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Guest Commentary: ‘Fracking’ benefits not worth costs

By Staff | Oct 28, 2015

High pressure well stimulation is most commonly known as “Fracking.”

This is a process used to extract hydrocarbons of oil and natural gas from shale layers that are approximately one mile down where the drill can turn horizontally and continue up to two miles. The process uses an average of four million gallons of water. A well can be fracked up to eight times, so on average each well can use 32 million gallons of water, equally one-foot of water over 100 acres.

The source of Fracking water can be natural springs like Silver Springs, ponds, lakes, creeks, rivers, streams or the aquifers that are under all of Florida. To that water is added numerous chemicals which are not revealed and the fossil fuel industry (FFI) refuses to reveal them.

Chemical analysis is easily obtained but the FFI denies any purported chemicals come from their operations and since no base-line analysis has been done, it is hard to prove. Not until recently did the need for this base-line become evident when illnesses and contaminated wells appeared. We know that benzene is one chemical for sure and in Florida, with its porous limestone, hydrofluoric acid is used to dissolve this. Benzene was banned from gasoline by the American Petroleum Institute (API) in the early 1950s due to their own research that concluded it was not safe for human contact. It was used to raise the octane rating of gasoline to eliminate motor “knock.”

The Florida Petroleum Council contends, “Fracking is harmless.” Yet Fracking and, what other names it goes by, uses benzene within the aquifers. Hydrofluoric Acid is used to etch glass and is so corrosive to glass it is kept in plastic containers. Glass is silicone dioxide, the major component of sand, and is in the soil in various silicon compounds and limestone has many silicon compounds in it.

Once a well is fracked, water, called “flow back,” returns through the bore hole. However some 80 percent of the water remains along with the chemicals. The other 20 percent is placed in holding ponds or is deep-well injected at local sewage plants. Therefore, virtually all of this chemical additive of millions of gallons is left in the ground.

In addition to the chemicals, a gritty material called “propant” is injected. Propants hold the fissures in the shale open so the hydrocarbons can flow into the bore which is lined with small holes.

These holes are also the method which the pressure from explosives in the well pipe inject more pressure to fracture and crack the shale, hence the verb “to Frack” and its lineage of names such as “Fracking,” “Fracked,” etc. Addition of these propants creates local air pollution when they are put into the mix at the surface, and they linked to silicosis.

Having traveled through Texas and North Dakota and personally seen the oil wells there and from reports about earthquakes from fracking in Oklahoma, my personal impression is that today most if not all oil and natural gas is extracted by the Fracking process. That goes right along with the scientific consensus that in the USA the “low hanging fruit” or “peak oil” has been exhausted and Fracking is getting at the last drops.

While the FFI reports that the USA has a “mother lode” of natural gas, the global demand will mean we in the USA will have to compete with that demand which will drive up prices domestically. Unfortunately and most importantly, Fracking can devastate Florida’s beauty, its agriculture and its people.

Are the benefits worth the costs?

Richard C. Silvestri is the vice president of Treasure Coast Progressive Alliance. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from the University of Miami, is a former hazardous materials instructor and a retired chief fire officer.