming in protest of the use of fracking. Due to its negative effects on local communities such has now it effects local and regional business. The group Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhoods (MADION) in the Cleveland suburb of Broadview Heights, said the number of jobs created by fracking should be measured against the possible impacts on industries including farming, dairies and tourism.“If you were going to do a really serious study you would look at these things,” she said. “If water is contaminated and fish die, what are the fishermen going to do."<ref>www.tv.msnbc.com/2013/08/17/communities-band-together-against-fracking</ref>

Case Study: Colorado counties

Energy companies specializing in gas extraction involving fracking arrived on the Western Slope of Colorado between 2000 and 2006, revenues, costs, and growth rates jumped in Garfield and Mesa Counties. Nearly every community grew by at least 6%, with Grand Junction showing 11.7% growth and the small town of New Castle growing 66%.

However Because of the influx of gas-industry workers, there is an increased demand for limited housing stock. This results in higher rents, which displaces local lower-income residents forcing some out of the market. Businesses could be affected if their low-wage earners or customers can no longer afford to live in the community. In some communities, increased drilling has reduced property values. One study found that as a result of the potential for groundwater contamination, reductions in home prices outnumber any gains to the property owners made by leases or economic benefits from fracking.

This juxtaposition of economic effects of fracking of a specific area like the Colorado counties of Garfield and Mesa. Shows how fracking effects on local areas in general is a complex issue in the decision of fracking being implemented in counties and states. As the trends illustrated are of growth but at the expense of other possible avenues of economic development.<ref>Mary Esch and Rik Stevens (July 13, 2012). "U.S. insurer won't cover gas drill fracking exposure". Associated Press. Retrieved July 14, 2012.</ref>

Environmental Impacts

Fracking has been linked to many environmental concerns through the degradation of the local environment where fracking takes place. Fracking is relatively new in the terms that there have been little studies completed on how it impacts the environment. If studies have been completed, there is a lack of historic data to identify fracking as the main cause of degradation of the environment. There were some common themes through the papers however on what fracking is likely to cause.



Water Contamination

Water quality can be impacted in many ways from contamination of chemicals used in the process of fracking and gases released during extraction of oil and gas. Water contamination can occur through gas extraction, toxic chemicals added, the circulation of water deep underground picking up salts metals and radioactive elements present in the ground <ref>Shaun A. Goho,(2012)'Municipalities and Hydraulic Fracturing: Trends in state Preemption', 'Planning and Environment Law' Vol 64 No7</ref>. There were little trends that show how groundwater was impacted by fracking, which was mainly due to the lack of data available before the wells were bored. In Pennsylvania it is now required that drilling and testing of all water reservoirs within 1000ft of the proposed oil well site must be completed before the extraction of oil<ref>Shaun A. Goho,(2012)'Municipalities and Hydraulic Fracturing: Trends in state Preemption', 'Planning and Environment Law' Vol 64 No7</ref><ref>J. Daniel Arthur, Brian Bohm, Mark Lagne (2008) ' Hydraulic Fracturing Considerations for Natural Gas wells of the Marcellus Shale'.</ref>

There tends to be little evidence that suggests that fracking creates pollution in water reserves, however there are examples where there has been an environmental disaster for example in the Acorn Fork area in Knox County Kentucky a fracking operation had fracking fluid overflow the holding reservoir with the fracking fluid contaminating Acorn Fork Creek<ref>Diana M. Papoulias, Anthony L. Velasco (2013) 'Ecology and conservation of the threatened Blackside Dace, Chrosomus cumberlandensis', 'Southern Naturalist' Vol 12 Issue 4 PG 92-111</ref>. As a result a study was under taken to see the effects on wildlife within the stream due to this contamination. The study found that fish and invertebrates were killed or distressed, and that these species showed increase lesions in the gill due to contamination. These side effects were then compared to the same species in a non-contaminated area which found species that were not exposed to the contamination to have no lesions on the gills. The contamination also affected the properties of the river by changing the pH from 7.5 to 5.6, as well as increasing the conductivity from 200µS/cm to 35000µS/cm<ref>Diana M. Papoulias, Anthony L. Velasco (2013) 'Ecology and conservation of the threatened Blackside Dace, Chrosomus cumberlandensis', 'Southern Naturalist' Vol 12 Issue 4 PG 92-111</ref>.

