Hydraulic Fracturing – Fracking the world away?

With the news full of stories about “fracking” Red Youth national committee member and undergrad Physics student Geoff Bray explains a few of the basics as he see’s it:

What is Fracking? fracking diagram

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is an relatively new and increasingly controversial technique used to extract (primarily) natural gas from previously used or unusable formations of rock.

The process can be said to resemble an induced earthquake, aiming to break the surface of the formations, enabling a flow of fluid that is then extractable for its use as fuel and of course its profitable sale on the market. By directing a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and hundreds of chemicals into a drilled well, small fractures are created in the surface of the impermeable formations. Wells that have ceased to flow can also be stimulated by fracking enabling continual extraction of the resource. Hydrochloric acid amongst other chemicals assists in causing initial cracks to appear in the surface, sand holds open the cracks, allowing a continual flow of gas or oil. From here, it is the vast array of other chemicals that make the whole process work – over 700 known chemicals alongside “propietery” chemicals are undisclosed as a ‘special recipe’.

A study by TDEX (the Endocrine Disruption Exchange) stated that 93% of the hundreds of chemicals tested and identified in their study are hazardous to health. 43% are what are known as endocrine disruptors – chemicals that interfere with development and function. BTEX(an acronym that stands for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene) compounds are amongst the hundreds identified. These carcinogens can substantially damage both the nervous and digestive systems are can find their way into humans by contamination of soil and groundwater.

Fracking and the impact on the environment

Despite the colossal expansion of the US fracking industry, there is clear evidence that fracking causes environmental damage. Both water and air-pollution have been linked to the fracking fluid and natural by-products of the extraction.

Wastewater from the process has been identified in the TDEX study as radioactive and intoxicated with the presence of Barium and the BTEX compounds, being potentially cancerous to those exposed to or in contact with it.

Government officials and managing directors on both sides of the Atlantic have started to make a reputation for themselves in blaming “poor-workmanship”, bad maintenance and structural faults for the intoxication of drinking water. Such a statement shows that for the directors and barons of finance capital excuses are easily found for damage inflicted on our natural resources, in the eyes of capitalism, humanity and nature are secondary to profit – extracting gas and making cash comes before the welfare of society and the environment.

Fracking and Britain

Tremors have also been reported in Britain. April 2011 saw a 2.3 magnitude earthquake hit Blackpool, caused by fracking. The Financial Times this year attempted to resolve concerns claiming that fracking “very rarely causes earthquakes that can be felt from the surface.” But stating they can rarely be felt from the surface does not deny that indeed, hydraulic fracturing is continually causing tremors beneath the surface and having vast geophysical impact.

Californian anti-fracking activists have gained significant support over this cause. 11 earthquakes have hit the west-coast state since the beginning of 2010, all recording magnitudes over 4.0 and peaking at over 7.0 on the Richter scale. It is thought that the introduction of hydraulic fracturing could jeopardise the safety of millions by unnaturally aggravating the likelihood of natural disasters.

Although clearly less recognizable in terms of collateral damage, it should not be under-estimated that Britain will not face the same geophysical alterations as California and the rest of the US. For America, it means more earthquakes at higher magnitudes. For Britain, it could mean the regular arrival of significant magnitude’s of earthquakes as a part of Britain’s geology.

Rigged Research?

Recent ‘studies’ carried out in Pennsylvania on the Marcellus shale has brought with it results of ‘zero-contamination’ in water-supplies and a green light for fracking. These results have been immediately disputed, for it is thought they paint a significantly different picture than that found across the majority of fracking sites. The well in question from the study is over 7000 feet below the surface, whilst the water supply remains within the first 1000 feet. This situation is not a true reflection of the majority of fracking sites, with most falling within the 2000 feet margin. It is precisely for such reason that the data has been collected from this site and not those that are far more likely to be immediately contaminated.

As anyone aware of the effects of various radioactive materials will atest, it should not be presumed that contamination would not be an issue for wells of such distance. In the immediate sense there is almost no risk of such, but in the long-term, the quantitative build up beneath the surface of these volatile compounds will ultimately lead to a hazardous qualitative change in the water supplies.

Academic research andwell-respected universities are also continuing to present contradictory reportsas companies press ahead with plans to frack, the University of Pittsburgh states, “No proof of groundwater contamination in Pennsylvania from hydrofracking doesn’t guarantee the water’s clean.”

The insight comes from the fact that Pennsylvania is one of 2 US states that “doesn’t require monitoring for water quality in individual well supplies” –this in addition to the unknown mixture to be found in the ‘secret recipe’. It has been stressed that further research is required before any kind of confirmation of zero-contamination.

The thirst for capital

The British Geological Survey, a government report, revealed an estimation of 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the north of England alone – double that previously estimated. Upon this discovery, the Energy Minister went on to describe shale gas, rather timely, as “an exciting new energy resource”.

The estimation see’s an extractable figure comparable to almost 450 years of current gas usage in Britain. At the same time, around half of Britain’s gas is imported, so it is easy to see why the proposal has made it past the first hurdle.

Public reaction to all this news however is somewhat less excitable than the politicians and corporations. Private energy corporations will prosper from this investment into fracking and will turn over much greater quantities of gas than are presently extractable from the North Sea. In so doing it will be these corporations who prosper at the expense of the public. Gas prices for the public will not plummet, only the price the corporations are paying for it before they sell it on to us!

In typical fashion the media has not been deaf to the overtures of the industry, beginning to harp on about how the supply of natural gas in the North Sea is running out, doing so in such a way as to make one think that society itself will come to an end. But as it stands, the North Sea has not drained its last drop, nor is it the only source of energy for Britain. Besides importing resources from lands far greater enriched than our own, alternative and renewable energy production is still a far more valid option. Hydrogen power is labelled “too expensive”, although putting it into mass-production would of course bring down the price. Nuclear energy is significantly more stable and secure than fracking, but is denied in fullest due to its controversial nature, even though it makes up 1/6 of the energy in Britain.

Capitalism and the environment

Evidentially, capitalism will manipulate science to obtain the results it wishes to declare, before distributing the newfound ‘truth’ via it’s faithful ally, the corporate media. The data published in accordance with Marcellus shale is an outright diversion from the overall picture and overall impact of hydraulic fracturing.

Not only will capitalism manipulate and utilise science; it will outright deny and stoop to any level to discredit any science that stands in the way of searching out avenues of profitable investment. Ignorance to global warming, pollution, contamination and nuclear fallout brings humanity to its knees and the planet ever closer to its demise. The scientist, alike every other worker, has long been alienated from his work and transformed into a mere pawn of monopoly capitalism in its drive towards domination and exploitation.

Environmental damage is no concern, nor is the welfare of all humanity for imperialism. Whichever method makes the most profit is carried forward, regardless of any poisoning of water supplies, or the hazardous presence of chemicals such as mercury, uranium and radium and the significant danger this could all pose to the public.

Without an end to capitalism, we will never see an end to the inhumane savagery and environmental destruction that troubles our planet. No amount of reasoning is possible with monopoly capitalism, for its incentive is singular – maximum profit. Without meeting this demand, there is no negotiation, and since the exploitation of the earth brings about the most profitable resource – energy – we will never see an end to this parasitic mechanism until the control of these industries are put into the hands of the workers.

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