By Jane Dale Owen via chron.com
All the hype by the fossil fuel industry about energy independence from fracking (hydraulic fracturing) in tight gas reservoirs like the Barnett Shale has left out the costs in energy, water and other essential natural resources.
Furthermore, a recent report from the Post Carbon Institute finds that projections for an energy boom from non-conventional fossil fuel sources is not all it’s cracked up to be.
The report cites a study by David Hughes, Canadian geologist, who says the low quality of hydrocarbons from bitumen – shale oil and shale gas – do not provide the same energy returns as conventional hydrocarbons due to the energy needed to extract or upgrade them. Hughes also notes that the “new age of energy abundance” forecast by the industry will soon run dry because shale gas and shale oil wells deplete quickly. In fact, the “best fields have already been tapped.”
“Unconventional fossil fuels all share a host of cruel and limiting traits,” says Hughes. “They offer dramatically fewer energy returns; they consume extreme and endless flows of capital; they provide difficult or volatile rates of supply over time and have large environmental impacts in their extraction.”
We must ask, is it worth the cost when it takes from 3 million to 9 million gallons of water per fracture to extract this fuel? The withdrawal of large quantities of surface water can substantially impact the availability of water downstream and damage the aquatic life in the water bodies, says Wilma Subra, scientist and national consultant on the community and environmental impact of fracking. When groundwater resources are used, aquifers can be drawn down and cause wells in the area to go dry.
“Once water is used for fracking, it is lost to the water cycle forever,” Subra says.
Texas’ official state water plan calls for the expenditure of $400 million on projects to support the mining sector over the next 50 years, with fracking projected to account for 42 percent of mining water use by 2020. Can we really afford this when the state is already struggling with water resources that will be needed for population growth and the likelihood of future droughts?
Is this expensive, water consuming high-tech, low-energy-return extraction of fossil fuel from shale worth the loss of farm land, forests and wildlife habitat? “Fracking converts rural and natural areas into industrial zones, replacing forests and farm land with well pads, roads, pipelines and other infrastructure, and damaging precious natural resources,” according to a 2012 report by Environment Texas titled “The Cost of Fracking: The Price Tag of Dirty Drilling’s Environmental Damage.” Do we want to pay for the infrastructure damage that the building of these wells will cause? According to the Environment Texas report, “the truck traffic needed to deliver water to a single fracking well causes as much damage to local roads as nearly 3.5 million car trips. The state of Texas has approved $40 million in funding for road repairs in the Barnett Shale region.”
The list of costs not included in the industry’s energy independence hype goes on, and it’s likely that taxpayers will bear the burden.
If we do not get involved, the hype will continue to drown out reason. We must stay informed about permitting of wells and other aspects of fracking as they come up in city and county government and at the state level with theRailroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Let your official representatives know that you expect them to make the protection of your community’s health and environment a priority over an energy boom bubble that will soon burst.
Jane Dale Owen is granddaughter of Robert Lee Blaffer, one of the founders of Humble Oil and Refining Company, the parent company of Exxon Mobil. She is president and founder of Citizens League for Environmental Action Now (CLEAN) www.cleanhouston.org, an organization that for more than a decade has been working to inform and educate the public about solutions to environmental issues. Reprinted from Houston Chronicle with permission of the author.