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Study Says Fracking is Safe In Theory But Often Not In Practice 297

First time accepted submitter chadenright writes "A university study asserts that the problems caused by the gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking,' arise because drilling operations aren't doing it right. The process itself isn't to blame, according to the study, released today by the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin."
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Study Says Fracking is Safe In Theory But Often Not In Practice

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  • Study in texas.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by santax ( 1541065 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @09:14PM (#39068925)
    So, who payed for it? Are there any ties with the oil-industry? Via-via-ties do count. I ask this because every other investigation I have seen all have the same thing in common: Putting about 3000 different chemicals (mostly very toxic) into the ground is a mayor threat to drinkingwater and should never ever be repeated again. Except in Texas apparently. Only that is reason enough to just not continue this. The cost don't weight up to the benefits. (Not even on an economical scale)
  • And in theory ... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2012 @09:14PM (#39068933)

    nuclear power plants are also safe.

  • by santax ( 1541065 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @09:30PM (#39069135)
    Hmmm, ok, maybe you should download or rent the docu Gasland. Without a lot of words it shows us what all those other studies except this 1 (in texas, done under supervision by a guy who has on his cv: and my experience in private firms......) have to say. Until proven (!) in practice... like it should be... I will stay with my current and correct opinion. This method is not only dangerous, it's a scorched earth tactic. As all the wells that are currently in existence have proven. So now it's up those guys who did this research to provide us with proof they are right.Let us now hope they won't start a 'proof pit' near anyone you or me, loves.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @09:36PM (#39069191) Journal

    It *sounds* bad to be putting 3000 different chemicals into the ground...

    Yep, it does.

    Having been on-site and spoken with engineers...

    Who all owed their livings to the energy industry.

    If water tables are being affected it is because the engineers are idiots and not doing it right.

    Well, then the solution is simple: keep all the engineers away.

    The study is entirely plausible. It says it works in theory (which it most certainly does) but in practice you can fuck up and contaminate the water tables.

    So here's my idea: Let's only do fracking in theory. In practice, let's be more serious about looking for alternatives.

  • by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <> on Thursday February 16, 2012 @09:50PM (#39069333) Homepage

    I live in one of the most geologically stable places on the planet. And we still have earthquakes here. It's called the Canadian shield []. But hey, you know if you frack properly, you don't get any problems. And I'm sure you're also going on about that BS movie where people were lighting their taps on fire, but guess what, people were doing that before. Hell there's places around me where that's possible from naturally occurring methane in the water. Mostly well water, and you need to back pressure it in your well.

    Really though, next I'm sure you'll go on a rant about how the tar sands are evil. But gloss over the fact that oil has been leeching into the rivers in Canada for thousands of years. Hell, there's enough oil leeching naturally that people used to(and still do) patch their boats with it.

  • by Gideon Wells ( 1412675 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @09:57PM (#39069385)

    I live in PA, but haven't watched it yet. We have local fracking wells up near our reservoir. W've had companies run their wells at high enough pressure to break the containment shells and keep running for three months till busted. Not one of those reservor wells, though. Oh, and truckers busted driving away from the site with the release valve on the tanks "accidentally" leaking.

    I don't need to see Gasland. I can read the news. I see how the industry here is in full come in, drill and move on locust mode. The drilling could be safe if done with geology in mind and within standards. I just have no faith this will be done 100% of the time. Not that what I say or believe matters.

    I can also look up our history. Pennsylvania was deforested in the lumber booms about a century ago, and only has its current forests thanks to FDR, the New Deal and the Civilian Conservation Corps. A large part of our economy is dependent on forest tourism. A third of all of our water is already contaminated from acid mine drainage from the coal booms.

    Even if it were 100% no matter what, I'd still be leery based off of my state's track record.

  • Re:Frak! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by z0idberg ( 888892 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @10:09PM (#39069507)
    In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. **Attributed to Yogi B and others.
  • Re:Frak! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Thursday February 16, 2012 @10:14PM (#39069559)

    You can do everything right and still get a bad seal. If you rush the job and ignore warning signs, you are pretty much guaranteed to get a bad seal. Which do you suppose causes more problems?

    So, if doing fraking "right" requires you to have perfect cement jobs everytime, then it isn't possible to do fraking right.

    You could say the same of any drilling. If you don't have a good seal, you haven't done it right. It is possible to check this kind of thing afterwards. Maybe they should.