Although there has not been much information found on the trends of environmental damage relating to water contamination apart from the rare cases where the process has been broken or an incident has occur causing environmental damage it seems that fracking can be quiet safe. There was a report completed on hydraulic fracking which estimated the likely hood that an injection well would leek with a result of 1 in 200000 to 1 in 200000000 estimates leaning towards the lesser value as better technology becomes available with tighter systems<ref>Peter R. Wright, Peter B. McMahon, David K. Mueller, Melanie L. Clark (2012) 'Groundwater-Quality and Quality-control Data for two monitoring wells near Pavillion Wyoming</ref><ref>J. Daniel Arthur, Brian Bohm, Mark Lagne (2008) ' Hydraulic Fracturing Considerations for Natural Gas wells of the Marcellus Shale'.</ref>. Even with the increasing popularity of fracking occurring in the United States, the probability that contamination would occur seems slim.

Fracking also requires significant volumes of water and problems do arise with the amount of water used. There are many impacts raised in regard to when the well is completed how to dispose of the fracking fluid and contaminated water, as well as the quantity of water used in the fracking process. Below shows a graph where water was extracted out of a reservoir to be used in fracking, at first the well has been over pumped causing the water levels to drop significantly <ref>Frank R. Spellman (2012) 'Environmental Impacts of hydraulic Fracturing'</ref>.

Extraction of water.PNG<ref>Peter R. Wright, Peter B. McMahon, David K. Mueller, Melanie L. Clark (2012) 'Groundwater-Quality and Quality-control Data for two monitoring wells near Pavillion Wyoming</ref>

However over time there has been a balance found between the correct extraction or usage levels to recharge time. From over using a well or completely draining a reservoir could severely impact on the water table along with other fluids draining into it causing contamination.

Land

The contamination that can occur with soil is similar to that of water, with the possibility of increase toxins and heavy metals. The land use is also changed and impacted on by fracking due to areas of sites and extra infrastructure that is required. Another possible impact on the land due to fracking is the possible increase in seismic activity as a result of the pressure that fracking creates.

Seismic Activity

There are growing reports that fracking is having an increase effect on the seismic activity of an area. There are two stages where this increased seismic activity can occur <ref>Joel Sminchak, Neeraj Cupta 'Issues Related to Seismic Activity induced by the injection of CO2 in deep Saline Aquifers</ref>. The first is when the hydraulic fracking first occurs, however these earthquakes are small and are not really noticeable and not large

Seismic activity1.PNGSeismic activity2.PNG

enough to cause damage. The second occurs when the wastewater is injected into deep wells to dispose of the by-product, these wells tend to be salt water aquifers so shouldn’t have an impact on drinking water <ref>Frank R. Spellman (2012) 'Environmental Impacts of hydraulic Fracturing'</ref>. The earthquakes from the deep well injection tend to be large enough to be felt and can cause damage. It must be noted that the data is not conclusive and is more speculative with more recording and data needed.

Land Use

Fracking shows a benefit to land use and land scaring primary through less well pads. It is estimated that a horizontal 4-well pad including roads and utilities would disturb about 7.4 acres <ref>Frank R. Spellman (2012) 'Environmental Impacts of hydraulic Fracturing'</ref>. This is then compared to the equivalent 16 vertical wells that would disturb 77 acres. The benefits result in less habitat destruction, so benefits wildlife within the area. Also when the project has run its life, where there is no more gas being extracted, the land scarring is also reduced significantly through reduction of land that is being used<ref>Frank R. Spellman (2012) 'Environmental Impacts of hydraulic Fracturing'</ref>.

