This week I read an article from InsideClimate News by Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones. The article looks into the dark side of “fracking”, but especially the problem that comes when the oil is transported in unsafe railcars. There is a huge oil boom happening right now in North Dakota, on top of a formation called the “Bakkan Shale”. There is a large amount of oil locked into this shale rock. For many years, people have known this, however we have never known how to extract the oil.
A process called “fracking” has been developed in just the last few years. It involves high-pressure jets of water, shot into the shale to fracture it. Below in Figure 1 is an image that shows the actual process of fracking. Figure 2 shows a real-life example of fracking. Fracking is when you take a drill and drill down into an area of the Earth’s surface prior to a high pressure water formula gets inserted into the rock.
Figure 1: Figure 2:
This is the reason why our gas prices have gone down so much recently! Two years ago, it was common to find gas above $4.00 a gallon. Today, much gas is under $3.00 per gallon. The fracking craze has given the US a giant shot of oil, and for the first time we are out-producing most other countries in the world.
Sounds good? Yes, of course! However don’t forget that there are some downsides: Fracking is very dangerous and extremely polluting. The water that comes out of the mines, after being shot in at high speeds and pressures, is contaminated with all sorts of heavy metals and petroleum byproducts. It is a very dangerous process and also it is quite difficult to dispose of.
Second: once the oil is extracted, it has to be transported. That was the issue brought up in the article, that when a train full of crude oil was going through Canada, it blew up and basically destroyed the entire town of Lac Magantic. This resulted in 47 people being killed. Also, this happened just last year! Transporting oil is always a dirty, filthy job.
Some other instances where this was a problem was in Aliceville, Ala.;Casselton, ND.; New Brunswick, Canada.; and Lynchburg, VA. However, I find it interesting that I haven’t heard of any of these explosions on the nightly news. Why is that? In fact, many of us today probably are not even really aware of how extensive the fracking industry actually is, as well as we probably don’t realize how much pollution derives from it.
Finally, even if more oil was invited by a clean wizard with no waste or pollution at all, whenever a fossil fuel is burned it creates more CO2 for the atmosphere. This contributes to climate change.
Images: (Google images): http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/2/19/group-seeks-frackingbanintexastown.html