I don’t know much about fracking, but I know what it looks like!

We hear so much about hydro fracking, commonly known as “fracking”.  It is the process of fracturing layers of rock using pressurized water to release natural gas and petroleum products from deep in the ground.  It requires an available supply of water and it seems to be significantly adding to our available reserves of natural gas.  BP (yes, that BP) describes fracking this way. [1]

Even though I don’t know anything about the science of fracking, I have seen it up close and personal.  First come the trucks.  They are all shapes and sizes.  They are almost universally big, loud, and heavy.  They damage the roads and churn dust over farmland and trees.  This truck is used to drill the wells, but other trucks deliver pipe and all the other equipment involved in the drilling process.

Water is piped in from the nearest substantial lake or river.  In a drought like this, the tremendous rate at which this water is consumed impacts the availability and cleanliness of water available for humans, livestock and crops. Environmental concerns include water contamination, oil and gas spills, disposal of waste water and other waste products. J. Daniel Arthur [2] estimates the average well consumes 3 to 5 million gallons of water over its lifetime.  It may be too soon to truly assess the potential environmental impact on our air, the water and the land.

Huge storage tanks are placed on the land, surrounded by chain-link fences. They are an eyesore at best.  Perhaps because silos are so common in agricultural areas, this seems to be the least problematic aspect of these fields.

The sounds associated with the drilling process are muted by the baffles that surround the operations.  These baffles are eventually removed. In the meantime, they create a visual barrier to the activities going on inside.

The machinery used in the fracking process is totally beyond my beginning science background.  This equipment reminded me of a grownup science project.  Presumably  it is removed when the well is depleted.  

Hidden from view after they are installed, these large pipes carry natural gas to market.  Buried in the earth, they will be out of sight, but they won’t be out of mind.  Nothing can be built over the land where they are buried.

Whatever the economic benefit to the landowners, the impact of fracturing shale for the purposes of extracting natural gas and other petroleum products, makes us long for the days when energy came from simpler devices.

[1] explxplow.com; bp.com

[2] An overview of modern shale gas development in the United States, 2008.

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As always, the opinions expressed in this blog do not represent the opinions of our friends, our families or our employers.

Springtown, Texas-Where country is, was and always will be “Cool”

This was a busy weekend for our family.  Meg was in Kansas City for a wedding (more to come), Laura and Michel were in Warsaw, Poland and Terry and I were in his hometown, visiting Christina and his family.

Springtown, Texas, has a population pushing toward 3300 people in the city limits and over 7000 in the metro area.  Terry’s family has lived here since about 1900, so his family roots are deep in the soil.  His parents were successful dairy farmers.  His parents, Finis and Vivian, seem to have been involved in nearly every organization in town. There is even a street named after them, it runs right in front of his family home, where his sister Mary now lives.

Situated just 1/2 hour from Fort Worth, it seems a world apart. It is easy to joke about rural Texas, where the names Poolville (ignore the “l” and soften the “v”), Hickey Hollar and Azle roll easily off the tongue. But residents of Springtown are anything but unsophisticated. Underestimate them at your peril.  This is cattle country.  Everything associated with cattle is important: birthing, feeding, watering and sale.

This is also natural gas country.  Everything associated with natural gas is also important: contracts, easements and the related challenge.  Heavy pipes are buried to move natural gas from Oklahoma and Texas for processing. Water for fracking ( the process of drilling and injecting water into the ground at high pressure to release natural gas) moves through small above ground pipes from Eagle Mountain Lake some 10 to 15 miles away to the gas fields in Springtown.  Storage tanks and sound baffles are a visual distraction. The dust and noise from the constant movement of heavy trucks to and from the construction sites fill the air.

Financial security is measured not only in natural gas and cattle, but in land. Ancient fence lines reflect property boundaries but are also important to the movement of cattle from grazing field to grazing field, separating cattle from horses, and sometimes separating garden plots from everything else.

For a city slicker like myself, it is easy to assume that farm life is “easier” than city life.  That is simply not true.  There is a combination of intelligence, hard work and back braking labor.  Farm tractors and trucks cost more than most automobiles and there are more of them!

At the end of the day the conversation includes all of things I would hear at any dinner table.  We talk about national and local politics.  But there is also discussion about feed prices, whether natural gas prices are up or down, whether there will be enough water to last the season.

But fear not, there is precious time for fun.  There is more than enough work to go around, but the food, hospitality and fun are worth the price of admission.

Oh, and did I forget to talk about the snake.  I was in the middle of the street, thinking that was safe from nature’s viler creatures, talking to Meg on my cell when suddenly I became aware that the black streak less than 6 feet from me, in the middle of the road was not tar, but a long motionless snake.  On telling my tale to Maurine and requesting assurance that it probably wasn’t dangerous, she just suggested that she tries really hard to stay away from snakes!

Have a great week.