Air

Natural gas tends to produce less carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide went burnt than coal and oil, reducing the emissions to the atmosphere. The fracking process however has been linked to adding to air pollution through emitting pollutants such as dust, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and methane. These have been found to be in high levels within a half mile radius of well sites according to a CU Denver study <ref>http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_20210720/cu-denver-study-links-fracking-higher-concentration-air.</ref>.

Health and Society

Where oil and gas development goes, health problem follows.

The impacts on human health by hydraulic fracturing are of concern to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). Such effects stem mainly from exposure to environmental contaminants produced from the hydraulic fracturing process such as radioactive materials in groundwater and emissions of VOC. A thorough understanding of the risk of adverse health effects linked to fracking allows the relevant governmental agencies such as the EPA to gauge harmful levels of exposure and issue appropriate guidelines and policies for the safe production, handling and management of harmful contaminants.

Another impact of fracking identified is societal ones where communities situated close to drilling sites experiences rapid growth and development as a result in-migration of workers and construction of energy related infrastructure to support drilling operations <ref>University of Maryland (2010) Marcellus Shale Gas Development: Reconciling Shale Gas Development with Environmental Protection, Landowner Rights and Local Community Needs [Online] Available at: http://www.ela-iet.com/EMD/MARCELLUS_SHALE_GAS_DEVELOPMENT.pdf [Accessed 23 Sep 2013]</ref>. These boomtowns have reported positive and negative influences on community and individual well-being. An understanding of societal impacts associated with fracking operations allows relevant authorities such as locally elected officials and the local human and social services agencies to anticipate social problems that may arise and mitigate thems.

Health Effects

What the data show

Of the 350 chemicals tested, most chemicals are responsible for ailments to sensory organs, nervous systems and respiratory problems. When ingested through contaminated groundwater, they may affect the gastrointestinal systems. Source: Colborn et al. (2011)
Health Effects Associated with Chemicals in Fracking Fluid. Source: Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Colborn et al. (2011) <ref>Colborn, T., Kwiatkowski, C., Schultz, K. and Bachran, M. (2011) 'Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective', Human and Ecological Risk Assessment:An International Journal, vol. 17, no. 5, pp. 1039-1056.</ref> has identified and studied 353 chemicals used in fracking and created a profile of possible health effects that depicts the percentage of chemicals associated with 12 health categories. More than 75% of the chemicals on the list can affect the skin, eyes and sensory organs. More than half the chemicals show effects on the brain and nervous system. The first four categories represent effects that would likely be expressed upon immediate exposure, such as eye and skin irritation, nausea and/or vomiting, asthma, coughing, sore-throats etc. Products containing chemicals in powder form would not normally be ingested in normal gas operations, nut immediate eye, nasal, dermal contact, and inhalation could lead to rapid absorption and cause direct exposure to the brain and other vital organ systems.

Health categories that reflect chronic and long-term organ and system damage comprise the middle portion of the chart. These include nervous system (52%), immune system (40%), kidney (40%) and the cardiovascular system and blood (46%). Of utmost concern amongst Americans are chemicals that can cause cancers and mutations, that comprises 25% of them. Notably, 37% of the chemicals can affect the endocrine system that encompasses multiple organ systems including those critical for normal reproduction and development.

Data sources

Chemicals being used to extract natural gas were obtained by Colborn et al. (2011) from information on the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) that accompany each product used during natural gas operations. MSDSs detailing specific products in use were provided by multiple sources including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service, state government departments and the natural gas industry. MSDSs provide information about the physical and chemical characteristics of the chemicals in a product and the immediate and chronic health effects to prevent injury whilst working with the product.

