What you can blame fracking for

GG has complained about the conflation of “fracking” with oil and gas development as a whole.  So while problems with water quality and local air pollution frequently caused by oil and gas development are blamed on fracking, it isn’t fracking itself that causes those problems but other aspects of oil and gas development such as poorly cased wells and leaking well heads.

But there are a few things.  In areas where clean water is at a premium, fracking does compete for water when waste water is not reused. And the disposal of that waste water in deep injection wells has led to earthquakes as large as M5s (Oklahoma seems to be dedicated to seeing if they can make something bigger).

GG had missed the impact on sand mining.  While fracking originated as injection of water or a fluid mixture, it was recognized that adding something to hold fractures open would help production.  So now most of the mixture of stuff pumped down a well being hydrofracked is water and sand, and there is a strong preference for nice clean quartz-rich fine grained sand (there are artificial sands, too).  An LA Times story (largely based on a report from the Boston Action Research group) notes that 95 billion pounds of sand will be used in fracking this year.  Or, put another way, that is 47 million tons of sand; the USGS estimated 32.5 million tons was used in fracking and well packing in 2013, so the numbers in the BAR report seem a bit high for fracking alone. This is dominantly from the well-worked lower Paleozoic sands of the mid-continent since a high silica content and well rounded grains are preferred; the St. Peter Sandstone being one of the present main resources. The BAR report notes that air and water quality issues exist with such mining, with silicosis being an obvious potential issue and heavy metal poisoning being a bit of a surprising possible side effect.

For perspective, how big a deal is 30-50 million tons of sand?  Since this is largely coming from a small area of Wisconsin and Minnesota (so far), the local impact is large. But there is a huge amount of material mined for construction use of sand and gravel in many construction uses, over 861 million tons per year in the U.S. in 2013.  So the frac sand industry is only something like 5% of the overall aggregate production, and many of the issues with frac sand production mentioned in the report also exist when mining aggregate for other uses.  (For additional comparison, the magnitude of frac sand mining is comparable to salt mining in the U.S. and half the production of cement).

So, whatever the impacts of frac sand mining, that is one thing you can lay squarely on the expanded use of hydrofracking.

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