As mentioned, fracking does not involve constant injection and extraction of water throughout a well’s two- to four-decade lifespan. It usually takes five days or less to frack a well. This is the rough equivalent of getting a vaccination for five seconds, rather than living with a constant intravenous drip. For all its supposed evils, in this analogy, fracking is like a flu shot.
The amount of water involved here is microscopic, compared to other, thirstier fuels. According to the U.S. Energy Department, it typically takes about three gallons of water to generate 1 million British thermal units of energy from deep-shale natural gas. For conventional oil: 14 gallons. Coal: 22.5. Tar sands: 47.5. Corn ethanol: 15,805. Soy biodiesel: 44,500 gallons. Cultivating corn and soybeans requires irrigation, which highlights just how stupid it is to turn food into fuel.
Fracking the Marcellus Shale happens some 6,000 feet underground. That is about 5,000 feet (or more than three Empire State Buildings) below groundwater supplies. Drills and pipes penetrate aquifers, but they are encased in multiple layers of steel and concrete designed to separate drinking water from fracking fluids (which are 99 percent water and sand and only 1 percent chemicals).
As in this model, alternating layers of steel and concrete surround a natural gas well and keep it from contaminating ground-water supplies.
An old-fashioned well was like a vertical straw that sucked up gas just from the bottom tip. Horizontal wells start from one small spot at the surface and then fan out far underground. They then draw in gas from across a wide area of gas shale, as if through small holes in vacuum hoses laid flat on the floor. Having multiple wells drilled through a limited space on the surface means lighter impact on land and habitat, as well as fewer roads and trucks.
Anadarko production engineer Dave Johnson points to the small holes in a well pipe through which fracked natural gas passes en route to U.S. stoves and water heaters.
Is there risk in all of this? Of course. If not, Anadarko would not take these precautions. However, risk encircles us. Seat belts are not a reason to ban automobiles. Instead, they are evidence that managing risk lets people live their lives rather than hide at home — which is perfectly safe . . . until fires, floods, and tornadoes come knocking.