Indicator limitations

  • MSDSs are fraught with gaps in information about the formulation of the products as the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides only general guidelines for the format and content of MSDSs.
  • The manufacturers are left to determine what information is revealed on their MSDSs and they are not submitted to the OSHA for review unless they are part of an inspection under the Hazard Communication Standard.
  • Adverse health effects presented demonstrates the risk of developing such ailments and not the actual prevalence amongst residents and workers at risk.

Case Study: Janet And Fred McIntyre, Butler County, Pennsylvania

For several months, the McIntyres hadn’t been happy about the heavy traffic, intense odors, and the waste pits and rigs dotting surrounding farmland. But the turning point came when the entire family became sick after a meal that included glasses of tap water. Then the water in the kitchen and bathroom turned soapy and foamy and a dog suddenly died.

For Janet and Fred and many of their neighbors with similar problems, the quest for answers and help has been long, hard, and frustrating—and is far from over. Thanks to a weekly water drive supported by organizations, local residents, and churches, the McIntyres and their neighbors have bottled water to drink, but still have to bathe and do laundry in water that could be contaminated. While some ailments have abated, Janet, Fred, and their young daughter continue to have rashes, breathing problems, fatigue, eye and throat irritation, and headaches. Some previous health conditions have also grown worse. “I had good water before, but now everyone around here has an issue with their well or health. Something’s clearly not right,” says Janet. “Can I put my finger on it and prove the precise cause beyond a doubt? No, but the only thing that’s changed around here is gas drilling.”

See their full story and others in a report by Earthworks <ref>Earthworks (2012) Gas Patch Roulette, How Shale Gas Development Risks Public Health in Pennsylvania [Online] Available at: http://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/Health-Report-Full-FINAL-sm.pdf. [Accessed: 29 Sep 2013]</ref>

Societal Implications

What the data show

Map showing percentage changes in population by counties in Pennsylvania before (Left) and after (Right) the shale boom. Counties generally experienced an increase in percentage population change due to shale gas production. Source: Ohio State Univeristy (2013)
Marcellus Shale Gas Plays. Counties with wells generally experienced population growth. Source: Marcellus Center for Outreach & Research (MCOR)

The percent change in population before (2003-2007) and during (2007-2011) the shale gas boom is shown in the figure above. Shale gas drilling requires drilling rig workers with specialized training from outside the region until a local labour pool can be developed. As such, there may be a connection between the drilling activities in a county and population growth. An examination of population changes before and during the boom suggests that shale boom counties are modestly increasing in population relative to their pre-boom past.

This growth has inevitably led to an increased demand of housing for rig workers following their influx from other states <ref>Ohio State University (2013) Too Many Heads and Not Enough Beds: Will Shale Development Cause a Housing Shortage? [Online] Available at: http://aede.osu.edu/sites/aede/files/publication_files/Shale%20Housing%20June%202013.pdf [Accessed: 30 Sep 2013]</ref>. A study by the Center for the Study of Community and the Economy (CSCE) at Lycoming College, Pennsylvania analysed the effects of this increased demand and concluded that the negative impacts are felt heaviest by those living at the economic margins. While rents and home prices are increasing, the impacts of the housing shortage are falling heaviest on those whose housing situation was most at risk prior to the Marcellus industry growth, namely the non-working poor, seniors, the disabled and, newly, the working poor <ref>Lycoming College (2011) Marcellus Natural Gas Development’s Effect On Housing In Pennsylvania [Online] Available at: http://www.marcellus.psu.edu/resources/PDFs/housingreport.pdf [Accessed: 30 Sep 2013]</ref> . Never having extensive housing options, these groups are faced with few choices in most affected communities, often limited to substandard housing or homelessness.

Data sources

The percent change in population before (2003-2007) and during (2007-2011) the shale gas boom was obtained from the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis. The United States Census Bureau also publishes data regarding population growth rates and densities of each county; however, those data do not have economic focus on how the shale gas boom has affected county population, which the Bureau of Economic Analysis has studied in depth on.

