Natural gas production, from hydrocarbon rich shale formations, known as “shale gas,” is one of the most rapidly expanding trends in onshore oil and gas exploration and production today. A key element in the emergence of shale gas exploration has been the refinement of cost‐effective horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies.
These two processes, along with the implementation of protective Best Management Practices, have allowed shale gas development to move into areas that previously were not accessible. New gas developments bring change to the ecological and economic landscape. With these changes have come questions about the ability of the technologies to adequately protect the people and the planet. This proposition has taken on almost religious overtones by the media, industry critics and concerned citizens.
Forget for a moment the profound economic impact that shale gas development has on: • creating jobs, • reducing consumer cost of natural gas and electricity, • increasing federal, state and local tax revenue, • stimulating economic growth, and • reducing GHG emissions and smog.
Without exception there were problems with hydraulic fracturing. Modern shale gas development is technologically driven and must be treated as such. Unproven cost cutting measures and process deviations are unacceptable. Investigations into the complaints of water contamination concluded that the problems were avoidable and traced to: • inferior casing and cementing, • insufficient separation between gas-bearing rock and water supplies, and • lack of oversight and adherence to best management practices.
No question, regulations must be imposed to ensure adequate oversight and selection of qualified and trained operators that employ best management practices when handling, injecting and disposing fracturing fluid. Nevertheless, the industry is not standing still. To the rescue are new “green” fracturing additives, better ways to treat and recycle the waste water, and new technologies that reduce water consumption in half.
To put the issue of shale gas development into proper perspective, let’s take a comparative bottom-line look at hydraulic fracturing, oil production and coal mining.
First question is how many people were hospitalized due to methane contaminated water and/or the hydraulic fracturing fluid, a mixture consisting of at least 98% water and sand with the remaining 2%, or less, of chemical additives, each having a specific function. MIT reported there were only 42 complaints of contamination out of 15,000 shale wells drilled in the Texas based Barnett Shale formation – a 0.3% problem.(1) An unofficial posting by “Frack Check WV,” cannot substantiate any hydraulic fracturing related health problems.(2) The posting does mention a few unsubstantiated hydraulic fracturing related severe health claims.
More ludicrous is the human health and safety risks from ethanol. “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2010 in the United States there were an estimated 10,228 people who died in drunk driving crashes, accounting for 31% of all traffic deaths.(3) Funny yet or maybe not so funny, 70% ethanol may cause liver, kidney and heart damage. Potential health effects include:
• Ingestion: May cause gastrointestinal irritation with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. May cause systemic toxicity with acidosis. May cause central nervous system depression, characterized by excitement, followed by headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. Advanced stages may cause collapse, unconsciousness, coma and possible death due to respiratory failure.
• Inhalation: Inhalation of high concentrations may cause central nervous system effects characterized by nausea, headache, dizziness, unconsciousness and coma. Causes respiratory tract irritation. May cause narcotic effects in high concentration. Vapors may cause dizziness or suffocation.
• Chronic: May cause reproductive and fetal effects. Laboratory experiments have resulted in mutagenic effects. Animal studies have reported the development of tumors. Prolonged exposure may cause liver, kidney, and heart damage.
On the other hand, “Daily Finance”(5) reported that according to Minerals Management Service,
….. “since 2001, 69 oil workers have been killed on the job, with more than 1,300 injuries and around 800 fires.”
….. “the number of oil drilling fatalities doesn’t even come close to the number of coal mining fatalities in America.”
….. “since 2001, there have been more than 60 deaths per year in coal mines, with annual injuries in the tens of thousands.”
Now to the topic of our discussion, everyday household fluoridated toothpaste. It’s suggested that most of us practice and teach our children proper oral hygiene and brush at least one time per day, if not more. The “Fluoride Action Network”(6) reported:
….. “the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) has required that all fluoride toothpastes sold in the U.S. carry a poison warning on the label.”
….. “the label states, “WARNING: Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age. If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing, seek professional help or contact a poison control center immediately.”
….. “each tube of toothpaste – even those specifically marketed for children – contains enough fluoride to kill a child.”
….. “Poison Center Control reports between 1989 and 1994, 12,571 reports were found from people who had ingested excess toothpaste. Of these calls, 2 people – probably both children – experienced “major medical outcomes”, defined as “signs or symptoms that are life-threatening or result in significant residual disability or disfigurement.”
One final note, the label of a popular toothpaste states: “Active ingredient – Sodium fluoride 0.243%.” No other ingredients are specified. One would think that it would be somewhat important to know the composition of the remaining 99.757%. Direct searches using for example “toothpaste ingredients” did not provide hits giving the other ingredients. A roundabout search found that some toothpaste may contain: sorbitol, a liquid that keeps toothpaste from drying out, is a laxative that could cause diarrhea in children; and sodium lauryl sulfate, an ingredient that makes toothpaste foam, can also be a diarrheic.
In closing, the witch hunt over hydraulic fracturing can be surmised in one word “HYPOCRISY.” This is another great example of the imbalance of the balance of justice. Every day society holds back the shale gas industry is another day more dollars are exported for foreign oil, the environment is further harmed with dirty coal, and the hole gets deeper and darker.
To the extent that hydraulic fracturing has resulted in few if any substantiated health problems, is a proven technology with a 60 year history, occurs thousands of feet below overlying aquifers and hard non-porous rock, and employs a fluid with publically disclosed chemical additives; alcohol and toothpaste unequivocally pose a much higher risk to human health and safety.
Maybe if the hydraulic fracturing operators take a stiff drink when they report to duty and substitute fluoride for one of the additives, the uniformed critics will lay down their empty wand and finally accept “fracking” as the proper way to achieve good shale gas hygiene?
(1) “The Future of Natural Gas,” MIT Energy Initiative, Interdisciplinary Study, http://web.mit.edu/mitei/research/studies/naturalgas.html
(2) “The Human Story,” Frack Check WV, http://www.frackcheckwv.net/impacts/the-human-story/
(3) The Century Council, “Drunk Driving Fatalities – National Statistics,” http://www.centurycouncil.org/drunk-driving/drunk-driving-fatalities-national-statistics
(4) “Ethyl Alcohol 70%,” Material Data Safety Sheet, http://www.nafaa.org/ethanol.pdf
(5) “Oil and coal worker fatalities aren’t worth limited energy savings,” Daily Finance, http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/04/30/oil-and-coal-worker-fatalities-arent-worth-limited-energy-savin/
(6) Fluoride Action Network, http://www.fluoridealert.org/toothpaste.htm