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In yet another sign that natural gas frackers have no regard for their environment or your environment I have just come to learn that fracking companies in Pennsylvania have been authorized to inject acid water into their wells. For some background, the average amount of water needed for fracked wells is 5 to 8 million gallons. The water is put under high pressure to cause the rock to crack, which releases the gas.  To effectively frack the well, really nasty chemicals and sand are also put down there with the water (more on that another day). Despite this, 99% of the fluid sent down is water. Now remember that water is costly, so fracking companies, as long as water is priced (keep this in mind folks, particularly when you keep hearing about the human right to free water) need to conserve how much water they use. This is because 90% of the water stays down in the wells, and of the stuff that comes up something like 70% gets recycled and reinjected into nearby wells, and what is not reinjected is attempted to be treated and put into water treatment facilities (more on that in another post). It should not be a surprise that fracking companies are looking for cheaper inputs, especially as gas prices plunge below $3 per unit now.

But Acid Water? Really? Do they have to put acid in wells? Well, this is another one of those happy instances where we seem to be getting a free lunch. Remember what else goes on in Pennsylvania. Coal mining. And lots of it. And it turns out that every single day in Pennsylvania,  over 300 million gallons of water that was used in anthracite and bituminous coal mines makes its way into the rivers, streams and lakes. Every day. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has estimated that this acid mine drainage contaminates over 5,000 miles of streams across the state. And since the water needed for fracking does not have to be drinking water quality, the drilling of wells in the Marcellus Shale deposit has the potential to improve water quality across the state.

We'll post later on about the impact of fracking on conventional water quality independent of this effect. But now suppose even that fracking does cause some damage to water, here we are yet again faced with a tradeoff between the "twin evils" of coal and gas. Each would seem to cause water pollution, so the relevant questions now include: which pollutes more and which can generate more value per polluted unit of water. The evidence seems to be pretty strongly pointing toward favoring fracking.  

One Response to “Oh No! Frackers May Use Acid Water in Their Wells!”

  1. Philip Ngai says:

    You seem to want to say that the frackers are using the acid mine drainage and thus diverting it from  polluting streams but I can't quite find where you actually say that.

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