Deep Frack Dilemma

One of the last wells drilled into Michigan's Antrim shale was completed early last week in Benzie County. A new and deeper natural gas play appears to be unfolding as developers pay record amounts for oil and gas leases and a lone Missaukee well turned out to be a prodigious gas producer.
Photo © Heather Rousseau / Circle of Blue

Natural gas, say energy industry executives and policy makers in a number of states, could be the fuel of the 21st century. Natural gas, they assert, burns much more cleanly than coal or oil, yielding half the carbon emissions of competing fossil fuels. And new drilling technology enables developers to tap deep gas-bearing shales in the U.S. and globally. A single prodigious gas well prompted a record-setting state lease sale in May that put Michigan at the frontline of deep shale development.

That's not to say that the new gas play is without risks. One facet in Michigan and other states is pumping millions of gallons of water and thousands of pounds of chemicals into the wells under intense pressure to fracture the rock and release the gas. The rock-punishing practice has produced evidence of serious water contamination in several states, according to ProPublica, a non-profit investigative news organization.

New York has instituted a moratorium on drilling pending research by state authorities on the risk to water resources and public health. The EPA is conducting an assessment of safety. The public concern is emblematic of the choke point that the U.S. is experiencing as rising energy demand comes into conflict with global climate change and declining reserves of clean fresh water. That collision is now blocking the nation's path to energy security and the low-carbon economy.

Feature Stories

Fracking Regulations Vary Widely from State to State

A look at how states across America are facing deep frack dilemmas.

Michigan Says It’s Ready For Next Drilling Boom

“Fracking” is the injection of water and chemicals to rupture deep shale and release natural gas.

Michigan’s New Natural Gas Rush: Energy and Water in Play

Unprecedented mineral leasing could be big for energy production and hydraulic fracturing.

Where Energy Development Puts Rivers at Risk

American Rivers’ annual tally of threatened rivers highlights effects of drilling for natural gas.

Multi-Media

Photo Slideshow: Michigan’s New Natural Gas Rush — The Landowners’ Perspectives

Who owns the land that could feed the United States’ natural gas needs?

Q&A: Josh Fox on the ‘Toxification’ of U.S. Water Sources in the Dig for Natural Gas

The documentary “Gasland” has shown at film festivals and on HBO.

Infographic: Michigan Mineral Rights

In Michigan, $178 million for nearly 120,000 acres of state-owned minerals in 20 counties.

Infographic: Anatomy of a Gas Well

Several layers of steel casing typically enclose a well bore and the empty spaces between can be sealed with cement.

Infographic: What is Hydraulic Fracturing?

Hydraulic fracturing is a process used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States.

Buried Secrets:ProPublica

Why Gas Leaks Matter in the Hydraulic Fracturing Debate

Methane migration is critical to discussions of underground contamination risks from fracking.

Broad Scope of EPA’s Fracturing Study Raises Ire of Gas Industry

An expensive federal study to be done on how hydrofracking may affect drinking water quality.

EPA Launches National Study of Hydraulic Fracturing

Is the injection of chemicals and water underground contaminating the environment in pursuit of natural gas?

Congress Launches Investigation Into Gas Drilling Practices

Large natural gas companies pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of diesel-based fluids into the ground.

Natural Gas Drilling: What We Don’t Know

It takes brute force and millions of gallons of chemical-laden watery sand to wrestle natural gas from the earth.

Read more Buried Secrets from ProPublica...

Institutes

Natural Gas Stories

EPA and Halliburton Skirmish — Promises of Safer Fracking Fluid

After denying EPA disclosure request, Halliburton promises safer fracking fluid and more disclosure.

“Typical” Michigan Oil and Gas Lease Auction Casts Doubt on Collingwood Shale Formation

Earlier auction that set state records prompted projections of a new natural gas boom.

Government Warns Against Contaminated Water in Wyoming Town

Freshwater wells deemed unsafe because of hydrocarbons.

EPA Announces Study to Re-Examine the Health Risks of Hydrofracking

States have begun implementing stricter standards for the controversial natural gas drilling process.

Natural Gas Found in Aral Sea’s Dry Bed

Test wells produce the first significant volumes of gas, confirming speculation about gas reserves in the region.

States Seek Profit, Regulation from Natural Gas Drilling

Pennsylvania’s latest budget proposal includes a tax on energy firms that tap the state’s shale gas reserves.

NYC Seeks to Ban Gas Drilling Within the City’s Watershed

Fracking could contaminate New York’s unfiltered water supply and require costly filtration, report says.

Peter Gleick: What the Frack? Poisoning Water for Energy Profits

Injecting water, chemicals, and sand to “frack” the gas from shale rock formations.

Faucet Flambé in Colorado Sparks Concern About Natural Gas Leaks

Water and fire don’t mix, but in Colorado such idioms may soon explode.

Reading Between the Cracks: Natural Gas Drilling Can Pollute Groundwater

A recent inquiry suggests the brew used during natural gas drilling may be poisoning water nationwide.

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