Monday, September 5, 2016

Frickin' frackin'


I don't think many people understand where oil, or as we here in Texas call it, "awl", comes from, or what we have to do to extract it. Here's the short version....I do have a point here, bear with me:

Oil comes from living things like plants and algae that die and settle into lake and ocean beds, then over time are covered up by thick layers of sediment (think: silt).  Over millions of years these deposits rot and pressure builds as it "ferments" deep underground.

Contrary to popular mis-information, oil deposits are not big underground lakes of black goo.  Oil is trapped in certain types of porous rock (imagine a sponge holding water) and is usually held in place by layers of heavy less-porous rock on top of it. 

When drill pipe punctures the less-porous rock and gets into the oil saturated porous rock below, the intense built-up pressure of all those rotting fossils is released and sends it gushing back up the pipe. 

But after a while the oil's pressure bleeds off and the oil stops flowing upward naturally.  Picture shaking up a bottle of Coke, then popping the bottle cap.  The Coke fizzes straight up and out the top, right?  But after a few seconds the pressure is gone and the rest of the Coke is just sitting there in the bottle.  You have to suck it out with a straw.  That's essentially what an oil "pump jack" sucks the oil out after the natural pressure drops. 

For all this to work you have to drill down directly over the "reservoir" of oil-saturated porous rock.  Drill a bit too far one way or the other and you get nothing....a "dry hole" they call it. 

Enter hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking".  Today fracking is the method we're using to dramatically increase our oil production.  It involves drilling a hole straight down through the less-porous rock layers and the water table (aquifer), then turning 90 degrees (known as horizontal drilling) and running another 5,000 to 10,000 feet.  Then a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand is injected under extreme pressure down the pipe. The pressure cracks the rock in millions of places, the sand fills the cracks and keeps them open, and the otherwise trapped oil can then escape back up.

Fracking can be a good thing.  Too much of the world's oil is concentrated in places that are not friendly to us.  They will sell us their oil, but if we piss them off they can jack the price up as punishment, or even cut us off entirely.  We need to produce oil here where we can be the masters of our own destiny. I get that.


Coming back to that photo on has become apparent that fracking is causing increasingly serious earthquakes. It shows what can happen when intense fracking builds up too much pressure, and/or when the horizontal drilling crosses a geologic fault line.  It can mess up the natural underground geology.  That photo of earthquake damage was taken in South Coffeyville, Oklahoma (NE of Oklahoma City) just a few days ago.  We have small 'quakes register here in my area, too, but they're nothing like that!  So far.

Who's going to pay to fix those streets?  Who's going to pay to fix homes that have foundation damage due to these man-made earthquakes?  It won't be the oil companies, you can be sure.  That's because, like the tobacco industry of decades ago, they deny everything.  They deny that their fracking has anything to do with earthquakes.  "We didn't do it, nobody saw us, you can't prove a thing" they say.  And of course their bought-and-paid-for state oil regulators agree with them.  *wink*

We're walking a tightrope:  Yes, we need the oil.  We need to, by fracking or some other means, get as much oil out of the ground as we can while not destroying everything nearby in the process.  But in many places the public water supply is becoming contaminated (just a coincidence they say) and all that sloppy fracking stuff that the earth regurgitates back up has to be recovered and stored someplace, too.  The process is simply not sustainable long term.

IMO our biggest mistake was not launching an all-out Manhattan-Project-style effort 50 years ago to develop an alternative to our oil addiction.  We're working in that direction now, but it will take decades to make a substantial difference.  In the meantime we're probably just stuck with frickin' frackin'.  We're damned if we do, and damned if we don't.  *sigh*



  1. The least we can do is vote for a candidate who believes in science and cares enough about the future to want to protect the earth we live on.

  2. The problem is the temporary surplus created by this fracking has driven prices down and naturally short-sighted people are using more gas than ever and buying huge guzzlers again. Unfortunately human nature dictates that our greatest breakthroughs happen when our backs are to the wall, ie the Manhattan Project, and Kennedy's deadline to reach the moon. Only when oil becomes scarce are people going to adopt electric cars or find some other means to get around.

  3. I don't know much about fracking, but I know that the earthquakes associated with fracking tend to be shallow and audible ("like a handclap" according to people I know who have experienced them).

    So when I heard the 5.6 the other day was notable for how shallow it was, I was concerned but not overly surprised.

  4. We the sheeple are just pawns, trying not to get eliminated and enjoying life each day.

  5. What scares me the most is the fact that the oil companies do not have to disclose what kind of chemicals they pump into the ground. The Marcellus Shale in Western New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia is rich in oil, too, and people are increasingly reporting the water from their faucets (coming from their wells) catching on fire. Earthquakes today, cancer and birth defects tomorrow? When will we learn?