Indicator limitations

  • The spatial resolution at the county level is still to coarse to attribute population growth entirely to fracking. Population variations caused by fracking would be reflected better at the township level but data is unavailable.
  • Only the state of Pennsylvania was analysed in this section. Other towns such as those in North Dakota had experience double digit population growth which is also bears large societal impacts.

Case Study: Life in the "man camps"

Living conditions in oil boomtowns are tough, provided workers find a place to live in the first place. Many of the major oil companies that are cashing in on the oil discovered in the Bakken formation have been renting entire floors of hotels, spare apartments or building housing facilities, called "lodges" by some and "man camps" by others, in order to house their workers. Halliburton, one of the major drilling and hydraulic fracturing companies in North Dakota, even went so far as to have the Olympic Village housing units that were used for the security guards from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics relocated to the town for its workers.

Benjamin Lukes, 31, has been living in Halliburton's "man camp" for almost a year now. He brings in roughly $100,000 a ear (including overtime pay), nearly triple the amount he made back in Minnesota when he was manufacturing plastics. But it means being far from his family and living in quarters that he likens to a "prison cell." The facility is wall-to-wall white, with long empty hallways and flourescent lighting. Lukes' room is about 160 square feet, the walls are bare, except for a drawing from his daughter, and there's a metal-framed twin bed. The $400 a month he pays for rent includes housekeeping and three complimentary meals a day, making it the best deal around, he said. But he will never call it home.

"[My wife and I] talked about trying to find something in the area where I could bring them, he said. One of the local hotels said they would have an apartment suite available in February for $6,700 a month. "[Y]ou can imagine that wasn't a real good option... there's just nowhere to put them." Lukes hates that he missed the birth of his son this year, but knows he can't support his growing family without this job. "Each work cycle as I drive away seeing my two-year-old daughter's face in the window, I wonder how much longer I can keep this up," he said. "In the meantime, though, I keep getting promotions, and raises, and bonuses. It's a mixed blessing."

See his full story and others in a special report by CNN <ref>Ellis, B. (2011) Six-figure salaries, but homeless [Online] Available at: http://money.cnn.com/2011/10/21/pf/america_boomtown_housing/index.htm [Accessed: 29 Sep 2013]</ref>

Conclusions and Fracking Futures

  • Temporal Resolution: Fracking for shale gas in America is still a recent phenomenon. Data records are not long enough to identify meaningful trends. What this report can only demonstrate are the associated risks of fracking to the environment and people.
  • Spatial Resolution: Effects of hydraulic fracking are localized, affecting the environment and people in the vicinity, and hence not reflected in National Databases and State of Environment Reports as the United States is too vast. State and county level data are all the more difficult to acquire. Publications of localized effects of fracking are site specific and cannot be extrapolated and generalized to every well in America.
  • Data not readily available online. This may be attributed to biased reporting by fracking companies for fracking and environmental watchdogs against it. Although the EPA has advocated for a more transparent reporting of environmental effects and sound management system, assessing them is difficult due to lack of access to data.
  • Secondary data available online can be said to be largely unreliable. The only way of assessing environmental effects accurately is to collect primary data on site.
  • In conclusion, this report is not catered to examining current trends of the impact of hydraulic fracking in America but rather analyzing the risks involve.
  • As such, our report highlights the potential risks fracking may have on the environment and community so that environmental planners may know how to mitigate the impacts that fracking will cause.

In regards to the future, a key question for researchers and government agencies in USA is whether or not shale gas production through hydraulic fracturing can be carried out with minimal impacts on the subsurface, surface water, atmosphere and geology <ref>Boersma, T. 2012. ‘The Shale Gas Revolution: US and EU policy and Research agendas,’ Review of policy research. Vol 29, no. 4, pp 570-576</ref>. Although the Shale Gas Revolution has proven to be a success to the economy, the positive aspects need to be weighed up against the negative factors which greatly affect the fracking communities.

References

<references />