Fracking is a term that defines the fracturing, by hydraulic means, of subsoil rocks to obtain hydrocarbons. Is a oil and gas extraction technique trapped in shale rocks that, by traditional methods, cannot be obtained. It has represented a breakthrough in extraction technologies in deposits that are not profitable due to technical and / or natural conditions.
The United States is one of the countries that has benefited the most from the use of this technique, although it is also used by other powers. And of course, its use has generated all kinds of controversy for the environmental damage it produces.
Fracking, the revolution in the world of hydrocarbons
As already mentioned, it is a technique based on hydraulic principles to extract natural gas and oil from unconventional fields. These are generally found in areas of stratified rocks, with little permeability, which prevent the movement of gas for extraction. With fracking, hundreds of wells are drilled that are cased and cemented, occupying large areas and reaching more than 2,500 meters deep. Thus, horizontal and vertical channels of high permeability are generated due to the injection of high pressure water, which causes fractures in the rock.
Along with the water, a ‘proppant’ product – usually sand – and chemicals are injected. These add-ons help increase the small cracks – less than one millimeter – found in the rock to facilitate its fracture. With this action, gas and oil are released, which can then be easily removed. The products obtained are called shale gas and shale oil, respectively.
Countries that use fracking
To date, only four countries widely use this technique for the extraction of hydrocarbons: the United States, Canada, China and Argentina. However, there are proven reserves in another 45, although not all of them are exploitable, for technical or product quality reasons. Colombia, Mexico, Russia, Algeria, Australia, Poland, the United Kingdom and South Africa could soon be added to the list. And it is that fracking is seen as the way to achieve energy independence in countries highly dependent on imports.
Countries against fracking
Several countries, led by France and Germany, oppose its use by environmental and health damage that causes. In others, temporary moratoriums have been declared to make decisions once the established time has expired. In Italy, two shale gas extraction projects were paralyzed by social protests and by the government itself. Even in the United States, hydraulic fracturing is banned in some states like Vermont or New York. In addition, in New Jersey the deposit of waste from this activity is prohibited.
Fracking in Spain
In 2012 the Shale Gas España group was founded as a platform for the exploration and development of shale gas. Its aim is to provide information about this technique and its responsible and safe development. They argue that unconventional natural gas could be obtained for domestic consumption for 90 years. This in contrast to the rejection of fracking in communities such as Cantabria, La Rioja, Navarra, Catalonia; provinces such as Álava and Palencia; and cities like Burgos and Soria. In April of this year it was learned that no requests for hydrocarbon research permits have been made in Spain since 2014.
Why is fracking frowned upon?
There are opinions for and against this technique. Those who support it maintain that the damages are small and controllable, in exchange for great economic benefits. For their part, those who oppose it, use environmental and health arguments. Among the environmental damages they point out, mainly, those related to aquifer contamination and with high rates of water use. In addition, they highlight the damage to the Earth’s surface layer and the greenhouse gas production. An affront to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Water use and pollution
An emblematic case occurred in South Africa where, in 2017, it was given the green light for its use in the Karoo desert. Estimates made by the South African government reached 1.4 trillion cubic meters of gas obtained by this technique. However, the severe drought that affected Cape Town in early 2018 it got in the way of its development.
Day zero had been set for April 21, 2018, when the water supply in that city could end. Years of very low rainfall coupled with the worst drought in a long time brought the dams to critical levels. The event caught the attention of the world and represented an obstacle to fracking development plans due to the amount of water it requires. Coupled with this are the risks of contamination of aquifers by the fluids that are injected or by the gas released. At each piercing, about 4,000 tons of chemicals are injected, of which between 15% and 80% return to be purified.
Other environmental damage
In addition to the main damage related to water, which is increasingly rare, some other damages caused by fracking are known:
- During drilling. There are risks of explosion, gas escaping and hydrogen sulfide – highly toxic, even at low concentration. In addition, there is the risk of detachments on the pipeline, which can release heavy metals and radioactive natural elements. As if that were not enough, the intensity of the fracture can cause seismic activity, particularly dangerous in areas close to hydroelectric power plants, nuclear power plants, refineries, oil pipelines.
- Space occupation. The impact on the landscape can be significant, since up to 3.5 holes are made per square kilometer, occupying up to two hectares. This coupled with the time of occupation, which can reach seven years.
- Air pollution. Volatility of the toxic chemical additives plus methane that escapes from the farm itself will enter the atmosphere, contributing greatly to the greenhouse effect.