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August 19, 2014

What The Frack Is Going On With All This Fracking?

How would you react if one day you wake up and read on the papers, saw on the television news or heard over the radio that the cause of fire of some burned houses or buildings is water from the faucet set ablazed by a cigarette butt? Impossible? Not anymore. Well, it is not because water had become combustible but because it had been contaminated by flammable gases. Fracking, a process of hydraulically extracting natural gas from shale rocks is the issue.


In the United States and in some parts of the world like Ottawa, this has been the object of protests and sustained challenges whether the process is safe. Are the dangers it poses real or myth? In the US, support is now being asked for the FRAC Act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act) which would require the energy industry to disclose all chemicals used in fracturing fluid as well as repeal fracking’s exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act. This should also concern us because we have the Malampaya project in Palawan. It would be good to know the dangers of this process.

What is The Story?

Natural gas had been uneconomically accessible before. Due to the expensive known way of extracting them, few investors dared to risk in the projects. The advent of fracking changed all of these. That which was impossible and unreachable economically had become available and affordable. Fracking makes it possible to produce natural gas extraction in shale plays that were once unreachable with conventional technologies. Recent advancements in drilling technology have led to new man-made hydraulic fractures in shale plays that were once not available for exploration. In fact, three dimensional imaging helps scientists determine the precise locations for drilling. Suddenly, natural gas production had increased. This was good news for everyone because another source of energy had become obtainable. For the environmentalists, specially, it is a manna from heaven due to its very low greenhouse gas emission compared to coal and fossil fuel. Until close examination and investigation revealed that the consequences of fracking offset those advantages. New dangers arose.

Here are the numbers:

1. Each gas well requires an average of 400 tanker trucks to carry water and supplies to and from the site.

2. It takes 1-8 million gallons of water to complete each fracturing job.

3. The water brought in is mixed with sand and chemicals to create fracking fluid. Approximately 40,000 gallons of chemicals are used per fracturing.

4. Up to 600 chemicals are used in fracking fluid, including known carcinogens and toxins such as…radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde, lead, uranium, mercury and ethylene glycol.

5. At 10,000 ft., The fracking fluid is then pressure injected into the ground through a drilled pipeline.


The Math: there are 500,000 gas wells in the US alone, at 8 million gallons of water for fracking, 18 times a well can be fracked. It will result to 72 trillion gallons of water and 360 billion gallons of chemicals needed to run the current wells.

The danger comes during the process. Methane gas and toxic chemicals leach out from the system and contaminate nearby groundwater. Methane concentrations are 17x higher in drinking-water wells near fracturing sites than in normal wells.

There have been over 1,000 documented cases of water contamination next to areas of gas drilling as well as cases of sensory, respiratory, and neurological damage due to ingested contaminated water. Worse, the waste fluid is left in open air pits to evaporate, releasing harmful VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) into the atmosphere, creating contaminated air, acid rain, and ground level ozone. This is typical even in mining where wastes, which are usually harmful, is not disposed safely. In fact, there is none which is absolutely safe. Those chemicals can easily find their way in bodies of water. When that happens, thousands of possibilities, most of them threatening, may happen. In the end, hydraulic fracking produces approximately 300,000 barrels of natural gas a day, but at the price of numerous environmental, safety, and health hazards. For the Malampaya project in Palawan, the project is estimated to generate $10 billion in revenues for the Philippines government over the next 20 years and cut the country’s dependence on fuel imports, mainly high-sulfur coal and fuel oil, by 20-30%. It also will cut $670 million/year from the nation’s energy import bill of $2.5 billion/year, as well as bring in $420 million/year until 2021 in royalty payments. Is it worth the risk?

It is not! Fracking is not safe. As we speak, water around those projects are being contaminated. It is just a matter of time before we realize its devastating effects. Maybe none yet in the Philippines but there had been multiple documented cases in other countries where natural gas, or methane, has migrated out of wells and into underground aquifers. Further, fracking process also forces gallons of chemically-treated watered into the ground along with numerous byproducts including chemicals, naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs), dissolved solids, liquid hydrocarbons including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, and heavy metals. The intake of these chemicals may result to cancer, birth defects, and disorders of the nervous system. The same is true of many naturally occuring but highly toxic substances that are unearthed throughout the process. These materials are disturbed by drilling or dracking, then seep into the water supply.

As to the much-touted 50% reduction in climate impact from burning gas, it is not likely to be achieved for many decades — if ever — due to leaking. And we don’t have many decades to stabilize the climate. While there are serious public health risks posed by fracking, there are major issues for climate and the environment, too. Methane, the natural gas companies are drilling for, is a potent heat-trapping gas, up to 105 times more potent than carbon dioxide, when released into the atmosphere over a 20-year interval. Methane leaks at every stage of a fracking operation, from production and processing to transmission and distribution. No technology currently exists to make fracking safe.

The intensity and sincerity of the campaign to make this issue known and be addressed had led HBO to produce a movie, entitled Gasland II. It deals extensively on the issue. Also, a campaign music video, “My Water’s On Fire Tonight” was also made available on YouTube.

I hope our government authorities are aware of these dangers. Natural gas is certainly a good source of energy. Hopefully, safety and strict measures are being implemented so as not to put too much risk on our environment and our people.


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