Last week, we attempted to understand what exactly the folks who are opposed to Natural Gas Fracking were really opposed to. I came down on the side that they simply didn’t want to see any energy development, nor the prospect of anyone getting rich just by having the good fortune to own property on top of a gas field.
One of the most common (and plausible) environmental concerns of the Fractivists is that the large volumes of water used in the fracking process end up back in reservoirs and local aquifers. Indeed this is true, though town, county and state environmental and water authorities have sanctioned such water disposal in the past, and the number of cases of damage due to this “polluted” water have been low (indeed, I am not aware of any).
I imagine that many folks who are opposed to fracking get a kick out the idea of supporting local farmers, particularly those who grow corn, so that we can have a clean, renewable, “natural” fuel to power our vehicles. But consider this: Congress has mandated that by 2022, we produce 36 billion gallons of ethanol, and we produce roughly 10 billion gallons today. So, what’s the big deal? Well, among the myriad other well-known environmental problems with ethanol (soil erosion, corrosion of prime movers, low energy return, increased stress on land, expansion of farming into natural areas and areas not suitable for corn growing, leaching of nitrates into the rivers and seas) what is less well-known, or indeed forgotten entirely by the supporters of ethanol, is that the corn has to be distilled.
And what do you need to distill corn?
Lots of water. And I mean lots of water. Not only does the distillation process require volumes of water that dwarf the amount needed for irrigation (we already are stressing this important aquifer), much of this water ends up as wastewater. That’s right folks. The very wastewater that natural gas fracking generates, with a different mix of chemicals for sure, comes out of the “green” ethanol distilling plants.
And just how much wastewater are we talking about? How about ten to thirteen times the volume of the produced ethanol. In today’s world, this means we are producing roughly 100 Billion to 130 Billion gallons of wastewater, and we are mandating that by 2022 we produce as much as 468 Billion gallons of ethanol wastewater per year. How much wastewater is that? It’s about the amount of water the entire US drinks in 10 days. Not an insignificant amount.
For your reference, the best estimates that I can find for an annual amount of wastewater generated by fracking in the Northeast? 680 Million gallons.