This is the start of a series about frac sand mining. It is a contentious issue. Is it rampant exploitation and environmental damage, or simple economic growth? I believe it is of concern to Pagans because whatever you think of it, it is likely going to directly change the landscape you encounter when you leave the city. This article is mainly background (please investigate the many hot links) , but you need it to understand the issue.
First, you need fracking sand to engage in “fracking”. Second, from Rueters, Houston, TX. , “There’s been a sand shortage in the U.S. … Those who have sand or have access to sand can pretty much charge what they want.” So there’s lots of money at stake.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it is called, is taking place in many parts of our country, particularly North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas. It is usually either touted as the miracle technological solution to gain economic growth and energy independence, or condemned as a reckless exploitation of resources that endangers our ground water, air, and land, and has way too many unknowns associated with its environmental and geologic effects. What is confirmed is this highly profitable method of gaining trapped oil from tightly bound deep shale deposits, not accessible with conventional drilling methods has exploded as a phenomena nationwide. This is what the ‘Keystone pipeline” expansion is proposed for; to get fracked oil from North Dakota and Canada to Texas refineries. National Geographic has a headline story about it in their March, 2013 issue. While fracking has been used in the development of America’s natural gas resources for nearly 60 years. The development of horizontal drilling process has allowed its use to rapidly expand and include oil drilling. It is a hidden process, tightly held as corporate proprietary property, while leaving a small footprint above ground and visible to the public. Fracking boomed after the Energy Policy Act in 2005 exempted oil and gas production from compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air and the Clean Water Act. Also, the CERCLA Superfund Act doesn’t cover fracking sites.
The basic fracking process is to drill down through the water table, maybe 2000 feet or so until you hit the layer of shale where the oil lies trapped. You then drill sideways within the layer of shale. As you proceed, a slurry of silica sand, water, and proprietary chemicals (some known carcinogens) is rammed out a porus drill point, “fracturing” the shale so the oil is released and can be pumped out (mixed with water and chemicals). This also releases natural gas. The natural gas is being flared off at the well by burning, it is not apparently profitable enough to collect it. This is why the ND night sky is lit up like Chicago. News stories of inflammable faucets and large stores of chemical laden water waiting to be treated and pumped back down through the water table into deep repository holes, accompanies the process.
Unsaid, but many think, “It is only North Dakota, if my gasoline is cheaper and American drilled, it is a small price to pay for oil self-reliance and “national security”. It is so easy to talk this way when it happens somewhere else. Wisconsin happens to be extremely rich in the silica sand used in this process, and this year that sand wealth has brought these issues smack into our face.