Friday, April 6, 2012

Climate Matters. F is for Fracking and Fossil Fuels

This is the post for F in the A-Z Blogging Challenge 2012. Link in the sidebar.

Fracking is when gas trapped deep underground is released. Superficially is sounds simple, but it involves drilling deep into the earth for up to two miles (a bit over 3km). Millions of litres of water is pumped from natural aquifers, mixed with highly toxic chemicals which is then forcefully injected into the rock to explode it, and release the gas to enable it to be extracted.

The process of blasting rock in this manner is called fracturing or fracking, and can be conducted underneath farmland, water reservoirs, rivers or homes. The sludge is then pumped up and includes a mix of water, chemicals, the gas and other debris from deep underground. Obviously this mixture needs to be filtered and the toxic materials removed so that the water is able to be released back into the environment safely.

There is acknowledgement that this process can trigger earth tremors and earthquakes which is greeted with alarm by those living nearby. The suggestion by one company that communities could implement a seismic early warning system wasn't reassuring. People living in areas where fracking is taking place have reported increased pollution including contaminated drinking water either from the filtering not being rigorous enough or leaks at the drill site. (Here's a post about a recent earthquake in Melbourne. Fracking is carried out in Gippsland which is riddled with fault lines. Edited in 22 June 2012.)

Although the industry claims to have become more efficient and safe, they appear to accept that there will be accidents. Apparently in the US, the industry isn’t well regulated, having gained exemptions from a number of Federal environmental safety laws and requirements that other industries have to follow. Many groups are concerned that while we continue to invest so heavy in dwindling fossil fuel reserves, there will be no real incentive to build long term sustainable energy industries.

Fossil fuels are deposits of ancient material such as plants and minute ocean organisms which have been exposed to heat and pressure under the earth over millions of years and contain high levels of carbon. As the ancient material is used, it releases carbon dioxide which would in the past have been absorbed naturally.

Because we’re consuming fossil fuels so quickly, the natural processes that would in the past have absorbed the carbon-dioxide are only managing to remove about half of the amount we need, so there is a excess in the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that is known to contribute to global warming which in turn contributes to climate change. Coal, oil and natural gas, are all fossil fuels - they account for around 86% of primary energy consumption in the world. Because they take millions of years to form they’re referred to as non-renewable resources, because once we’ve used them up, they're gone forever.
South Australia. Photos D. Abbott
Demand for fossil fuels is increasing worldwide, in fact, faster than we are funding alternatives. Even with the race to extract the last vestiges of these substances from previously uneconomic parts of the globe (eg deep underground or far under the sea) the best industry experts estimate they will come to an end in the not too distant future.

Last year I wrote about the importance of Friends for F in my theme on workplace bullying. Here


Damyanti said...

That's a lot of very crucial info.

--Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2012

Twitter: @AprilA2Z

Mike Spain said...

very informative!

nutschell said...

never heard of Fracking before. Actually though that was a term used in Battlestar Galactica. :) But it's great to know all this information you've listed down here. I worry what'll happen when the fossil fuels do run out.
Great A-Z post!

The Golden Eagle said...

There has been talk in the area where I live about fracking. It's worrying--no matter how many times the industry tries to reassure people, there are always more accidents.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Funny what all gets past the regulations here in the U.S... I'm using the term "funny" quiet loosely there.

Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

sue said...

Damyanti - there's a lot to take in I know. Hope you found it interesting.

Mike - that was one of my goals!

Nutschell - the term was used in Battlestar Galactica - well spotted! We don't seem to have much of a planB for when they run out do we. Not good.

Golden Eagle - it is VERY worrying, the reassurances seem so glib and empty and leave more questions that get fobbed off.

Shannon - I LOVE your use of the word "funny"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. fracking is worrying I think - we hear so much from scientists about things being safe - yet big mistakes occur ..

Yea - funny is a good word ..

We have this challenge between developed and becoming developed countries - we've been doing things for years, and why shouldn't China and India do the same ...

Somehow we'll sort things out - how I don't know .. cheers Hilary

sue said...

Hilary, there are so many "accidents" and so little competent regulation that it seems best to leave well enough alone. How we manage I have no idea, or even IF we'll manage, but the insanity of our greedy, frenetic way of life with growth at all costs isn't one I'd wish on any developing country.