Fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) is one type of what is called a secondary recovery mechanism. Rather than explain the difference between primary (conventional) and secondary (unconventional) fossil fuel “production,” I will allow Louis Allstadt, former Vice President of Mobil (prior to its merger with Exxon), to do it for me: “[Conventional oil drilling] is basically a process of drilling down through a caprock, an impervious rock that has trapped oil and gas beneath it … If it’s oil there’s always gas with it. And once you’re into that reservoir … the natural pressure of the gas will push up the gas and oil. Typically you’ll have a well that will keep going 20, 30 years before you have to do something to boost the production through a secondary recovery mechanism [i].”
Okay, so rather than collecting resources that are oozing out of holes we have drilled in the ground, we now actively increase the pressure in these underground reservoirs in order to ensure that the resources keep oozing. We all know that oil exploration and production is environmentally destructive; secondary recovery ups the intensity of these efforts – does it up the intensity of environmental destruction as well? What level of environmental degradation must we accept before we shout, “STOP!”?
The main target of fracking is obtaining natural gas. Natural gas is methane (CH4), which is the same smelly gas that comes out of landfills and the butts of cows (and the butts of, yes, us humans). Methane is known to have a significantly larger impact on global warming (heat being trapped in the atmosphere) than CO2. So we are messing with a substance that could seriously exacerbate climate change; because unlike oil, if it escapes, there is no cleaning it up.
There has been much debate (although there needs to be much more) over the dangers of fracking and how it could negatively impact surrounding communities. In order to avoid quagmire, I will concede (for the remainder of this article) that fracking is perfectly safe and the oil industry is telling the truth when it says it contains all the various chemicals used in the process and leaks absolutely nothing into the surrounding environment.
(Lisa Rivas, a Veneco representative, said, “Platform Holly is a zero-discharge platform – meaning nothing is released to the ocean, not even rainwater off the decks of the platform…Every drop of fluid is captured and contained [ii].”)
Energy independence is one of, if not the, main argument used in favor of fracking. The amount of natural gas we are going to produce will take us away from our dependency on Middle East oil. If we can produce all of our energy in America, we will be more secure.
By my understanding, being energy independent means that whoever uses energy also produces it. I turn on the heater in my house; whether that gas came from the state of California or from Iraq, I had absolutely nothing to do with the production of the methane that I am now burning. Even if America somehow manages to find the sources for all its massive energy needs within its borders, us residents would still be dependent on huge corporations and centralized power systems to produce and funnel that energy to us. Did we agree to this relationship or did it just develop? Will we ever be given the option to get out?
The “economic opportunity” represented by fracking, which oil industry supporters everywhere hail as the dawning of a new age, definitely exists. However what frackers won’t tell you (at least willingly) is that the opportunity is not open to all. It is very much restricted to the major companies carrying out and benefitting from fracking operations. There is no overarching federal law that compels companies to sell that natural gas here rather than somewhere else for a larger profit. They can move in, have massive impacts on a community, sell their products halfway around the world, pack up and leave once production is over, and probably get away with not cleaning up after themselves (ever seen the remains of the oil drilling piers on the beach at Ellwood?). So yes, fracking represents a huge economic opportunity, so long as you work for, hold stock in, and/or are a friend of oil companies.
Many have probably been wondering, why is our government so far behind the oil industry? Fracking and other secondary recovery methods have been going on for decades, they must know that they are safe. WRONG. When an oil company comes to a new location – does it seek to educate the public on what it will be doing to gain general support? Does it actively try to work with the local community to operate in a way that is mutually beneficial? NO. It goes to the local politicians and administrators responsible for regulating its activities, sticks a cash-filled hand in their pockets and tells them to look away. This happens at every level of the government; this country has a long history of corporate influence in politics (local, state, national, international) that should make one question it being referred to as a democracy. When politicians receive the money they use to reelect themselves from big business and from everyone else they receive only complaints, who do you think they are going to listen to?
Last Friday it was announced to the world that CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, has joined a lawsuit aimed at blocking the construction of a water tower that would supply fracking wells near his Texas home [iii]. The suit does not specifically site fracking as the problem, but come on, Rex, how stupid do you think we are? If the CEO of the largest oil company in the world does not want fracking in his backyard, why should anyone else?
Please do not take my word as fact! Go research this for yourself … some starting points: Halliburton Loophole, Citizens United, San Ramon, CA, Gasland, Chevron Richmond Refinery, Liquefied Natural Gas, Standard Oil V. The United States, UNFCC, Matrix Acidization, 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill … really, I am like the Energizer Bunny here.
Arlo Bender-Simon is a fourth-year history and environmental sciences major who wants big oil to stay the frack away from our politicians, our backyards, our ocean … and how about our planet?
This is a Daily Nexus online exclusive.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are primarily submitted by students.
[i] Ellen Cantarow, Former Mobil VP Warns of Fracking and Climate Change, (truthout.org; July 19,2013), http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/17605-former-mobil-vp-warns-of-fracking-and-climate-change.
[ii] Matt Kettmann, Questions Remain Over Offshore Acidizing, (SB Independent; February 20, 2014), http://www.independent.com/news/2014/feb/20/questions-remain-over-offshore-acidizing/?on.
[iii] James Gerkin, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson Sues to Block Water Tower That Might Supply Fracking Operations, (Huffington Post, February 21, 2014) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/21/exxon-ceo-rex-tillerson-lawsuit_n_4833185.html.
methane has an odor?