  • Re:Frak! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @10:17PM (#39069581) Homepage

    This sort of thing is the poster child for why pure Libertarianism don't work.

    Pure libertarianism: somebody owns that underground water. Somebody else starts fracking and chemicals get into the water. The owner of the water then sues the fracker and 0wns him in court. (Possibly literally; if the damages are high enough, the fracker might wind up indentured to the party he wronged.)

    Alternative scenario. The fracker and the water owner are the same person. Now he can eat the cost of the fracking (can't sell the water anymore; it's polluted); or he can keep selling the water to his customers, in which case his customers sue him for selling tainted water, and they 0wn him in court.

    Now, if you are talking about not just a libertarian society but an anarchocapitalist one, then yeah I think you have found an example that probably won't work in practice. I'm told that even with no government to force people to go to court, that they will voluntarily show up for arbitrations and there is no need for government. I doubt you buy that; I don't either.

    The role of government here is supposed to be that government imposes regulations, the industry follows the regulations, and then nobody sues anybody as long as everyone was following the regulations. Or if you are really a believer in big government, you might think that government inspectors prevent accidents. That works until it doesn't; BP leaked a bunch of oil into the gulf, and government inspectors didn't prevent it.

    The libertarian alternative is you can do whatever you want, without permission, but as soon as you harm someone you are in big trouble. (Government currently provides lots of ways to diffuse the trouble; you don't hear of a CEO being held personally responsible for the company he/she heads, due to limited liability of corporation.)

    Maybe you meant to say "anarchy" instead of "Libertarianism"?


  • by bsane ( 148894 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @10:35PM (#39069727)

    How many people have died producing solar?

    I don't know, but if/when there is even a single death from a construction accident, its death per megawatt will suddenly be worse than coal...

  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @10:54PM (#39069855)

    How can you be correct when you don't even know how fraccing works? How is the method inherently a scorched earth tactic?

    Remember, what I am saying, is that low permeability strata (meaning water does not flow through it) is cracked apart and those chemicals are introduced as a medium to leave proppant behind. The fluids themselves are largely reclaimed. Not left down below.

    Most often, especially in Texas, those wells are so deep that it is not possible for the water table to interact with those formations that are being fracced. That's why you are not correct and just have no idea what you are talking about.

    Ask a geologist some time if it is possible for a water table to interact with a low permeability formation that is 10,000 feet below it. He will say it is not possible. Guess why? It it was possible, that would mean the water table was that deep to begin with.

    The very definitions of the terms being used mean you are incorrect and have no understanding of the process.

    None, none, of what I am saying is condoning shallow fraccing in other areas of the country where it could interact with a water table.

    It's not the fraccing, it is the people doing it.

  • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @11:43PM (#39070221) Homepage

    Fracking can never be done safe, at least not with today's technology. You are drilling russian roulette mode, sometimes it's safe but mostly it's not.

    Companies are simply making guesstimates of what will happen when they pressurise formation and, where the fractures will go and how it will affect ground water at various depths.

    Here's how it works for people looking for water. They drill down a bore into likely areas, and when water flows, they test the suitability of water derived from that formation, they keep drilling till they find a suitable formation to draw water from or the reach the depth level of the equipment or they run out of money or they give up and try at another location.

    Eventually they mostly find a safe suitable source. Now along comes the fracking company, they purposefully introduce largely random (the lack the ability to 'accurately define where the fractures will occur) stress fractures in the rock, the purpose to specifically allow the mixing of fluid and gas materials to mix at various levels, basically turn rock formations into massive soda fountains. Will it affect nearby wells, they don't know and they don't give a fuck.

    The law was written so that they could run off with the profits and tell those whose water they contaminate to piss off and laugh at their misery. The frackers rinse and repeat as long as governments allow them to do so. They know they are playing russian roulette with other peoples lives, seriously actual russian roulette people will get sick and die, there is absolutely no denying it. They paid their lobbyists to influence Darth Cheney to write laws to protect frackers from the frackers murderously greedy activities.

    The reality is there is no technology currently available to forecast what will actually happen when you try to turn rock formations into massive soda fountains, none at all, it is a straight up guess. Pretty much a safe bet for the fracker they will likely get a big profit as for everyone else around that location, let's be honest, as far as the frackers are concerned luck of the draw 'Fuck Em'.

  • Re:Frak! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ozborn ( 161426 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @11:45PM (#39070247)

    Even if industry and government should have similar goals (keeping the screw ups and cheaters out of the game), they can't seem to get together and put up some fairly simple regulatory frameworks.

