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How to Frack Your Cake and Eat It Too

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Nevertheless the two waters, flowback and produced, mix together seamlessly and the distinction between them is flowing. 

Proportion matters. 

7.        Limerick argues the import of proportion in appraising O&G production on water and as an example she contrasts agricultural water use with O&G water use--In Colorado, over 85 percent of water is devoted to agriculture and only about 0.1 percent goes to O&G developing, including fracking. 


This ratio--85 to 0.1--seems to pose an impressive discrepancy, until you realize that Limerick is quoting data from 2005, when fracking was barely a gleam in the industry's eye.  There are as yet no more current data, as USGS was delayed and does not expect to complete a 2010 report until late in 2014, but that is not what raises my brow.    Why is it that Limerick, in quoting that minuscule percentage for fracking's water use, felt no need to point out that not only is the data eight years old, but it occurred on the cusp of the current fracking boom?  

Unquestioning reliance on eight-year-old, pre-boom water-use data is gullibility that I find hard to credit in anyone as sharp as Dr. Limerick. 

Consumption versus withdrawal. 

8.        As to water scarcity in the western US, Limerick advises that treatment and reuse of fracking water would offer a 'promising and problem-reducing response to the prospect of regional water scarcity'.  No argument there--If only. 

Cleaning and reusing the water would not only be a godsend, it would remove one of the major objections to fracking in water-starved realms.  But much of the contamination of produced water arises from the salt dissolved within it, and at this point in human progress, quick and cost-effective remedies for briny water are yet not even close to salving fracking's consumption of water.  That is not to say that this could not change--yet thus far humans are leaving unmolested the salt in the seas. 

The optimistic notion of cleaning fracking water also ignores the radioactivity that accompanies produced water at "levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for ... treatment plants to handle." 

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Is it really very realistic, at this point, to put forth the proposition that fracking water be recovered? 

Public distrust. 

9.        Limerick recognizes that nondisclosure of the chemicals in fracking fluid has been the source of much public distrust.  She perceives a trend toward disclosure arising both from regulation and from voluntary industry admissions but also predicts a legacy of distrust from the time of nondisclosure. 

Yet for some reason she neglects to wonder what kind of legacy the Halliburton Loophole, which exempts the O&G industry from EPA oversight of clean water and air, is likely to leave. 

Health impacts defined. 

10.     Public-health impacts of O&G development are hard to study conclusively; cancer takes time to develop.  The best we can do at the moment is to measure, in air and water of a specific location over a specified time, the presence of potentially toxic chemicals and compounds to estimate the exposure that a human might accumulate. 

Somehow this reminds me of the old tobacco argument--hard to say whence that lung cancer came.  Since 2007 Colorado's Front Range, including Weld County, home to more new wells than anywhere outside of Pennsylvania, has been out of compliance with federal levels of ground-level ozone pollution.  And the big skies of Wyoming no longer meet federal air-quality standards; sparsely populated Sublette County, with some of the highest concentrations of wells, have higher levels of ozone than Houston and Los Angeles.  Fracking may not be the unmitigated reason for declining air quality around wells, but do we really wonder what kind of health impacts will obtain? 

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Stresses defined. 

11.     Stress is a variable in public health, but who can say if a person whose house is beside a drilling rig derived his aching head from air contaminants emanating from the rig, from his sudden inability to sell his property, or from his having drowned his sorrows in chocolate? 

A person's home landscape can bring a sense of well-being that may be greatly disturbed by the sight, lights, sounds, and smells of an active drilling rig.  That person's unease can be greatly exalted by feeling powerless. 

Decisions, decisions. 

12.     Finally, risk will never be entirely eliminated from O&G production--an understatement if e'er there was one--and results of scientific observations and study are unlikely ever to point out a clear path for us to take. 

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Dr. Dial is a psychologist and medical illustrator who for well over a decade has worked as a freelance medical and science writer and editor. She is an editor for OpEdNews, having contributed a number of articles about hydraulic fracturing, (more...)

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