Category Archives: Oil and gas

Pitfalls of Fracking in Argentina

With the Vaca Muerta rock formation reaching over 7.4 million square acres, Argentina boasts the second largest shale gas deposit in the world by some accounts. Currently, Argentina is importing more fossil fuels than it is producing, and the exacerbation of this trend will prove unaffordable in the long-run. Argentina’s government has framed natural gas extraction in Vaca Muerta as the key to ending this trend, but there are also some significant issues to consider.

World Map Shale BasinsProponents of natural gas argue that taking advantage of this resource could significantly boost Argentina’s economy, but it is necessary to look at some of the major concerns regarding increased investment in the hydraulic fracking of Vaca Muerta. According to Elizabeth Tedsen, a Senior Fellow at the Ecologic Institute, “the government has courted foreign investment to begin fracking, which has drawn opposition from local governments, environmentalists, and indigenous groups who fear that the environmental damage of fracking will far outweigh any short-term economic and energy benefits.” Other important considerations include the uncertain nature of the natural gas sector, questions of national and provincial sovereignty in light of government deals with American corporations, and the need for effective regulation. Continue reading Pitfalls of Fracking in Argentina

Is there a safe way to transport fossil fuels?

Bakken Rail Cars

With an explosive investigation into the failures of the government agency responsible for ensuring pipeline safety by Politico and the growing list of pipeline accidents and spills (already 9 in the US this year alone), people are questioning not only the consequences to environmental health but also the risks to people and communities of new construction projects.

One popular alternative, and Warren Buffett investment strategy, is to ship oil and gas above ground, using America’s storied railways. However, the shift to rail transport is not making the transport of fossil fuels safer, as the Washington Post reported in February. Continue reading Is there a safe way to transport fossil fuels?

Hydraulic Fracturing, Produced Water, and Toxicity Study

FrackTracker Flaring Image

A study recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts, came out with new findings detailing the contents of fracking wastewater, or the water that rises to the surface after hydraulic fracturing operations, also known as produced water. Produced water is not just water used in the fracking operation, but also water that was in or nearby the reservoir that was being pumped now that the geologic formation it was trapped in has been fracked.

There has been significant concern about the chemical content of this water and its possible effects on water tables, human health, and the surrounding environment. Researchers took samples from three wells and conducted analysis. They found that all samples had levels of toxic elements such as mercury and arsenic in excess of US federal contamination standards on water quality. They also found carcinogens at dangerously high levels. However they did not find ethylbenzene and other polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which had previously been thought to be dissolved in produced water.  These two compounds are carcinogens.  Significant amounts of halogenated hydrocarbons, such as chlorine and bromine were also found, which causes neurological damage in humans.

This research highlights problems with wastewater and fracking. It not only confirms the presence of toxic and carcinogenic elements in fracking wastewater it also identifies the challenges of cleaning produced water.  The study calls for more research at different sites to establish a broader understanding of produced water and to develop better ways of cleaning produced water.

Source: Maguire-Boyle, S., & Barron, A. (2014). Organic compounds in produced waters from shale gas wells. Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts 16(10): 2237–2248. DOI: 10.1039/C4EM00376D.

Fracking and Earthquakes in Ohio


In the township of Poland in Ohio a series of earthquakes were detected in March of 2014. These earthquakes coincided with fracking operations in that month. The conclusion of the study is that fracking operations caused these earthquakes. Five of these earthquakes were between 2.1 and 3.0. A 3.0 earthquake is a level which, according to the federal seismology services, is an experience similar to a large truck passing nearby.

It has been known for some time now that fracking causes large numbers of micro earthquakes.  Fracking literally creates long micro fractures in rock formations. Injecting fracking fluid into these new fractures causes micro quakes. It is quite uncommon for fracking to cause larger earthquakes which can be felt by people on the surface. However the geography deep underground is not well understood in some regions.  Sometimes fracking takes place in or near unknown fractures, creating risk for larger earthquakes as were detected in Poland Ohio.

“These earthquakes near Poland Township occurred in the Precambrian basement, a very old layer of rock where there are likely to be many pre-existing faults,” said Robert Skoumal who co-authored the study with Michael Brudzinski and Brian Currie at Miami University in Ohio. “This activity did not create a new fault, rather it activated one that we didn’t know about prior to the seismic activity.”

New mapping techniques are being developed to detect and map these deep faults. In the meantime the study calls for closer cooperation between industry, government regulators, and the scientific community to map these faults and prevent more serious earthquakes from occurring.