    You're somewhat confused about what the "similar goals" are between industry and government actually are. It has nothing to do with stupidity and much more to do with corruption and money. Industry (including and particularly cheaters) pay people in government through campaign contributions plus the age old promise of high paying jobs in industry once their political career is over to produce a "favorable" business climate. This can mean passing favorable legislation or removing regulatory pressure. If that isn't possible the regulators can simply be de-funded, the options are endless. The politicians love it, they get campaign contributions, connections to powerful people in industry and maybe even a cushy jobs on the Board of Directors when they are done. Where I'm living (Alabama) this sadly explains the majority of political practice here, from both parties.

    Maybe this is what Tainter [] means by too much complexity causing our eventual downfall. Humans are just too stupid sometimes.

    One possibility is that politicians are too stupid to establish a functional regulatory framework. However they somehow manage to construct a complicated taxation framework to collect trillions in taxes, build a massively complicated military and defense structure... I think a more reasonable explanation is that many (not all) politicians have no interest in building such a structure. The constituents are too diffuse and disorganized to make it worth their while except during election time, when they are at least give it lip service.

  • Re:Frak! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Raenex ( 947668 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @11:48PM (#39070271)

    Lawsuits are too late when people have been poisoned.

  • Re:Frak! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @12:05AM (#39070405) Journal

    The role of government here is supposed to be that government imposes regulations, the industry follows the regulations, and then nobody sues anybody as long as everyone was following the regulations.

    Wrong. Regulations exist to try and minimize harm, not indemnify the regulated.
    Following regulations is never a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    Or if you are really a believer in big government, you might think that government inspectors prevent accidents.

    I can't think of any historical examples where we've ever had enough Government inspectors to really provide a baseline.
    historically, we've had no inspections, but never really gone to the other extreme of full inspections.

  • Re:Frak! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @01:18AM (#39070887) Homepage

    So what sort of legal framework is there that gives the libertarian water-rights owner the right to sue the fracker? "Suing" is a legal construct, and requires "legal basis" for the suit to be brought. Aka, the fracker has violated some sort of law. So in this libertarian world, we have laws about water discharge chemical levels? I thought that was the sort of stuff that libertarians hated -- laws that say what they can't dump into the land, what they can't dump into the water, what they can't dump into the air, etc.

  • Re:Frak! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @01:36AM (#39071007)

    The owner of the water then sues the fracker and 0wns him in court

    Where's the court? Isn't the Government too small to be able to provide it because it's not getting any taxes from those Libertarians?

    Maybe you meant to say "anarchy" instead of "Libertarianism"

    While some are undoubtedly anarchists wrapped in a flag as camoflage others are far worse. Consider what removing the authority of government and instead having a nation led purely by the wealthy and their descendants does after a generation or two. If you have trouble imagining it then consider what Washington fought against. Of course "Libertarian" really is nothing but a meaningless self applied title for those that don't want to be labelled for what they really are, no matter what portion of the political spectrum they sit on. That means any criticism hits the "real Scotsman" problem, where for instance a criticism of Koch and his latest astroturf games results in cries that he not a "real" libertarian.
    So yes, since it's such a broad target the above poster is correct in saying libertarian equals anarchist for many libertatians, just as I would be correct in saying many want to be aristocrats that are part of a new royalty, and just as you may be correct if you say you vehemently oppose both viewpoints.
    It's a very wide range of people sitting under a sign and wrapped up in a flag to hide what they really are. Of course people are going to react to the loudest noises coming from under that sign.

  • Re:Frak! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ATMAvatar ( 648864 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @02:13AM (#39071227) Journal
    The real problem is that we have seen a number of examples of little or un- regulated markets, and nearly every time they cause some problem or another. The most recent example is the banking industry which put is in the current recession. The reason the invisible hand is invisible is because it doesn't exist.
  • Re:Frak! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @04:16AM (#39071695) Journal

    Are Libertarian courts going to magically work differently than other courts? You get hauled into court for poisoning your neighbor's water supply, you hire kick-ass legal team and sufficient "researchers" to con a judge and/or jury into believing your neighbor is a whining asshole, and regardless of whether it's a Libertarian state or not, you win. Your neighbor's water is still poisoned, he has insufficient resources to continue the battle, and the tiny, impotent state is utterly incapable of evening the playing field even a little bit. In other words, he's just fucked, you make lots of money, which allows you to build even more kick-ass legal teams and hire even more "researchers".

