Fracking = Worse Than Coal

You DO realize that, in that famous internet video of Mike Markham lighting his tap water on fire, it was later confirmed that the methane in his water supply came from a close-to-the-surface natural gas pocket that happened to be next to his water well, and had nothing to do with fracking, right?

(Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission report: Natural Gas - America's Clean, Reliable & Affordable Energy Source |The Natural Gas Solution )

Yeah, I wish I had a good browser plugin or something (or just a lot of bookmarks) where I would save all the articles I’ve read over the years on this. There was a New York Times article maybe 2-3 years ago where a scientist wrote at length about how yes, drilling contaminates water fairly regularly if there are spills/leaks at the well head, but how they had never really seen much evidence that the fractured shale and all the chemical infused water down in that shale seam has ever seeped into an aquifer. I think typically the shale bed is quite deep, and typically under a layer of impermeable rock, so the fracking-chemical polluted water would have a good distance to travel through some rock that doesn’t readily allow water to seep through it.

I’ll see if I can find the article, but searching on hasn’t yielded it yet, it also linked to some more professional-quality research articles which is why I remember it being particularly useful.

GQ readers should note that these authors assume zero discount rate and make what I feel are inappropriate approximations of atmospheric gas lifetimes. An instantaneous release of methane leaves plenty left in the atmosphere after 20 years. It is factually incorrect that “essentially all of the climate effects of methane emissions disappear within 20 years of cessation of emissions” because there is still methane in the atmosphere from that release. Yes, most of it is gone, but add up its effect over the next 80 years (granted, a piddling 100 years is not the sort of timescale Ray P. likes to write about) and compare that to the first 20 and tell me it’s insignificant.

That all said, leakage appears to be low enough that I, with my lower alarm threshold than some other scientists, am not alarmed.

Have you tried playing around with Zotero?

Original post here

That seems to assume that the US care how other countries get their extra energy, or that the other countries care whether or not the US cares. Obviously at the moment that’s a safe assumption - if the US suddenly decided not to burn oil it would make the stuff a lot cheaper for the rest of us. But in the (admittedly somewhat radical) “lets turn Iowa into a wind farm” scenario the US gets to keep all that energy for itself.

I’d recommend Prof. Muller’s “Physics for Future Presidents” (or, for an update which is energy specific) “Energy for Future Presidents” to anyone who is interested in the subject. His lectures are available for free on the Berkely Uni website for those who don’t want to spend.

One point he does make is that fossil fuels are very energy dense and thus are a great way of fueling vehicles. Until batteries get a lot smaller and cheaper there really isn’t a good alternative to that (although I do wonder whether you could run them from powered rails in built-up areas)

MODERATOR COMMENT: psythe, I’ve merged your post into the existing thread on the column, just for bookkeeping purposes, to keep all comments about one column more or less together. OK?

Even as you write?:eek::eek::eek::eek::eek:

Well, he didn’t say “even as I speak.”

It would be really hard to speak while someone tries to ram a gas pipeline down your throat.

One topic I have seen come up with respect to fracking and water use is that it removes water from the water cycle.

Other water use, like watering crops or drinking water in cities and waste water runoff from that, leaves the water in the water cycle. It gets consumed by people and then flushed down the toilet, back to run down to the ocean to get evaporated and then precipitate again. With fracking, they are injecting water and leaving it down in the rock and that water is then trapped until the extremely distant future when the rock gets recycled by geologic processes (i.e. subduction and converted to magma). So it is more harmful to drought inflicted areas to permanently remove water from the water cycle than to simply consume it and even “waste” it in cities or farms.

That said, I think there are techniques to reuse the water or use high pressure gas/air that are available, but they are not largely being employed because water is cheaper.

Whoa … are we really comparing escaped natural gas to the carbon dioxide release when burning coal? What do you think we do with the natural gas that DOESN’T escape … we BURN it … releasing carbon dioxide.

Let me take this opportunity to discuss the “other” product of combustion. Carbon dioxide is released in it’s gaseous state and it largely remains as such, retaining it’s latent heat of vaporization. However, this “other” product of combustion, water vapor, quickly condenses into it’s liquid form, releasing it’s heat of vaporization. At 2.1 kJ/kg, this is no small amount, and if there’s no vortex to absorb this energy … well … we have to raise temperatures.

By the way, hydrofloric acid works better than water when fracking … just saying …


You have just lost a thirty-year long reader, because you finally answered a question on a subject I actually know a good deal about (regarding fracking and energy) ( and you got the answer substantially wrong.

