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Fracking Could Disrupt CO2 Sequestration

April 11, 2012

Yet another concern surrounding the safety of the rapidly growing shale gas drilling industry has emerged. Susan Phillips’ piece, “How Fracking Could Disrupt CO2 Sequestration,” for NPR’s StateImpact, highlights a study recently released by two Princeton University professors, “Potential Restrictions for CO2 Sequestration Sites Due to Shale and Tight Gas Production.”

Phillips begins, “The goal of car­bon diox­ide seques­tra­tion is to bury the harm­ful green­house gas thou­sands of feet under­ground. The goal of frack­ing is to release nat­ural gas from deeply buried deposits.” So this raises a new question: does fracking wreck the chance that carbon sequestration might work anywhere near shale deposits which are or have been fracked?

Phillips explains:

Shale is con­sid­ered a good lid to keep the CO2 from leak­ing back out into the atmos­phere. But hydraulic frac­tur­ing, using high pres­sured water to frac­ture the rock, and sand to keep those frac­tures open, could end up pok­ing holes in that lid. It all depends on how much CO2 seques­tra­tion hap­pens near frack jobs. And that’s what the researchers, T.R. Eliot and M.A. Celia, looked at:

“These analy­ses indi­cate that colo­ca­tion of deep saline aquifers with shale and tight gas pro­duc­tion could sig­nif­i­cantly affect the seques­tra­tion capac­ity for CCS oper­a­tions. This sug­gests that a more com­pre­hen­sive man­age­ment strat­egy for sub­sur­face resource uti­liza­tion should be developed.”

Even though the report doesn’t address all of the potential threats, Briana Mordick of the Natural Resources Defense Council points out another glaring flaw in these practices — poor well construction — in her article, “Federal Regulation Needed to Prevent Conflicts with CO2 Sequestration“:

“If the for­ma­tions that these oil and gas wells are drilled into even­tu­ally become the caprock for CO2 seques­tra­tion projects, these wells could be exposed to harsh con­di­tions they haven’t been designed to with­stand, poten­tially cre­at­ing thou­sands of new path­ways for CO2 to escape to the atmosphere.”

While it is inevitable that the cement casing and steel joints in all shale gas wells will degrade over time, allowing fluid migration underground, faulty shale gas wells have already caused methane migration incidents across the country. Well-documented cases in which the EPA and/or state agencies have found unconventional gas drilling responsible for methane migration into water supplies range from Bradford County, PA and Dimock, PA to Parker County, TX and Pavilion, WY.

This gaping hole in foresight and government regulation provides yet another reason why no more permits for shale gas drilling should be issued. Clearly we don’t even have a full grasp on the landscape and on the long-term threats posed by fracking. Even the industry calls shale gas fracking “unconventional drilling” and, in addition to its more obvious poisons released to air, water and soil closer to the surface, fracking also poses “unconventional” threats such as disrupting carbon sequestration. While carbon sequestration is hardly the ultimate answer to climate change, we’re certainly not in a position to lose it as a tool in the toolbox we’ll need to solve the biggest planetary crisis we’ve ever faced.

One Comment
  1. tamclements@ permalink
    April 11, 2012 5:21 pm

    NPR reported just now on State Matters report—-Moritorium on new frack water disposal wells in Ohio, proven earthquakes,etc.

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