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17 March 2014 Was Fracking's 65th Birthday

By March 17, 2014

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The American Petroleum Institute has chosen today to observe the 65th anniversary of fracking—hydraulic fracturing of petroleum-bearing rocks. March 17, 1949, was the date of the patent granted to Halliburton for a novel process of opening up reservoir rocks by jamming them with high-pressure water and sand. The surge of water pressure fractures the rock, and the sand blown into the new cracks holds them open to let out the oil or gas. Here's the API's press release, and here's more detail on its Energy Tomorrow blog.

I am generally OK with hydraulic fracturing. The petroleum industry has powered a remarkable phase of civilization by producing high-quality energy sources and chemical feedstocks. Life as we know it today would be inconceivable without oil and gas. My opinion, as attentive readers should know by now, is that we need to move past our carbon-based energy system as fast as we can manage. Given that, I am OK with switching from coal-burning technology to less carbon-intensive technology. I am OK with moving away from the ghastly human costs of coal mining toward the milder side effects of petroleum production. Ultimately, I want coal and oil and gas to be valued for something other than just setting them aflame for a moment's heat.

Given human nature, I also favor the strictest feasible regulation and oversight of the industry, just as I do for mining in general. (I think the industry, in getting fracking fluids exempted from disclosure, overplayed its hand in a move that's backfired.) If the API opposes that—and they do resist expensive changes—then I think it's wrong. But I agree with the API that fracking is an elegant product of human ingenuity that is buying us time to cope with carbon.

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March 24, 2014 at 7:41 am
(1) norm says:

I agree with everything you said in the above. Regulation and oversight of the oil people is paramount: I worked for Halliburton in the early 80s, the law was just something we worked around. If the procedure was illegal, we did it at night or on the weekend, if it was something that a jury might consider criminal, we did it on a federal holiday. Fracking is fine, it has its issues but it is still better than coal, it’s cleaner than many industries, such as steel and smelting. The water table contamination problem can usually be traced to poor cementing of the production casing. Ask BP about that issue.

March 24, 2014 at 1:02 pm
(2) AJ says:

Thank you for the article, I found it informative and interesting. I have wondered what my stance would be on Fracking. It’s complicated because of our heavy reliance on fossil fuels for modern day society, but also people have the opinion of ‘not in my backyard.’ I had no idea that hydraulic fracturing was developed many years ago because of the recent media hype regarding the phenomenon.

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