"Fracking" - A New Word/A New Process/New Questions

Sr. Charlene Vogel, OP (St. Catharine, KY)

"Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil, for who could govern this people of yours that is so great. It pleased God that Solomon should have asked for this." I Kings 3:9

"Fracking!" What is it? I was introduced to the word "fracking," "fracing," or specifically "hydraulic fracturing" in my efforts to protect and preserve the water in the Ogallala aquifer, which lies beneath two-thirds of the state of Nebraska. It is the largest fresh water aquifer in the world and sustains one-fourth of the nation's agricultural production. It is renewable only by rain and snow run-off.

TransCanada Oil Company has been in the process of building a second oil line (XL Pipeline) to transport crude (tar sand) oil from Canada's boreal forest area to the United States through the fragile geological land form called the "Sandhills" in Nebraska to oil refineries in Texas. Then, quite by accident I saw the award-winning documentary, GASLAND, and saw exactly what was entailed in this process and its consequences.

In general terms, fracking is a process used to extract gas and oil deep within the earth, usually between 6,000 and 9,000 feet below the surface of the Earth. It is taken from what is called the Marcellus shale layer. In a new well, a steel pipe is vertically drilled, encased in layers of soil and cement to the shale area and then turned horizontally. A perforating gun is then inserted and holes are made in the horizontal pipe approximately 50 feet to 80 feet apart. The perforating gun is then pulled out and pressurized water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into the well to enlarge the existing fissures in the shale. The exact "recipe" of chemicals is not known because gas and oil companies are not required to disclose what chemicals they use. Some I found in research were benzene, hydrochloric acid, scale inhibitors, friction reducers, and sulfides. It takes approximately 5,000,000 gallons of water to frack one well. Chemicals are said to be .44% (small amount) but .44% of 2 million gallons of water is 880,000 parts of chemicals. One well can be fracked up to eighteen times. The contaminated water, "flowback," is then pumped back and put into open pits and then stored in tanks. The gas is then harvested and sent to market.

The documentary, GASLAND, gives the whole picture of the well drilling, and more importantly the consequences experienced by the soil, air, water, and health of animals, plants and humans across the country. Thirty-one states are involved in fracking. There has been a big "boom" of fracking gas in the past 20 years. In 2005, gas and oil companies were exempted from the Clean Water Act of 1948, which was expanded in 1972 to insure cities would install water treatment plants to provide safe, clean water for their citizens.

Technology has brought us a long way in our civilization, but we must ask the question, should we use it when it results in destroying life-sustaining elements to the life of the earth, plants, animals, and humanity?

"Fracking" raises questions for us as proclaimed stewards of the earth.

  • What effect will the chemicals have on our water supplies (all of the above)? A certain percentage of these chemicals remains underground.
  • Where do these companies get these enormous amounts of water and what happens to these sources? I only know of the ocean, aquifers, rivers, lakes, and streams.
  • What happens to our shallow drinking water aquifers?
  • How is it impacting our land forms? What I've seen is devastation similar to the strip-mining of coal.
  • What happens to our various eco-systems across this land?
  • How does it affect the air we breathe? Gas and chemical leaks are highly probable. This is rather evident in the two recent oil tragedies - the Gulf Oil explosion and the Yellowstone River pipeline break.
  • Where do we get the sand to mix with the water and chemicals? I personally know a man who trucks sand from Wyoming to the Texas oil refineries for a living. Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Fort Worth, Texas, is 871 miles.
  • Are these lands reclaimed and how well?
  • How have we become so dependent on oil and gas? Plastic materials like shoes, plates, silverware, automobile frames, window frames and appliances are made of oil products.
  • Do we need to do deep earth drilling for gas? Do we want to do deep earth drilling for gas and for what reason?
  • What local, state and federal policies do we need in place and how do we see that these policies are enforced honestly and with integrity? It was reported in the newspaper that the Gulf oil well did not have proper inspection. Who is inspecting oil and gas lines dug years ago to be sure they are still safe?
  • Are there ways other than deep earth drilling to gain "clean energy" for our needs not wants?
  • What will happen to our agricultural land which produces food for the urban areas and other parts of the world?

In other words, how is our safety as human beings and the health of the earth being compromised with this fracking process for gathering gas and oil?

Water is the source of life. We begin life in the amniotic fluid in our mother's womb. The earth sustains our life physically and spiritually, with its diversity and beauty. We can get along without gas and oil but we can't live without clean water and clean air.

God, our Creator, You have blessed us. Please have mercy on us! God, our Redeemer, heal our indifferent and greedy hearts! God, the Holy Spirit, fill us with wisdom and courage to conserve and protect our source of life! Amen.

Preach Peace... Build Peace... Be Peace.