    At least with regulations there is some sort of baseline, as opposed to putting your faith utterly and completely in a political ideology that no more seems to be able to stop abuse of process than existing political systems. Things always sound lovely in theory. In theory Communism creates a wonderfully fair system that sees much more even distribution of wealth. In reality it's been a failure, and I suspect a pure Libertarian state would do no better. At the end of the day, you have to have a certain degree of flexibility and pragmatism in your political and economic system, otherwise you will end up riding your ideology into the gutter sooner or later.

  • FTFY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Uberbah ( 647458 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @05:17AM (#39071939)

    Current system: regulators are supposed to catch violations before they occur, so people don't get poisoned and saving the company from it's own greed.

    Current regulatory capture: regulators come from the same industries they are supposed to regulate, so they do industry favors so they'll get cushy jobs when they go back to the private sector. See: Robert Rubin, Clinton's Treasury Secretary that went straight to CitiGroup.

    Libertarian system: oligarchs avoid any and all responsibility using middle management and mules. Company policies are such that sacrificial lambs, I mean employees, must cut corners if they want to keep their jobs. When the shit hits the fan, the company points to their other (unenforced) policies to cover their own asses, leaving the mules to take the fall.

    Case in point: how Wal-Mart gets sued every few years when one of their stores is caught forcing employees to work off the clock. Wal-Mart promptly points to their written policy that hourly employees must be paid for all hours worked. Nevermind that other policy on how all work must be completed without paying any overtime. So a middle manager decides to cheat on payroll to keep his own job.....

  • by Uberbah ( 647458 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @05:25AM (#39071971)

    The bad guy can outspend the victims 100:1 in court, but how can he change the facts? If the facts are that he put poison in the water, how does outspending by 100:1 save him?

    Here's your sign: the Cigarette Company Defense. For decades, the smoking industry never lost a liability lawsuit. How do you know your Uncle Joe got cancer from smoking two packs a day when it could have been genetics, or asbestos?

    So, how do you know that your contaminated ground water came from Shell, and not that Exxon operation in the next county? Or that BP well on the far side of the aquifer?

    Just how many communities, much less individuals, could afford years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, paid studies and expert testimony to prove that yes, it was indeed Shell that poisoned your water?

  • Re:Frak! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @06:30AM (#39072263)

    This sort of thing is the poster child for why pure Libertarianism don't work.

    Except it's not an example of pure Libertarianism. You have heavy regulation and a legal system ("complex" in the sense of Tainter, I might add), both which are far from Libertarian.

    The poster child for why pure libertarianism doesn't work are countries where criminal gangs took over (such as supposedly happened in parts of the former Eastern Bloc). Pure libertarianism requires a population that will fight, often proactively, threats to liberty. When that doesn't happen and it usually doesn't, then you can't have libertarianism.

    As to Joseph Tainter's theories, I don't see anything about political and economic parasitism in the form of rent-seeking. Complexity in itself doesn't damn a society. What it does do is conceal conflicts of interest between the society and the groups controlling that society as well as subsequent acts of rent-seeking.

    For example, the well-known example of the Roman Empire had two well known examples of this. First, the consolidation of land ownership (the primary means for investing wealth prior to the Industrial Revolution) in the hands of wealthy families and second, the devolving of the Praetorian Guard from elite defenders of Rome to selfish kingmakers who helped hasten the demise of the western part of the Roman Empire.

    Finally, one shouldn't confuse stupidity with conflict of interest. A collapse of society might indeed serve my interests. Even in cases where stupidity is a factor, it's usually a case of someone pursuing a strategy to further their interests, but they just don't realize in time that their actions are counterproductive (such as brinksmanship against another player using the very same strategy).

  • Re:Frak! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @09:18AM (#39072963)
    I'm sorry, but your argument does not logically lead to your conclusion. Your argument is basically, "Why do you think that people would be any less corrupt in a Libertarian society than they are in our society? See, government intervention protects you better than the libertarian theory would." You grant that in the current system those with more financial resources are able to use those resources to avoid suffering the consequences for thies actions. Then you postulate (reasonably) that courts in a libertarian society would be just as corrupt (using the word loosely). Finally you conclude that our current system is better. You start by postulating that a flaw that exists in our current system would also exist in a libertarian system (a reasonable postulate), but then you conclude that our current system is better because of this flaw that would exist in the libertarian system.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll