The development and coming of age of the natural gas industry has come suddenly and swiftly into the backyards of United States citizens in the past few decades. Literally, thousands of unconventional natural gas wells have begun to sprout over massive shale gas plays across the United States and brought with them a multitude of positivity and controversy as well. These new natural gas shale plays such as the Barnett and Marcellus Shale bring a massive opportunity for the future of energy in the United States. It is proven that natural gas a cleaner burning fuel compared with coal and oil, and there also massive reserves located domestically across the contiguous United States. However, the methods of acquiring the shale gas are somewhat controversial environmentally and legislatively. The lack of federal and, in some cases, state legislation monitoring hydraulic fracturing leaves large loopholes that can be exploited by energy companies. In order for hydraulic fracturing to be a beneficial method of extracting unconventional natural gas, the federal and state governments need to enact legislation regulating and acknowledging the environmental concerns associated with this particular method of natural gas extraction. Without these regulations put in place to monitor the production of the wells, the environmental impact can be costly for the people of the United States. Until this happens, we cannot seamlessly transition into the next generation of cleaner burning fossil fuels.
It was not until quite recently that hydraulic fracturing was so prevalently used in the oil and gas industry. Although the method had been discovered around the year 1948, the technology was not yet in place to make this a viable and economic option for the extraction of unconventional natural gas reserves. Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling a vertical well down several thousand meters into a shale formation that is low in permeability and porosity. Because of the formation’s low permeability and porosity, the natural gas cannot move easily through the formation and up into the well bore. Operators are then forced to pump a combination of sand, water, and chemicals deep into the formation to fracture the rock and open up spaces where the gas can more easily travel and be released. This combination of liquid is more generally referred to as “fracking fluid” and its disposal and storage methods are currently under the microscope. This fracking fluid requires massive amounts of water and each natural gas well uses anywhere from 2.4-7.8 million gallons of water in its lifetime. It is composed of around 99.2% water, while the other 0.79% is primarily chemicals and lubricants and those chemicals can be harmful when exposed to the groundwater. As hydraulic fracturing becomes more commonplace as we progress into the future, we must make regulations to deal with the disposal of this liquid, or suffer the consequences in the long run.
Dr. William Fisher, University of Texas at Austin Professor of Reservoir Geology, Bureau of Economic Geology; class presentation 2012
http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=198624: Northwestern University
www.economist.com/node/21558458: The Economist