Notes on the History of Fracking

You can consider these the barebone notes on the history of hydraulic fracturing or fracking:

The process of hydraulic fracturing for the stimulation of oil and natural gas wells was first developed in the 1940s, with experimentation occurring as early as 1903. It was first used commercially by Halliburton in 1949, and because of its success in increasing production from oil wells, was quickly adopted. While hydraulic fracturing found success in the American oilfields of the mid-century, the process had not adapted to deal with the impermeability of shale formations (i.e. companies could not extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale using the technique).

In response to growing concerns from the gas industry that US domestic conventional gas deposits were losing their production potential, the industry funded Morgantown Energy Research Center (MERC) embarked on the Eastern Gas Shales Project in 1976. Led by MERC, a precursor to today’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, and with the help of the Department of Energy, several national labs, and other federal government agencies, research began to determine how natural gas could be extracted from impermeable shale formations.

Decades’ worth of R&D and technology demonstration projects led to the development of massive hydraulic fracturing (MHF), horizontal drilling, and microseismic imaging of gas deposits in shale. These advances in technologies and techniques enabled Mitchell Energy, a Texas gas company, to achieve the first economical extraction of shale gas in 1998 via an innovative drilling process called slick-water fracturing.

Despite a century’s worth of technological advancement, hydraulic fracturing for the extraction of natural gas trapped in shale was still not economically advantageous enough to entice gas companies to begin large-scale production. As late as the early 2000s, it appeared as if natural gas was destined to stay trapped beneath the earth until energy prices soared high enough to justify the effort. That was until an exemption from EPA regulations changed the course of natural gas extraction in the United States.

Nestled among the many questionable provisions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was one particularly groundbreaking (pun intended) stipulation that exempted hydraulic fracturing from the regulations set forth by the Safe Drinking Water Act. Added by then-Vice President Dick Cheney and now termed the Halliburton Loophole in honor of the energy company’s former chief executive, the exemption strips the Environmental Protection Agency from all regulatory authority over the drilling process. Regardless of your political convictions, you should be questioning why it was necessary to exempt hydraulic fracturing from EPA regulations in order to make it economically viable.

Furthermore, you should realize that the Safe Drinking Water Act is the only regulator authority that the federal government has over natural gas extraction practices. With the federal government powerless to control the drilling, it is up to state and local authorities to decide whether or not to allow extraction. It should not surprise you that local governments, particularly in coal-rich Pennsylvania, have been less that proactive in controlling the negative environmental impacts of fracking efforts.

I would rather not harp on any more about this so here is a video produced by UK’s Ecologist Film Unit. While the title of the video shows a clear bias, the program is well done nonetheless.

Have you heard about all the people who can set their well water on fire?

Source: Wikipedia, NYTimes

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