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Folk Beliefs and Fracking

Frank Schwartz1
1 School of Earth Sciences, The Ohio State University

KeyNote 1 in Keynotes

29.05.2014, 09:00-09:40

Folk beliefs represent the simple views that people hold to make the complex, simple and understandable. Given that our groundwater world is underground and complicated, a strong historical connection with folk beliefs is not surprising. Thus, as we travel the countryside, educated people regale us with stories of underground rivers, and streams of water, and mysterious people who can find those streams with a forked willow stick.  The newest folk beliefs have developed around an old oil-patch technology, hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Fracking has become visible now because it has brought into play gas and oil resources occurring in low permeability reservoirs.  In reality, modern-day fracking is just one element of advanced drilling and completion technologies, for example, directionally-drilled boreholes along formations. Folk beliefs have quickly developed around issues of gas production from shale. Media dutifully reports how fracking poisons shallow groundwater and makes it catch fire, how it causes earthquakes, or how petroleum companies destroy streams with fracking chemicals. The reality is that fracked wells will usually behave as intended, without the unpleasant side effects. The problems of methane in water often predate fracking and are a manifestation of a natural condition, as is the case in Pennsylvania with production from the Marcellus. However, companies still struggle with problems of annular leakage of methane around wells due damage from drilling. In Ohio, recent earthquakes in the vicinity of Cleveland have been attributed to fracking. The cause of these earthquakes was water disposal in wells located sensitive faults. The link to fracking is that recovered fracking fluids are among those that were injected. There is really no question that large-volume waste-water injection is capable of producing earthquakes in some settings. Fracking has less potential than waste water injection with seismic impacts commonly of M 0 to M -3.  To me, folk beliefs are not particularly helpful in understanding hydrogeological problems. Beyond perpetuating overly simplistic views, they create a significant vulnerability in a population for those with an agenda trying to shape public opinion.



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Letzte Änderung 16.05.2014