Stopping hydraulic fracturing in gas wells altogether or allowing unlimited and unregulated fracking are the two sides of a controversial issue that we are hearing most these days.
Most of you probably have followed this brouhaha at least somewhat and most likely have decided which side you are on.
The anti-fracking group has seen the documentary "Gasland" that reveals the deadly and dangerous hazards of fracking - water faucets that become flowing fire and pending earthquakes, to name a couple.
The other contingent pooh-poohs all that criticism and proclaims that fracking has been going on for years and is entirely safe, thus there is no reason for any sort of government regulation. Trust us, they say.
For those unaware of this tussle, hydraulic fracturing - most commonly called fracking - is the process of getting hydrocarbons out of an Earth that can prove rather stingy at times. After a well is drilled the formation often needs some persuasion to give up its goods. This has become particularly true in gas wells.
As natural gas and oil as well have become more difficult to retrieve the industry has come up with some innovative ways to get to it. For instance, natural gas can be trapped in shale deposits and sometimes not directly beneath the spot the hole was initiated. That has led to directional drilling. That's a technique where a drill stem is actually bent and run up to a mile horizontally beneath the surface.
This not being a trade magazine. I'm attempting to make this explanation as simple as possible. There will be some oilies who will take issue with my description as not being detailed enough.
Nevertheless, after the hole is drilled and the formation found, that's when the fracking can occur. A mixture of water, mud, acid and some other secret ingredients (and the secret ingredients have the environmentalists up in arms) are pumped into the formation under pressure. That usually releases the gas in the shale formation, which flows up the stem and is recovered.
Many years ago, I won't say how many, I worked on a perforation crew for the former Dresser Atlas. It was some of the best-paying, most satisfying work I have ever done. I have seen my share of frac jobs. They are certainly noisy.
My job was to be on 24-hour call and stand ready to drive a large truck, or sometimes just a pickup, to a well site in the middle of Oklahoma nowhere to perforate a well. That often gave me a close-up view of a frac job.
A perforator team hooks the truck up to the wellhead, takes what is called a gun, which is a tool shaped somewhat like a torpedo, runs it down a hole to the spot designated and fires it off. These guns are loaded before leaving the shop. It was one of my jobs. In the shed about 100 yards from anything else, the loader would swing a gun onto a table. The gun has about 24 "holes" in it. In each hole is placed one round dynamite charge, about the size of silver dollar and one "bullet," about the size of a large man's thumb. That hole is then sealed with a plug.
When the gun goes off in the hole the bullets, spaced around the gun from top to bottom, fire into the formation, allowing whatever liquid is there to flow into the hole.
That's fairly straightforward. Fracking, however, is much more clouded in mystery and therein lies the problem.
Opponents of fracturing cite the health risks as well as environmental problems. Arguments include the effects on surface and groundwater and the possibility of causing earthquakes along fault lines.
Proponents say the process has been around for decades and that all precautions are being taken. However, many companies won't reveal what exactly they are pumping into the earth and despite their claims, there have been serious problems in some areas.
This is yet another in a long line of arguments between those who want more government regulation of the industry and those who simply believe we should just trust them.
And, again, there has to be a middle ground.
The United States can't stop searching for and producing oil and natural gas. Ways must be found to get to it. Safe ways. With some oversight by those with no vested interest. As much as some people hate to hear it, that party is the government.
Regulation is not a bad thing, nor is it foolproof. After all, the space program was one of the most highly regulated agencies in the history of the world and it still had its share of mishaps and tragedies.
Regulation and disclosure of fracturing should be embraced by the industry. It could very well help dispel some of the rumors and put to rest accusations. And it would discourage those few in the industry who try to disregard safety and environmental issues in the pursuit of money.
I have said before, but I repeat: I am a child of the oil fields. Most men in my family worked their entire lives or at least stints in the oil fields. Where I grew up in Seminole there were two refineries, Plant 12 and Plant 13. They often put an odor into the air. When I would mention to my grandad that funny smell in the air, his answer was, "It smells like jobs."
I have seen the fallout from irresponsible drilling, the saltwater canyons carved throughout the county and the creeks polluted with oil and saltwater.
Still, I believe our search for oil and gas is necessary. I just believe that there are right and wrong ways to do it.
We need to find the middle ground. Does that no longer exist in this country?
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332
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