The Geological Column: Extracting Energy

Annie Craddock

As you may know, new methods of making energy are being researched and made more efficient every day. Because these ideas have not come into fruition, natural gas has become more widely accepted and available in recent years.

This is mainly because it is less pollutant than coal and oil, plus many new sources have been found and new technologies have been adapted to extract the gas. This method is called hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking. I know this sounds like a scary word, and it actually is. This method of extraction is affecting all parts of the country in many different and negative ways.

Hydrofracking means pumping high-pressure liquids into the ground — at a level where the gas has been contained over the millions of years — in order to rip open the rock, which allow the gas to move upwards through the hole created.

They use enormous amounts of water along with trace elements and fine-grained sand to hold open the cracks to allow as much gas to leave as possible.

There are obvious environmental problems with this method, the first being the large amount of water wasted. The second and more contaminating problem is that companies will not tell what trace elements they are using and they could and have easily polluted the ground water. But since they companies will not share what they are using, there is no way take preventative measures or file effective lawsuits.

There are other, more immediate and obvious effects of hydrofracking that can even been seen in our own backyard. In the Midwest there are many sandstone layers of bedrock, most buried deep underground, that are perfect for hydrofracking sand. Many new open pit mines have popped up all over in order to dig up the sand and use it for this purpose.

The Mackville Quarry — which you may have visited on Intro Geo field trips — will be hitting one of these layers within the next few years and intend to sell it for this use. Open pit mining usually scars the landscape and could create water contamination problems.

The scariest effect of hydrofracking is that it has caused earthquakes and large area ground depressions. Many projects have been suspended because they were effecting faults or simply creating earthquakes from the high pressure pumping. The companies say that if people can’t feel the quakes, it’s not harmful. But obviously, any quake is bad and can only lead to more.

This is a big issue since we need the natural gas to fuel our lives and it is a slightly better alternative to oil and coal, but extracting it is hurting the earth and the people inhabiting these areas of extraction. Hopefully, though, the government will have more regulations on this process soon or we can develop cheaper and more efficient ways of creating energy to help preserve the earth, as we know it.