05/24/2012 15:38

“From Europe to Asia, South America to South Africa, huge reserves of an energy source capable of supplying nations for decades are being found. It’s known as shale gas – and it’s being hailed as a revolution in global energy.” Robert Matthews writing in BBC Knowledge June 2012 explains how new technologies have made this new found worldwide energy source accessible and explores the benefits and risks.

            Matthews reports that shale gas has been used for centuries where it was found but, even as late as the 1980s profit margins were too small to interest major companies. New technologies have been developed for finding and extracting shale gas that make its extraction and use profitable. The process is called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. Extraction is possible because drilling can take place horizontally and vertically.

            Wells are driven horizontally into the rock at least a mile below the surface. Then the drilling goes horizontally into the gas bearing rock layer. When water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into the well under high pressure, cracks form in the gas bearing layers. The gas is released and flows to the surface where it is collected. When the drilling is done correctly, it goes deeper than the aquifers that supply drinking water, the pipeline is constructed to prevent leaking, and scientific tools give reports of problems encountered.

            On October 20, 2011 the USEPA announced a schedule to Develop Natural Gas Wastewater Standards.  Thousands of fracking operations are already operating in the U.S. with limited oversight. “Currently, wastewater associated with shale gas extraction is prohibited from being directly discharged to waterways and other waters of the U.S. … EPA will consider standards, based on demonstrated, economically achievable technologies, for shale gas wastewater that must be met before going to a treatment facility.” Obviously, without a standard, wastewater from thousands of active fracking operations lacks adequate oversight.

            Our neighbors in parts of Wisconsin have the kind of fine sand used in the fracking process, known as “frack sand”. Some Wisconsin land is attractive for development of sand mines bringing new challenges to the environment.

            An Internet Search of “fracking” can connect you with much information. A  Popular Mechanics website discusses myths regarding fracking.

            In the United States, shale gas reserves are scattered through the Central States and the Rocky and Appalachian Mountain Areas.  These reserves are far greater than the natural gas reserves already supplying some of our energy needs. Sources other than fossil fuel, commonly referred to as renewable energy, are being developed on a large scale but are still far from meeting the demand for energy in the U.S. and around the world.

            Shale gas, a fossil fuel, is a temporary fix. Our efforts are still needed to conserve energy and develop renewable energy alternatives.


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 05/23/12 (for publication on 05/26/12 in the Journal- Standard, Freeport, Illinois)  Della can be reached at info@stephensonswcd.org