Regarding fracking:

  1. Fracking is not performed because we are running out of fossil fuel: between coal, deep sea petroleum, and frozen methane, we have centuries of such reserves.
  2. Fracking is being done as a perceived cheaper and lower greenhouse gas emissions alternative to coal.
  3. Fracking is not cheaper when resources such as water reduction and pollution cleaning are taken into account.
  4. Fracking is not a lower greenhouse gas emission alternative to coal when methane escape is taken into account.
  5. Fracking has indeed been proven to cause earthquakes and subsidence.

Regarding existing energy use:

  1. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is produces carbon pollution which is a global warming agent resulting in tremendous environmental harm.
  2. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is composed of sets of pre- and post-combustion toxins injurious to nearly all organisms.
  3. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as its extraction is itself destruction of precious resources.
  4. Fossil fuel should virtually never be used as it is itself energy-intensive often resulting in little net energy (but merely shifts energy location and form).
  5. Nuclear energy is inherently destructive in resource extraction, expensive, dangerous, and results in unaccountable pollution risk.

Regarding renewable energy use:

  1. There are sufficient renewable energy sources to provide all the planet’s energy needs many times over.
  2. When the real cost of fossil fuel and nuclear energy is taken into consideration, renewable energy is less expensive and vastly less destructive and resource intensive.
  3. From a geo-political perspective, renewable energy offers self-reliance which reduces tendencies toward warfare over energy resources.
  4. Included on the renewable energy ledger must be energy conservation, which is the expenditure of money toward reducing the need for energy.
  5. Predictable technology advances will continue to promote the use of renewable energy over fossil fuels.


Yup. But methane releases significantly less CO[sub]2[/sub] than other fossil fuels, per unit of energy released. If there were no leaks, methane would certainly be the best fossil fuel, with regards to greenhouse gas emissions. That’s not in question; the only question is whether the leaks of methane are significant enough to pull it back out of first place, given that methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

jzj1, while it’s true that there are plenty of renewable energy sources, we do not yet have sufficient technology or infrastructure to rely solely on renewable energy, nor are we likely to in the near future. Until such time as we do, yes, we really do need to use fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

And nuclear energy has a very low cost (both financial and environmental) of resource extraction; it’s safer than the most widespread alternative energy source (hydroelectric); it’s expensive primarily because of misguided regulations written by those who are convinced it’s evil; and when properly implemented it has essentially zero pollution risk.

That is not entirely true. The water from fracing is typically flowed back and approximately 95% is recovered unfortunately it is considered waste water after its recovery and is then injected down a second well for disposal. This is similar to water floods of oil reservoirs where water is pumped down one well and then after moving through the reservoir is recovered as a higher percentage of water in the produced flluid.

In fracing most of the fluid is trapped in the fractures that it has created and before the oil or gas can flow into the fracture the water is removed first there is some amount that combines with the formation fluids and comes back as part of the produced water but in any case it is not correct to say that the water is lost during fracing. There is a good case to be made that in our attempts of classify all things involved with fracing as dangerous that we a moving water out of the supply in our disposal process.
eta: this was in response to Irishman I just took too long to type it on my phone

It might be interesting to look at the heat of vaporization of the water produced by combustion, but the dangers from carbon dioxide come from how it reflects infrared. Thus sunlight enters the atmosphere through the CO2, but the infrared emitted by all objects is reflected back. However, both are effects of the same process rather than competing processes, so it’s not a trade off. :wink:

So water is being “disposed of”, but not because the process is inherently wasteful that way, but rather through concerns of how to reuse the water.

Isn’t that true of all types of energy production?

Don’t we export a lot of the coal now?

Why would fracking be leakier? The wells are lined the same way aren’t they? They don’t crack the top impermeable layer do they?

You got a cite for ANY of that? Or are we just supposed to take your word for it?

I think we should also look at the longer view on fracking. Begin with the assumption that on Earth will eventually use all reasonably available energy over a certain time period. If Cecil is right, that will be the next 100 years. Also, we’re wasting a huge amount of energy right now. Absent an appropriately high carbon tax over most of the world, there’s not enough incentive to increase efficiency immediately, which could put off the date we run out of fossil fuels, and maybe even lessen global warming. Fracking is adding to this problem by keeping energy costs lower. I will always oppose new energy production for this reason, whether off-shore oil or methane deposits. It we leave it alone, it will still be there when we really need it, be that 50, 100, or 200 years.

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So what? I assume there are many times as many consumers of Cecil’s column than there are registrants on this forum.
Powers &8^]

That’s certainly representative of his answer, but it doesn’t really answer the question asked. Essentially asked if fracking can be done safely, Cecil’s answer is essentially that it doesn’t matter because we have to.
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