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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fracking in the New Millenium: Increase from 750 gallons to up to 8,000,000 gallons of Water to Frack a Current Well



        In continuing the discussion of hydraulic fracturing or fracking from last Tuesday,  the following words ring out the loudest to me (all the emphasis on numbers/words is mine):
       " A typical early fracture took 750 gallons of fluid (water, gelled crude oil, or gelled kerosene) and 400 lbm of sand. By contrast, modern methods can use up to 8 million gallons of water and 75,000 to 320,000 pounds of sand. Fracking fluids can take the form of foams, gels, or slickwater combinations and often include benzene, hydrochloric acid, friction reducers, guar gum, biocides, and diesel fuel. Likewise, the hydraulic horsepower (hhp) needed to pump fracking material has risen from an average of about 75 hhp in the early days to an average of more than 1,500 hhp today, with big jobs requiring more than 10,000 hhp."

       The full article, by Michael MacRae, of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) explores some of the very early history of fracking (back to 1865 in PA) is linked here:


       The increase in those numbers, especially the amount of water used to frack a well is astounding: from 750 gallons to 8,000,000 gallons of water...Increasing the hydraulic horsepower from 75 to more than 10,000 hhp is a staggering increase in energy used just to pump the fracking mixture into the ground. And then, there is the issue of disposal of all that briny, chemical-filled fluid back into the earth via the over 144,000 disposal wells.

       Here in CO, an organization called Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED) is pushing the following message quite hard in tv/radio/print ads:

       "Through environmentally safe fracking, we’re tapping into Colorado’s vast shale reserves under our state. And we’re doing it responsibly. Coloradans everywhere are starting to learn that facts about fracking. That it’s safe and been a part of the American landscape since 1947. For example, in 2012 the Colorado oil and natural gas industry supported over 110,000 high-paying jobs and generated $1.6 billion in tax revenue for things that are important – like Colorado’s public schools, parks and roads."

        The italicized portion (mine) of the above quote is quite misleading. Fracking from the 1940's to the 1990's is so radically different from current fracking of shales (such as the Marcellus Shale pictured above) as to be truly considered a different process. The industry is considering fracking then and now to be the same. It is not. 

        Our governor may drink fracking fluid (only the "green" variety) but that is clearly such a small part of the fracking issue:

        Having worked on oil rigs in Texas I saw exactly the debris the oil and gas industry left above ground. Here is an aerial view of Denver City, Texas. All those white squares are oil rigs/pads:


       The debris the oil and gas industry is making below ground is not as visible. It is, however, using valuable resources (especially water) to extract fossil fuel and leaving behind chemicals.  Again, I don't have an answer. Of course, we need to transition from fossil fuel to renewable resources like wind and solar.

       On a positive note (My kids are always getting on me about being positive in any situation), I counseled a young woman today who is interested in the Picker Engineering Program at Smith College. The first graduates of the program started by Dr. Ruth Simmons are now almost ten years post graduation.  If anyone can figure it out, it'll be a Smithie. . .

        Thanks, I needed that!

        I welcome your input on fracking. Next week's post will be decidedly lighter! Have a good solstice Saturday, everyone, as the sun (sol) "stands still" (sistere).
        Word Woman (Scientific Steph) 


  1. Preview of next week: the top word searched for in Merriam-Webster online dictionary?


    My faith in humanity is restored.

    1. In college, contrasting, for example, physics, chemistry, or biology with, say, social science or creation science, we decided that any subject with "science" in its name isn't.

    2. We used Biological Sciences and that was ok, Jan. Maybe it's the 's.'

      Science: better than twerking as most researched word.

  2. SS: “Welcome to this week’s blog, Lego… What did you learn?”
    LL: “So, if you were Steph Siskel or Steph Ebert, I gather you’d give this ‘Modern-day Fracking’ film the thumbs-down?” ;-)
    The dramatic increases in water, sand and horsepower are an excellent example of wretched excess. When the cost of frack-harvesting oil exceeds the value of the oil harvested, then maybe fracking will go the way of the dinosaur (current Blaine blog reference), which, ironically, I understand is a great source of fossil fuel!
    Regarding the CRED media spots, ain’t P.R. grand! Their words take me back to Reagan’s 1984 “It’s morning in America” campaign. It’s almost more offensive that a political attack ad. Centuries from now, when the world runs largely on solar and hydro power, these CRED people will probably still be spinning… in their graves.
    Here is a link to the frack SAND mining in Barron County Wisconsin (where I will be spending Christmas/New Year’s). You were correct, SS, it is the sand they’re mining, not the fuel, as I had thought.
    BTW, does one “mine” fossil fuel? “Harvest?” “Drill for” and “Frack for” make sense, I guess. But is there a more general verb (not followed by “for”) that means to get the stuff out of the earth?
    Here are more observations/gripes from a “writer who likes science… but mainly because it’s a word!
    The word “frackin‘” has probably by now been used as a substitute for the f-word/f-bomb, just as “frickin’” and “friggin’” have been, ad nauseam. This is not a new trend. It was lampooned in the SNL skit (link below), but with unfortunate results. Jenny Slate not long afterward became a not-ready-for-prime-time non-player, as did Norm MacDonald after he dropped an f-bomb on SNL’s Weekend Update.
    I cannot stand it when I hear these pseudo-f-words used in conversation. I’ve even heard them on radio ads. I’d almost prefer they use the real thing, kinda.
    Finally, to bring this typically wordy Lego post full-circle and to a merciful conclusion, has anyone else noticed this trend? I’ve heard it mostly on radio interviews, national and local, NPR, MPR, WCCO-AM, etc. I don’t watch TV.
    An interviewer will ask a question, just as SS did at the beginning of this post. The first word out of the interviewee’s mouth is, invariably, “So,…” followed by a response of sorts, just as LL demonstrated above. I don’t recall hearing this before 2013. And it, too, bugs me!

  3. Nothing much to add to this discussion, but today's NY Times crossword seems to be timely.

    1. Jan, my friends' daughter is deciding between PA programs at Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago and Midwestern University in Phoenix. Do you have any thoughts that might help her decision? Thanks.

    2. I'm not familiar with either. In general, though, I'd recommend a 3-year program leading to a master's degree.

    3. I checked out yesterday's "LIKE WATER AND OIL" puzzle in the NY Times. All those wild oil bubbles popping up . . .

      Here's a different, somewhat related pitch:

  4. So...thanks for the links, Lego. How about extract as a word for removing fossil fuels from the ground?

    Yes, the word fracking is definitely highly charged.

    Here's a teensy suggestion: please put a full line of space between paragraphs (just like that). Since blogging doesn't recognize indenting, it is a way to make chunks of text easier on the eye.

    Excited to dive into Jan's recommendation of Brilliant Blunders about errors in science leading to great discoveries. . .Any other science book suggestions from 2013?

    Thanks for reading and writing, Lego.

    1. I liked Mary Roach's "Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal", though I prefer her previous "Packing for Mars". And in fiction, you might like "We Are Completely Beside Ourselves," by Karen Joy Fowler.

    2. Thanks. I have just discovered Dava Sobel. She is coming to teach at Smith next semester.

  5. The promising news in energy in 2013 (including salt batteries):