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Thursday, April 28, 2011
This really is about planetary flatulence matched only by the oral flatulence of the promoters of hydraulic fracturing.
Briefly, deep wells (thousands of feet deep) are drilled into rock formations. Shale is often a target because it may hold large quantities of natural gas, not as pockets, voids or chambers, but as gaseous molecules permeating the rock itself. At the bottom of the well, the drillhead turns and cuts a horizontal bore that may extend thousands of feet into the rock. A slurry of water and sand-like particles (and proprietary compounds such as diesel oil) is pumped into the hole under extreme pressure, causing fractures in the rock (think of water freezing in cracks of rock and forcing the cracks to widen). The particles in the slurry “prop” the cracks open so that gas can bleed into the fracking fluid which is then transported back to the surface where the gases are recovered from the fluid.
The process is controversial, not only because the drilling and energy companies refuse to disclose the “proprietary” ingredients in their hydrofracking slurries, but because the groundwater in regions subjected to this process is frequently contaminated by toxic heavy metals and flammable gases such as those flowing from the kitchen tap in the following video clip.
Why should this concern Minnesotans? Let us examine a few recent events to see if there is cause for concern.
National Public Radio has reported that an energy company has recently purchased 155 acres of land near Red Wing, MN, in the Hay Creek watershed. Their stated purpose for the purchase was to create a "sand pit". Interesting that the Minnesota Administrative Rules, in particular, 4410.4400 Mandatory EIS Categories, would have required an EIS "For development of a facility for the extraction or mining of sand, gravel, stone, or other nonmetallic minerals, other than peat, which will excavate 160 acres of land or more to a mean depth of ten feet or more during its existence,..." Perhaps the 155 acres was just coincidental.
The sand is unusually suitable for "propping" material in hydrofracking operations for oil and natural gas recovery from deep wells. It turns out that the bluff country flanking the Mississippi River is underlain by extensive sand and sandstone structures containing sand similar to that in the Hay Creek deposits. Minnesotans and Wisconsinites need to know if this is the beginning of a new mining industry with the potential to reshape significant portions of the Mississippi River valley.
Let us also examine recent TV commercials aired frequently by Exxon/Mobil. Here, a gentleman of kindly countenance explains in a paternal tone that trillions of cubic feet of natural gas awaited only an "idea" for their release and use as a "clean" domestic fuel for American consumption. How uniquely American; Yankee ingenuity at its best! No mention of hydrofracking; no mention of the environmental devastation reported from several states already involved in hydrofracking; no mention of groundwater contamination.